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Québec City, Québec

Montmorency Falls and Island of Orléans

 

 

Shore Excursion Review: Montmorency Falls and Island of Orléans

Québec City, Québec

July 3, 2011

 

By Lisa Plotnick

 

 

I often state that no Canada/New England cruise itinerary is complete without a call on Québec City. This Canadian city of nearly half-a-million residents was founded in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain, and became the center of New France several years later. The city was alternately under French or British rule through the late 1700s, resulting in the unmistakably European feel that remains to this day. After several cruises on which we spent our port time enjoying the city itself, we decided it was time to explore the outlying areas. And so, through the cruise line we booked a tour called Montmorency Falls and Island of Orléans, which combined one of Québec’s natural wonders with the rich history of one of its rural areas. This was an amazing tour on which we learned a great deal about the region.

 

The tour packed a lot into its three-and-a-half hours. We started by crossing the bridge to Île d'Orléans (Island of Orléans), roughly 5 km (3 miles) northeast of Québec City at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. It is largely agricultural, dating back to its original settlers who were attracted by the fertile soil. Each of its six parishes are located along the coast. Île d'Orléans is home to roughly 7,000 people, many of whom continue the agrarian customs of their predecessors.

 

Our island drive took us through most of the parishes, with a couple of stops as described below. Our guide was wonderful. She explained the English and French influences very thoroughly. As one example, the farms are laid out in a French manner, where they are long and narrow with the narrow edge along the river to give many farmers access to the river. She also pointed out the different styles of roofs. The French style goes down on an angle and then curls upward, whereas the English style has a break in the slope. The French design, she mentioned, helped to insulate the roof during winter when snow would accumulate.

 

Rooftops in Québec City. English design on left, French design on right

 

Our first stop was Mauvide-Genest Manor in Saint-Jean parish on the east side of the island. I enjoy visiting historic houses—mainly to gain an education as to how people lived—and this was a great stop in that respect. It was built between 1734 and 1752, making it among the longest-surviving manors in Québec, and has recently been restored. The last people who lived there sold it to a non-profit organization in 1999. There were some remnants of modern life evident—such as some electricity—yet most had been removed. I was surprised to see it was on a main road—I thought it would be more private.

 

 

The house was stunning—wide slab wood floors, large kitchen, chapel, office, and several bedrooms. The rooms were spacious, unlike the English manors I’ve seen. There was also a formal dining room. Beds were curtained, and were also short. The shortness was not just because people were of smaller stature, but also because they slept somewhat upright. Our guide told us that this was because people of that time noted that only the departed lay flat, and one did not wish to fool the devil. How I love learning these snippets of life!

 

Inside Mauvide-Genest Manor. Note the propped-up pillows on the bed.

 

After about 40 minutes there, we went to a sugar shack, or maple factory. L'En-Tailleur Cabane à Sucre, located in Saint-Pierre, on the west coast of Île d'Orléans, was a highlight of the day. It was small and family-owned, like nearly all on the island. We were told that close to 80% of the maple syrup produced in the world comes from Québec Province. We learned how the sap is tapped in the spring (when it thaws), and how it is mixed with water and heated to produce syrup, taffy, and candy—the ratio of ingredients plus boiling time determines the final product. We were given popsicle sticks onto which to roll a line of taffy-like syrup that was atop some snow. So sweet and tasty!

The drive through the island was very pretty. There was lots of green—trees, meadows, etc. A good amount of the land is protected—that is, there can be no construction. This would be a beautiful place to see the bursts of fall color.

 

 

We then drove back to the mainland for our close-up visit to Montmorency Falls, located just outside of Québec City. We were first treated to tea and cake at the stunning Montmorency Manor. It was so delicious, and the atmosphere so wonderful, that I nearly forgot to take photos! (The one below is serving as a stand-in after I had finished mine.)

 

 

Our last stop was the impressive Montmorency Falls. At 83 meters (272 feet), it is one-and-a-half times the height of Niagara Falls. We climbed many stairs to viewing platforms and a suspension bridge—yes, even I made it to the bridge, my vertigo and acrophobia not even entering the equation. The water was powerful as it crashed down the mountain into a misty froth that eventually flowed into the St. Lawrence River.

 

Above: Montmorency Falls (left) and suspension bridge (right)

Below: The Falls as seen from the bridge. Top of waterfall (left) and looking down (right)

 

 

 

This was a superb excursion, and gave us a taste of the rural part of Québec province. Of course, there is much more of Québec to the north that I imagine is vastly different. I do enjoy the city of Québec immensely and hope to revisit soon, yet this diversion was nice and I highly recommend it.