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
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
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.