Just 10 kilometres northeast of Quebec City’s fortifications and cliffs where the river narrows dramatically, long (34 km) and thin (8 km) Île d’Orléans is considered the cradle of French civilization in North America– the place where early 17th-century settlements sustained New France’s first inhabitants. Today, the region provides prized terroir ingredients, such as strawberries, apples, potatoes, maple syrup and game, to the region’s finer restaurants. Winter snowfalls transform the dense quilt of land parcels into a uniform blanket of white, dotted with stone farmhouses with steep-pitched red roofs and smoking chimneys.
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A 1943 bridge connects Île d’Orléans to the mainland near Montmorency Falls. On the far side of the island, near the burg of St.-Jean, the guesthouse Dans les Bras de Morphée (rooms from $138 | 866-220-4061 | danslesbrasdemorphee.com) sits riverside on a large plot of land cloistered by maple trees. Just beyond, the mighty St. Lawrence River flows by. There are hardwood floors throughout and private ensuite bathrooms. Each of the four guest rooms features a unique décor, all variations on cute and cozy. A two-storey stone chimney anchors the farmhouse’s /large main room, rising into a cathedral ceiling above the sitting area in front of a roaring hearth. At the opposite end, exposed wooden beams cross the dining area and two white chandeliers hang above the long harvest table with white, high-backed wooden chairs. The breakfast menu changes daily but is always an opportunity to taste some of the delicacies mad with local ingredients, including homemade jams and cretons– a spreadable pork paté unique to la belle province.
Weary weekenders looking for a little pampering should heat to Izba Spa (massages start at $90 for 60 min | 418-522-4922 |izbaspa.qc.ca), a quick jaunt into Quebec City. It has a traditional Russian steam bath, a salon, massages and a bevy of body treatments including reflexology, facials, scrubs and wraps.
The chef-proprietor of the Canard Huppé (table d’hôte from $45 | 800-838-2292 | canard-hupee.com), a destination restaurant is a magnanimous host and his food the toast of the island. The quaint floral-print wallpaper and wood panelling belie the kitchen’s sophistication. The crisp, white linens, fine stemware and maître d’ hint at the ensuing five-course fusion set menu. Spectacular presentations and knowledgeable service are on par with the execution of the dishes.
ICE CLIMBING– During winter, the spray and mist from the 84-meter-tall Montmoerency Falls collects and freezes, creating spectacular, otherworldly formations along the nearby bluffs, which are ideal for ice climbing. A RocGyms instructor leads a seven-hour course for novices, starting at the base of the falls, leading to a full day of climbing. ($99 includes equipment rental | 800-762-4967 | rocgyms.com)
SNOWKITING– The island’s large, interior, windswept plane is where skiers and snowboarders can learn to snowkite (kitesurfing in winter) during a three-hour outing with Expédition Mi-Loup ($89 | 418-829-2588 | leptitbonheur.qc.ca/en/winter-activities). After an initial briefing and some individual instruction in the first hour, snowkiters are set loose to set their new wings. A snowmobile acts as a support vehicle to rescue any wayward individuals stranded downwind. Mi-Loup also rents sails to more experienced kitesurfers ($20 for the first hour, $15 each additional hour).
SNOWSHOEING– Trekkers wishing to follow in the early French explorer’ footsteps will enjoy a 3.5 kilometer excursion through dense glades in a 15-meter deep river gorge ($15 for a half-day snowshoe rental, $25 for whole day | 418-829-2588 | leptitbonheur.qc.ca/en/winter-activities). The unspoiled wooded area is a change of scenery from the otherwise largely flat and open surroundings.
Adventura, Winter 2009