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L' Île d'Orléans is where many of the first French settlers arrived in the New World in the 17th century . 32 km (20 mi) long and 8 kim (5 mi) wide, in the St. Laurent river, it lies at 15 minutes from Quebec City. Wiki's article on Île d'Orléans here. It is connected with the mainland by a highway bridge (1935). The roadway following the perimeter of the island is called Chemin Royal and dates back to 1744, with beautiful views in all directions of the river, mainland, and the island itself. The island's information office is on the right at the top of the hill after the bridge at 490 côte du Pont - maps, self-guided driving tours (cassette or CD; English available). Many houses from the French Régime remain today (the Canac-Marquis house, at 4466 Chemin Royal in Ste-Famille being a fine example, not open to the public); the Maison Drouin historical house (1675) is open daily to visitors from late June to mid-October (4 700 chemin Royal). This link provides a few pics and text (in French only). The island is home to 15 art and specialty galleries, listed here . Many fine products may be bought directly from the producers, would it be the famous Domaine Steinbach's award winning ice cider, duck pâtés or onion confits (over 30 products made and sold on the premises), or apples, blackcurrant liquor from Mona & Filles (Mr Mona and his daughters) , fine jams and jellies, game, fine breads and pastries ... Or visit the blacksmith Economuseum, La Forge à Pique Assaut, to learn about traditional blacksmithing and possibly purchase a hand-forged item for your home. If your visit coincides with the blooming period, you may see a very big lavender field (75,000 plants) at Seigneurie de l'Île d'Orléans, in the village of St-François.
The Basilique Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré had a modest beginning as a simple wooden chapel, in 1658, dedicated to St Anne. It was distinguished as a basilica (pilgrimage church) in 1876. Half a million visitors visit the shrine, the chapels and the neighbouring Cyclorama of Jerusalem every year, with a peak on the saint's feast day on July 26 (and the nine days previous). The Cyclorama is one of just twenty mammoth painted trompe l'oeil (three-dimensional) panoramas in the world, and the only one in Canada. Location on a zoomable map here.
The CHARLEVOIX region is not only a choice travel and gourmet dining destination in Québec, but also a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, a designation it received in 1989. This hilly region could be explored for weeks, and one would not see the end of it. It offers a variety of outdoors activities all year-long, and is the site of two of the finest parks in the province: Parc national des Grands-Jardins and Parc national des Hautes-Gorges- de-la-Rivière-Malbaie .
Lévis is an attractive Victorian town only 15 minutes away from Old Québec (Lower Town) by ferry, which is accessible to pedestrians, wheelchairs, bicycles, cars and buses. In summertime, a small tourist office is operated within the ferry building, which is the former train station. A few meters from the exit, lies a 15 km long flat walking and cycling path, the scenic linear park Parcours des Anses, from which magnificent views over Québec City await you (walkers, cyclists, wheelchairs, roller skaters welcome). Uphill to your right, when exiting the ferry, the Terrasse de Lévis park, directly facing the Château Frontenac, offers very fine views over Québec, the St-Laurent river, the Laurentides mountains and the bridges. The Terrasse was inaugurated by King George VI in 1939. It can be reached by foot through a daunting staircase, by car in less than 2 minutes, by taxi, or partly by bus with the local bus nr 24 or 28.
Many B&Bs contribute to make the city a popular destination, offering a quieter environment than Québec City, lower prices, proximity with the Old Town and the south shore highways (nr 20 and 132).
There are a few parking lots in the immediate vicinity of the ferry, which makes it a cheapier alternative to the more costly parking options on the north shore of the river, for those planning to spend several days in Québec City and not use their car. The most expensive of the 3 parking lots is the one closest to the ferry exit, belonging to ViaRail (pay at the machine). There is a cheaper one immediately across the street from the ferry (pay at the convenience store), and another one to your left when you exit the ferry, between the only street and the river. If you consider parking in this 3rd (and cheapest) parking lot, ask Quévec City's local expert for details on how to pay since this parking lot is not manned.
Rue Bégin St is a popular little shopping street, who attracts crowds of high quality ice cream and chocolate addicts at Les chocolats favoris, a chocolate factory that doubles as a highly popular dairy bar in summertime. Across the street from it, is a déli store offering a wide variety of cheeses, breads baked daily on the premises, a selection of imported oils and vinegars, organic fair trade coffee, and so on; light meals are available on the premises, which you may eat inside at the café, or outside at a table, or take out.
On Mont-Marie St, at number 6, you may visit the Maison Alphonse-Desjardins , birthplace of the founder of North America's first credit union system, Caisses Desjardins; the visit is free of charge, and the house is open on weekdays from 10 to noon and 1 to 4H30PM, and from noon to 5PM on weekends. Shopping addicts may get their fix at the Galeries Chagnon shopping mall, by HWY 132 (''blvd De la Rive-Sud''). If arriving by ferry, and willing to head to the shopping mall, turn right when exiting, drive up at the first hill/street nearby; soon enough, you will face 3 possibilities: drive in the middle one ("Côte du Passage"), keep driving south on the same hilly street for 1 mile or so.
Those interested in military history will enjoy visiting the Pointe de Lévy Fort No 1 National Historic Site from mid-May to late September. (From the website:) ''This Fort was the last in a chain of three forts built under the supervision of British military engineers between 1865 and 1872. These forts completed the defence network protecting Québec against any future land invasion by the Americans. Since 1855, a railway had linked Lévis to Maine. Fort No. 1 is higher than the Citadel in Québec, in fact it is the highest point in the region and provides a panoramic view of Québec, Île d'Orléans and Côte-de-Beaupré. This star-shaped fort was opened to the public in 1982. Today it houses a multimedia exhibition depicting its history''. Road directions here.
Grosse-Île , off the coast of Montmagny, served as a quarantine station from 1832 to 1937. All the Irish citizens fleeing the potato famine (circa 1847) by immigrating to Canada were obliged to spend time on the island before they could be officially admitted to the country. Thousands of people, already weak from starvation, died on the voyage, made in cramped and unsanitary conditions; thousands more died at the overworked quarantine station. Grosse-Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site was twinned on May 25, 1998 with the National Famine Museum of Strokestown Park in Ireland.
The island can only be accessed through a cruise tour. Two cruise companies go to Grosse-Île, and all visitors receive a narrated cruise, a guided tour from Parks Canada staff and a 3½ to 4 hour stay on the island. On the island, the access to food is limited (expensive cold meals only), therefore, one would be well advised to bring a picnic. Croisières Lachance departs twice daily from Berthier-sur-Mer near Montmagny, 45 minutes drive from Lévis. Croisières Coudrier cruises daily to Grosse-Île, with departures from Québec City, Saint-Laurent at Île d'Orléans, and Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. From Québec City, the ship leaves the Vieux-Port (Old Port) daily at 9:30 AM for a 90 minute cruise to the island, and the ship is back at Québec City at 5 PM. Both cruise companies strongly recommend confirming your sailing information at least 1 day in advance, since they may add cruise departures or have their schedule altered by weather or for other reasons.