Island Oasis in the St. Lawrence
Located 100 km east of Québec City and accessible by a quick and free ferry, the Isle-aux-Coudres is a bucolic island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.
My family and I arrived on this tiny oasis on a warm summer’s day in late August. Fresh from a three-night stay in beautiful but bustling Québec City, we felt the difference in atmosphere immediately. As we rolled the car off the ferry, I opened my window wide to let in the cool salty air. It felt like we had magically been transported to the sea.
Getting to the Isle-aux-Coudres
The Isle-aux-Coudres is accessible by a ferry that runs regularly all day between it and the village of Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive in the stunning Charlevoix region of Québec. While I’ve heard that there can sometimes be a line to get on the ferry, we found it to be a quick and easy endeavour. After about a 10-minute wait, we were directed onto the ferry and set off across the river.
The island sits much closer to the north shore of the St. Lawrence than the south, so the ferry ride is fairly short (about 20 minutes) but incredibly scenic. I strongly suggest getting out of the car and taking in the views from the top deck.
Navigating the Isle-aux-Coudres
Once on the island, you’ll find it very simple to get around. We barely saw any cars on the road, as most people here will travel by bike. There is an amazing place to rent bikes if you can’t bring your own: the Vélo Coudres has everything from electric bikes to quads that will fit the whole family.
To circumnavigate the island takes just 23 kilometres. At its widest, it is less than 4 km. It is basically impossible to get lost.
There is one road (des Coudriers Road) that circles the island and one road (de la Traverse Road) that cuts across it from north to sound closer to the east side. There are a few other tiny roads around the island but they are mostly all dead-end roads or join the main road on both ends.
Where to stay on the Isle-aux-Coudres
The island only has approximately 1,400 year-round residents and much of the economy is centred around tourism. You’ll find plenty of small bed-and-breakfast type accommodations as well as small inns, motels and cabins to rent.
We stayed at the beautiful Hôtel Cap-aux-Pierres, a stunning hotel and motel combo overlooking the St. Lawrence on the island’s south shore. Not only were the rooms big, clean and comfortable, but the staff was so warm and welcoming. The hotel has two swimming pools, one indoors and one outdoors. My kids loved splashing around the outdoor pool while I enjoyed a cup of coffee with sweeping views of the water.
The Hôtel Cap-aux-Pierres is part of the Charlevoix Flavour Trail (la Route des Saveurs) which highlights local producers and restaurants that use locally sourced ingredients. The hotel’s two restaurants La Marée Haute and Terrace & Bar La Lucarne have a coveted spot on this list and you won’t be disappointed with the meals.
You’ll get a taste of the island’s flavours, from yummy cheeses to locally sourced meats and seasonal produce, beautifully presented and absolutely delicious. And best of all, you can enjoy it with a view of the beautiful water.
What’s there to do on the Isle-aux-Coudres
The beauty of a place like l’Isle-aux-Coudres is in the slowing down. The tides go in and out twice a day here, creating a rhythm to this tiny spot of land in the middle of a mighty river. The local people are friendly and make an effort to welcome you to their slice of heaven. One man I met told me he is originally from France and his wife is from the United States — it took just one visit for them to fall in love with the island and they are now permanent residents. I can see the attraction.
From what we could gather during our short stay, island life is about enjoying the good things in life: amazing food, stunning views, walks by the water at low tide and a glass of good wine at sunset.
Here are some of the best ways to experience the island:
You really can’t come to a place like the Isle-aux-Coudres (and, really, the entire Charlevoix region) without tasting the amazing food. Our first stop was at the Cidreie et Vergers Pedneault, a family run farm that produces alcoholic ciders, jams, jellies and syrups from apples, pear, plums, cherries and Saskatoon berries. They offer tastings of their ciders and have a wide selection of products such as cheeses and charcuterie from the Charlevoix region. This is a great stop to pick up items for a picnic lunch, which is exactly what we did and we were blown away by the delicious products.
If you’re looking for fresh bread to add to your picnic basket, stop at the Boulangerie Bouchard. An institution on the island since the 1940s, this place smells heavenly and attracts locals and visitors alike. While there, you’ll also want to grab a fresh meat pie and some of the other homemade goodies. You might find yourself going back there again and again during your stay on the island. No judgement here.
Get to know the long agricultural history of the island with a visit to Les Moulins de l’Isle-aux-Coudres. This historic site gives tours and demonstrations of the two onsite mills, which have been restored to their former glory after shutting down in the late 1940s due to the advent of larger flour mills.
The watermill dates back to 1825 and the windmill was built in 1836. Tours show visitors how flour was milled back in the day and exhibits speak to the value of having a mill on the island in the 1800s. Freshly ground wheat and buckwheat flour is available for purchase in the gift shop.
As I’ve already mentioned, cycling is a popular pastime on the Isle-aux-Coudres. There are four bike circuits to explore. The 23-kilometre Belt Road circumnavigates the island and is probably the most popular. But there are also shorter routes inland: the 7-kilometre Des Prairies Road, the 5-kilometre La Bourroche and the 3-kilometre Apple Orchard Road. Maps are available from the tourism office.
Another famous activity on the island is kitesurfing. The way the island is placed on the river means it has some great wind conditions for kitesurfers and they can often be seen out on the water.
While we only spent one night on the island, we felt relaxed and refreshed as we boarded the ferry back to the mainland the next day.
I’ll be sharing more about my experiences in the Charlevoix region and the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region in future blog posts so be sure to sign up for our weekly Journal if you’re interested in travelling to Québec (and other stunning areas in Canada).
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