An archipelago in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and a mere five hour ferry ride from Prince Edward Island, Îles de la Madeleine are a part of the province of Québec, and relatively unknown in Canada. Which is one of many reasons to visit the islands this summer.
Similar to Nunavut, flying to Îles de la Madeleine can be quite expensive, even from Montréal, but that shouldn’t keep you from going. These islands, also known as the Magdalen Islands, are a mixture of east coast culture and delightfully French charm.
Fishing isn’t a hobby in Îles de la Madeleine, it’s an institution. In fact, they say that lobsters caught in Îles de la Madeleine are some of the tastiest in Canada as they are rock lobsters (not sand and dirt lobsters). During my time on the islands, I hung around the wharf on Grand Entrée, watching fishermen bring in their catch, selecting a couple of lobsters, and taking them back to the hotel in cook and eat them. They were indeed tasty and had a slight sweetness to them. In fact, they were so delicious that I visited a poissonnerie before leaving the islands and bought three live lobsters for $7.50/lb and took them back with me to Québec City.
Unfortunately one was a fighter and I may never cook myself another lobster again. I think I’ll just buy them pre-cooked from now on, or let someone else do the dirty work.
With my rusty coloured Ford Focus at the ready, I drove all over the islands, stopping at several places to view the red cliffs. While some can be viewed from the road, the best way to see the cliffs is to park your car and go for a short hike. I highly recommend hiking to La Bluff on the island of Grand Entrée (photographed above). The path to La Bluff has some impressive views, and the beach is secluded, so it’s a great spot to escape to.
Always use caution when hiking along the cliffs. Stay on the paths as the edges soften over time and one does not want to end up falling into the water below – it’s very rocky down there!
*If you’re not a hiker and visiting in summer, take a zodiac boat tour! A fabulous alternative viewpoint.
Oh yeah, the islands have their very own microbrewery. A l’abri de la Tempête, on the island of L’Étang-du-Nord, is a little out of the way (and can be hard to find), but if you’re a craft beer lover that I am positive you’ll make sure you find this place. There are six regular beers brewed in a house (the Corpse Mort is insane), which are also sold in stores throughout the islands and the province of Québec as well. The brewery also has three beers on tap named after local establishments like Café La Grave and Domaine Vieux Couvent, as well as limited edition brews.
Couleur Pêcheur by Raoul Jomphe
Across from the wharf in Grand Entrée is a little shop with an unexpectedly wonderful art exhibit on the second floor. Couleur Pêcheur, by local photographer Raoul Jomphe, chronicles the lives of the fishermen in Grand Entrée – and includes hidden photos of three men who are not actually fisherman. It’s a peek into local life on the island.
The small towns on Îles de la Madeleine remind me of the small towns in Newfoundland, the houses are usually built with slat boards and painted brightly. While many of the houses are small, I found myself dreaming of buying one of the bigger house with the wrap around verandas. Oh, I would kill for a house on an island with a wrap-around veranda. It’s my idea of the dreamy Canadian summer. When spending time on the islands, make time to drive around, visit the villages, the shops, the cafés and boulangeries. Chat with locals – there are a surprising amount of English speakers.
As with any destination, Îles de la Madeleine have something for everyone. There are plenty of adventure activities to keep outdoor enthusiasts happy, a small gourmet food culture, museums, art, boutique shopping, killer seafood, a fromagerie, a smokehouse, and even a couple of really nice boutique hotels. Get up for the sunrise, and stay up after the sun sets. And if you have a chance, check out the local music scene as well.