Craving an island getaway filled with sun and sand? Sure, the Caribbean may be your first thought, but did you know idyllic shores can be found closer to home? In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, no less? Shift your focus east to the lesser-known jewel of Îles de la Madeleine, known to Anglophones as the Magdalen Islands. Come for the white sand beaches set between iron-red bluffs, but stay for the coastal flavours, easy island living and unique culture.
Tourisme Îles de la Madeleine
- Îles de la Madeleine is a collection of eight principal islands, though many smaller ones dot the archipelago.
- The islands were settled in 1756 by the Acadians, many of whom were survivors of the more than 400 ships which wrecked on the perilous coast.
- Despite laying closer to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia Îles de la Madeleine are part of Quebec.
- While the majority of islanders converse in French, Îles de la Madeleine is home to some of Quebec's oldest English-speaking settlements. This history of two distinct cultures lends to a fascinating legacy and a rich present day culture.
Why Visit Îles de la Madeleine?
(c) Maison M.Bonato MB14449
We've already sang high praises for the beaches but it's not just sun and sand. With blended cultures, a maritime history, coastal cuisine, charming lighthouses and colourful timber frame homes, you can consider 'The Maggies' to be Canada's Nantucket equivalent. Romantic, yes; but what about outdoorsy? Absolutely. Stretches of uninterrupted shoreline are a windsurfer's playground while red sandstone cliffs are a siren's call for kayakers. With seven of the islands inhabited, visitors need not worry about running out of things to see and do. Here are five wanderlust-inspiring themes to plan your Îles de la Madeleine holiday around.
1. Get Outdoorsy
With a natural setting this spectacular it's impossible to resist some outdoor adventure.
Cyclists will love exploring the islands' flat, scenic byways. See designated routes and loop itineraries here. Those who prefer to adventure on foot have the entire archipelago at their disposal. Hike rolling hills on an invigorating day hike or venture out on a nature walk. Three areas you simply can't miss are Brion Island and East Point in Grosse-Île, and while not easily accessible: Rocher aux Oiseaux (Bird Rock). Equine lovers will adore trail rides along the beach while clue-seekers can squeeze in some geocaching.
Offshore, recreation opportunities are only limited to the depths you can dive. Harness the wind while sailing, windsurfing or kiteboarding; glide across gentle lagoons on a stand up paddleboard, or kayak among hidden caves and tunnels. Explore sea flora while scuba diving or don a snorkel and fins to swim with the friendly, if not mischievous, seals at Rock Corps-Mort. Those who prefer drier seafaring excursions can join any number of aquatic-based tour operators. Be whisked away to untouched islands on zodiacs or sail out to set a line in deeper waters.
2. Appreciate the Arts & the Artisan
On rare cloudy days take refuge in the galleries of talented artists. With such windswept natural beauty, it's little wonder so many artists, makers and craftsmen find inspiration to create. By day, peruse local studios and boutiques to find treasured souvenirs; chances are you'll meet the artist herself. After the sun sets applaud the performing arts by taking in a live theatre show.
To really get a sense of living history, we recommend Mes Îles, Mon Pays. This two-hour production will no doubt leave travellers with a greater understanding of the islands' roots. While it is performed entirely in French, audio aids translate the dialogue through earphones for English speaking visitors.
3. Eat your way through Îles de la Madeleine
Îles de la Madeleine is sculpted by the sea, influencing every aspect of life here. Food is no exception. We're a fan of indulging in what a destination does best. When it comes to The Maggies, that's seafood.
Being that they are located so far ashore, islanders are hyper focused on local ingredients. Fun fact: Îles de la Madeleine was completely self-sufficient through to the 1970s. Using local produce, top quality meats and seafood pulled fresh from the ocean, visitors will surely sense the pride in Madelinot-prepared cuisine.
While dining, travellers should peruse menus for local specialties: lobster, scallops, herring, mussels, crab and mackerel. Don't be surprised to find artisan complements on your plate either. Between the regions there are two cheese makers, a herring smokehouse, beloved bakeries, specialty delis, wineries, breweries and more.
4. Get Cultured
A day of savouring island flavours is best followed by a little culture and learning.
One of the more unique offerings marries history with local lore. Step back in time at Site d'Autrefois to experience the Îles de la Madeleine of a bygone era. The fun part? It's portrayed in miniature.
The Entry Island Heritage Museum peels back the history of this lonely sentinel island. Touch history through exhibits, household items, photographs and memorabilia.
Explore what it means to live symbiotically with the sea at the Musée de la Mer. It's surprising how tumultuous yet bucolic the relationship between Îles de la Madeleine and the sea can be.
Various interpretive centres capture the fascination of visitors with special interests. From learning about historic salt mines and the salt dome Îles de la Madeleine sits atop, to a centre dedicated entirely to seals.
5. Events & Festivals
When possible, travellers should plan around some of the annual events Îles de la Madeleine is host to.
The Concours de Construction de P’tits Bateaux is a creative event which sees participants merge craft with construction. Given just four hours to do so, who will build the best navigable seafaring float? (Early August)
Don't forget to pack your cowboy boots, The Festival Country Western des Îles is a celebration of all things country and western. The event is complete with live music, horse races, games, sizzling food vendors and contests. (Late July)
Stave off hunger at Festival du Homard which flaunts the gourmet versatility of lobsters. (Mid-July)
Equally delicious is La Folle Viree Gourmande. This event is a collaborative one, bringing together the islands’ best restaurants, visual artists and producers. The result is a taste bud-tantalizing series of themed gourmet evenings. (June through July)
A perennial island favourite is the sandcastle building competition which falls on August 12-14 this year.
Plan Your Trip:
How to get to Îles de la Madeleine
By ferry - via PEI, five hours in duration. Bring your vehicle and enjoy the onboard lounges and amenities. Make a reservation here.
Cruise - vessels depart Montreal on one day or multi-day/multi-island trips.
By air - one to four hours on various carriers. Follow this link to find out more about who flies to Îles de la Madeleine.
By bus - luxury coach transport departs Quebec weekly and deposits travellers in Charlottetown. Take the ferry from Prince Edward Island to The Maggies.
Once on the island it’s easy to rent bicycles, motorbikes and vehicles, however public transit is quite efficient. Of course there are always taxis for convenience and late night transportation.
Not interested in independently exploring Îles de la Madeleine? Why not leave the logistics to someone else? Guided tour operators are a great alternative to renting a car.
Accommodation & Lodging
(c) Domaine du Vieux-Couvent
Quaint owner-operated hotels and oceanside cottages are found in abundance on the islands. What's more, charming accommodation doesn’t stop there. Whatever your budget you’ll find B&Bs, condos, cozy chalets, luxury resorts and campsites to suit your taste. Choose one island as your main base or explore each of the eight in turn.
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