By D’Arcy Kavanagh
If you’re beating your head trying to find someplace different for a Canadian holiday, consider a small archipelago of islands smack in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Magdalen Islands (#YGR), or Les Îles de la Madeleine in French, are in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Closer to Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland, the islands are nevertheless part of Quebec. They stretch over 80 kilometres and have about 13,000 inhabitants. Tourism is a major industry with most visitors coming from Québec. Two other industries are fishing and the production of road salt.
Here are six reasons why you might want to consider a visit to the Iles:
- Scenery. The coastline of these islands is simply spectacular with stunning bays, rugged cliffs and beautiful beaches. You’re also never more than five kilometres from the sea. In fact, there’s one stretch of highway on the way to Île de la Grande Entrée that cuts through the sea with just a few metres of sand and rock on either side. Astonishing!
- Houses. Yes, it’s weird to mention houses as a reason to visit an area, but the homes on the islands are different from any others in Canada. They come in different sizes, shapes and colours. And they’re not in any pattern. It’s like Van Gogh painted a bunch of houses in his inimitable style and then tossed them against a hillside. While a planner would likely look at the oddball layout of the residences and scream, visitors will likely be intrigued, if not enthralled.
- Seafood. If you like lobster, you’re in heaven. And the price for lobster on the islands is generally very, very low. As for the rest of the seafood, it’ll keep you drooling throughout your visit. As will the rest of the culinary offerings on the various menus; the Madelinots love good food.
- Activities. With the great coastline, the islands offer world-class sea kayaking plus windsurfing and kitesurfing. And terrific cycling. Not to mention sandcastle-building. Kids of all ages will be easily amused. And despite being so far from any bright lights, the islands offer plenty of evening fun.
- Storms. They don’t come too often from late spring through early autumn, but if one does, pick a dry spot, and watch how magically the clouds and sea change. Make sure you have a camera nearby. (Over the last four centuries, there have been hundreds of shipwrecks nearby.)
- The welcome from the Madelinots. In classic French style, they are slightly reserved, but more than happy to help make you feel at home, even if you speak minimal French.
You can reach the islands by plane from Montréal, Québec City and Gaspé. However, most people come by ferry from Souris, P.E.I. If the day is nice, the ferry journey is exquisite, offering a lengthy view of the lovely P.E.I. coast and then following up with a picturesque entry into the islands. It’s a trip you likely won’t forget for a very long time. You can also take a weekly ferry/cruise ship from Montréal or Chandler on the Gaspé Peninsula. Cruise lines are also starting to understand the attractions of the islands.
And if you’re wondering about a winter holiday, the islands are equally as spectacular when covered with snow.
The Islands’ website: http://www.tourismeilesdelamadeleine.com/magdalen-islands/atrim-ang-696-home.cfm