Iles de la Madeleine

This archipelago in the St Lawrence is Quebec’s best-kept secret.   A chain of islands, surrounded by soft beach in every direction, windswept grassland, red cliffs, and bright-painted clapboard houses with massive fairway-cut lawns.  Blustering wind have turned the island into global destination for windsports, with shallow lagoons providing ideal conditions for kitesurfing and kite buggies.  Seafood is abundant – smoked, pickled, grilled, poached – and seal is still on the menu too.   There’s a postcard view around every corner.

Overview

Length of Trip : 5-7 Days

Cost : Ranges depending on choice of accommodation and meals.

Best time to go : June to September

Wheelchair friendly : Yes

Family friendly : Yes

Where to eat : Check out the smoked herring, seal and island treats and the traditional smokehouses at Le Fumoir d’Antan. A popular local hangout is the À l’Abri de la Tempête microbrewery. Using local ingredients like wildflowers, algae and fresh herbs, they craft some impressive brews! I had a memorable meal in the dining room of Auberge chez Denis à François in Havre-sur-Mer. La table des Roy is a high-end, award-winning restaurant renowned for mixing local ingredients with Asian and classic French influences.  Less pricey Le Sablier is a sea-front restaurant on Havre-aux-Maisons, serving up traditional Quebecois coastal fare like classic lobster pot.   If you’re self-catering, pick up Magdelan Islands lobster for bargain prices at the local wharves. Cheese lovers will find the two raw cheeses at Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent well worth travelling for.

Official Site : http://www.tourismeilesdelamadeleine.com/en/

Where to Stay : Situated at the east end of the islands in the village of Grande Entrée, the 26-room La Salicorne Auberge offers family, romance and culinary packages, arranging a variety of tours around the area.  Alternatively look into Château Madelinot and their sister property Auberge Madeli.  For something a little more homely, Auberge chez Denis à François has 10 cozy rooms close to the beach in Havre-Aubert. In Havre-sur-Mer, check out Auberge Sympathique

Getting There : During summer, you can get to the islands with daily flights from Montreal, Quebec City and Gaspe.   They are also accessible via a 5-hour scenic ferry from Souris, Prince Edward Island. You could also look into a CTMA cruise that leaves Montreal, sailing up the St Lawrence with your own cabin, gourmet meals and shows and bars. Once you're on the island, various companies offer car, bicycle and motorbike rentals. Route 199 is the main artery connecting the inhabited islands.

Note from Robin : Don't be alarmed to find seal on the menu, it's very much part of the island's culinary tradition.  Cave bashing with La Salicorne is probably the wildest natural ocean experience I've encountered anywhere!

Gallery

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Welcome to the Iles de la Madeleine

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With some of Canada's best beaches

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And famous red-rock cliffs...

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A nice place to escape in the summer

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With quiet, historical backroads

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And friendly fishing communities

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Stroll along the cliffs

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Relax in the sun

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Or look for great photographs

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Sea kayaking is amazing here

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Exploring the caves

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And coastal formations

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Purple Rain...Pur-ple Ra-yayne

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Try the traditional smoked herring

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The fabulous island cheeses

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or pick up a beach sand sculpture

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It's a kitesurfing mecca

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with plenty of fascinating history

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and a view around every corner.

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Ever tried kite buggying?

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Wind, sea and sand together at last!

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Quebec's best-kept secret...

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is definitely one for the Bucket List

Maps

Poll

Should Iles de la Madeleine be on the Great Canadian Bucket List?

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Don't Miss

For the Bucket List, there’s a number of activities to choose from:
  • Playing with white-coated harp seal pups on the ice floe in early March (the only place in the world where you can do such a thing)
  • Kitesurfing, kite-snowboarding, kite buggying
  • Biking on the 100km-long greenbelt that runs across the archipelago Sea kayaking along the red cliffs
  • Cave swimming along the coast.
I visited for a few days in September, ruling out the seals, and the biking. I’ve attempted to kitesurf before, and while Iles de la Madeleine is an ideal place for the sport, it’s not unique in itself. Kite-buggying on the other hand required further investigation, along with sea-kayaking and cave swimming. I would have been content to just eat the marinated herring, mackerel rillettes, lobster risotto and smoked scallops, but I’d never kayaked into sea cave, and cave swimming are two words that don’t quite do justice the adventure that lies ahead. In 1998, Eric Marchand brought kitesurfing to Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec, and the entire country. Together with his wife Tania, their Aerosport operation is a school and outfitter, allowing thousands of clients to feel the thrill of wind and water. They reckon you’d need a minimum of three lessons before you’re ready to go. I spent an hour in on a beach in Barbados with a power kite, which almost ripped the shoulders from my sockets. I opt for an introductory ride on a kite buggy, piloted by instructor Steve Matha. Setting up his 3.5m power kite on the packed sand of the 16km-long Martinique Beach, he explains the basics. The brake line, the power zone – the things I’d pay more attention to if it would be me attached to the kite in the 20knot winds. Fortunately, all I had to do was sit in the back of the tandem buggy and hang on. No doubting the thrill rocketing along the beach, cracking shells under the fat wheels of the buggy and feeling the G-force when we enter pick up the wind at full power. Strong consistent winds, hundreds of kilometres of sandy beaches – if you’re into windsport, this is the place to do it. Now I’m squeezing into a 7mm wetsuit, thoughtfully provided for the sea kayaking excursion by La Salicorne, a not-for-profit hotel, restaurant and leisure centre located on Grande-Entrée. Grey clouds are spitting rain with an unwelcoming wind chill, not the ideal conditions to explore the sandstone cliffs and caves of Old Harry’s Head. Sometimes you have to work a little harder than you’d like, with the hope the payoff will be worth it. Led by a strapping young lass named Sandrine, we orientate ourselves on the beach as the rain intensifies. Fortunately, the Atlantic is warmer than the air, and the wetsuits are doing their job. Sandrine leads us into the choppy soup, and the waves sweep us up against the rocks.  It looks and sounds like one would be crushed, but somehow this is not the case.  And so we skirt the cliffs, washing into caves (and out with the backflow), scampering up rocks, and treating the wild Atlantic like a waterpark.  I've never seen anything like it anywhere, and it truly is a one-of-kind Bucket List experience.

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