Quebec's Îles-de-la-Madeleine (occasionally Magdalen Islands) are an island chain in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off the coast of Prince Edward Island and the Gaspé Peninsula. Acadian culture is strong and vibrant in this mostly-francophone region.
The Îles-de-la-Madeleine are a windswept chain of islands connected by sand dunes and beautiful cold water beaches. Lagunes, caps, green valleys, red cliffs and brightly coloured houses form the panorama of this archipelago in the heart of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Havre-Aubert, on the island of the same name, is a member of "Les plus beaux villages du Québec".
All of the dozen islands of the archipelago of the Magdalen Islands are connected to each other by land with the exception of l'île d'Entrée. The population of the archipelago is about 12600 people. Although part of Quebec, Acadian culture is very much alive in the Magdalen Islands. The Islanders are known for having retained their unique accent and for their warm hospitality.
There is one small town, Cap aux Meules, where most services are located; the rest of this isolated group of islands is rural, with a few tiny villages.
Accommodation is often in rented cabins, bed and breakfasts are also available and often cheaper for 2 persons. Camping is possible; however, exposure to wind (given the lack of trees and proximity to the ocean) can make this unpleasant.
Prices for excursions and various tourist activities are variable but generally expensive, something to consider for the budget traveller. During the high tourist season (July-August) lodging can be expensive and booked out. Early September would be a wonderful time to visit this region.
The Îles-de-la-Madeleine use the Atlantic time zone (UTC-4 in winter), an hour ahead of the rest of Québec but the same time zone as the three maritime provinces.
Municipalities and villages
The amalgamated Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine municipality covers most of the archipelago. Created in 2002 by the fusion of all former municipalities on the archipelago, Cap-aux-Meules, Fatima, Grande-Entrée, Grosse-Île, Havre-aux-Maisons, L'Étang-du-Nord and L'Île-du-Havre-Aubert, it holds both "municipality" and "municipal regional county" status.
The municipality of Grosse-Île regained its independence in 2006, so Grosse-Île (or Grosse Isle in English) is the only municipality on the islands not part of "la municipalité des Îles-de-la-Madeleine".
94% of residents are francophone and 6% anglophone. When visiting Îles-de-la-Madeleine, if you speak even just a little bit of French everyone will be a lot more friendly and go out of their way to help.
The anglophone communities are Grosse-Île, Old Harry and l'île d'Entrée.
- Île d'Entrée. The only inhabited island in the archipelego not to be joined by land to the others.
- Île du Havre Aubert. The most isolated, largest (by area) and southernmost island of the archipelago is also the most wooded, as it has the only real forest on the Magdalen Islands. Two parallel sand dunes join the island to l'île du Cap aux Meules in the north; the Havre-aux-Basques dune (which carries Route 199) and the west dune. At the eastern end of the island, the Sandy Hook dune extends as a long beach toward l'île d'Entrée. This island, the first of the archipelago to be permanently inhabited, hosts two villages: Havre-Aubert and Bassin.
- Île du Cap aux Meules ( Grindstone Island). The central and second largest island of the archipelago includes a hospital and other centralized services. The port of entry to the Magdalen Islands, it serves as the starting point for fishing boat trips, viewing the cliffs and visiting the three settlements on the island: Cap-aux-Meules, Fatima and L'Etang-du-Nord.
- Île du Havre aux Maisons. Includes three settlements: Cap-Rouge, Pointe-Basse and Dune-du-Sud. Hosts the only airport on the archipelago, as well as a maritime research centre (le Centre de recherche sur les milieux insulaires et maritimes) affiliated with the Université du Québec à Rimouski. Mytiliculture (mussel farming, "l'élevage de moules") is carried out here.
- Île de la Pointe aux Loups ( Île aux Loups). Includes the village of Pointe-aux-Loups; this island is known for its huge beaches.
- Île de Grosse Île ( Grosse Isle). The only part of the archipelago not to be part of "la municipalité des Îles-de-la-Madeleine", this island contains the most important protected areas in the îles de la Madeleine.
- Île de Grande Entrée ( Île de la Grande Entrée). The last of the islands to be permanently inhabited, includes the anglophone community Old Harry and the larger neighbouring francophone community of Grande-Entrée. Designated as lobster capital of Québec ( « capitale québécoise du homard » ) in 1994.
- Île Brion ( Brion Island). The northernmost in the archipelago, most of this land was expropriated from its owners in the 1980s and is now an ecological reserve.
Îles-de-la-Madeleine is not the easiest place to visit, but there are a few options:
- Ferry from Souris, PEI, via CTMA, reservation required
- Weekly boat from Montréal, Québec and Chandler, Québec, via CTMA, reservation required
- Flights from Québec City, Montreal, and other cities (Air Canada Express)
- Îles-de-la-Madeleine Airport ( IATA: YGR), On l'île du Havre aux Maisons. The only airport on the archipelago. Classed as a port of entry by Canada Border Services.
- CTMA. A cruise on the N.M. Madeleine completes the five-hour crossing between Souris, PEI and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine daily. You can bring your vehicle. The ship offers services including a cafétéria, dining room, cinéma, a kindergarden, cabins and a show.
- East Connection, ☎ . Jun-Sept, off-season by reservation. Passenger shuttle between Charlottetown, Souris, Prince Edward Island and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. $65/person.
- Autobus Les Sillons, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Highway coach leaving Québec City every Thursday night (mid-June to mid-Sept), returning from Îles-de-la-Madeleine every Wednesday morning via the ferry to PEI. Service in May-June is on a modified schedule. The route (from Québec City) includes flag stops in Rivière-du-Loup, Edmundston, Fredericton, Moncton and Charlottetown.
While each island is quite small, the distances between them along the connecting dunes are greater and these areas are isolated. Cycling is possible, scooters can be rented, as well as automobiles, bus tours are available, taxis are quite expensive. There is no separate bike trail; the one "Route Verte" is a paved shoulder along most of the main highway, Route 199.
- Agence de location et services des Îles, 357 chemin Principal, Cap-aux-Meules, ☎ , toll-free: , fax: . 8:30AM-5PM weekdays year-round, open daily in high season. Motorcycle rental, hire cars (Hertz Îles-de-la-Madeleine), instruction (École de Conduite des Îles) and roadside assistance (Service Routier Léon Lapierre).
- Taxi Madeli, 239 Ch de la Pointe-Basse, Havre-aux-Maisons, ☎ . Local taxi, enquire at bike shop for taxi delivery of rental bicycles (Veli-Vélo, Le Pédalier).
- Site historique de La Grave (La Grave historic site), La Grave, Havre-Aubert. The first community on the island, originally a small fisheries village where the fish was dried, salted and packed. Largely deserted by the 1960s with many buildings abandoned as economic activity shifted to Cap-aux-Meules. Preservation efforts began in the 1980s, with the historic district restored to house a collection of artisans, boutiques and a marina. The former general store is now the Café de la Grave.
- Musée de la Mer (Museum of the Sea), 1023 chemin de la Grâve, Havre-Aubert, ☎ . Permanent exhibition on the « Laboureurs du Golfe », temporary exhibits on different themes, works of local artists, genealogical documentation. $8/person or $20/family.
The Îles-de-la-Madeleine may be explored by bicycle, on horseback or on foot; one may follow the coast by canoe, zodiac boat or kayak. Strong winds and shallow bays make a fine coastline of long, sandy beaches for windsurfing.
- Beaches: Several long sand dune beaches connect the islands; swim. sunbathe, walk and explore. Water temperature reaches 18°C (64°F) by mid-August.
- Birdwatching: Excursions are available, for example by boat to nearby Ile Brion.
- Windsurfing, kitesurfing equipment rental and lessons are available.
- Sea kayaking: Explore coastal cliffs, bays, and tunnels. Aerosport, Istorlet and Parc du Gros Cap provide equipment rental.
- Cycling. Some roads have a paved shoulder and bikes may be rented, but local wind speed typically varies from 17 to 40 km/h (9 to 22 knots).
- Hiking along the shore. If hiking near cliff-lined areas of the coast, the cliff edges are often eroded, dangerous and can collapse.
- In winter, a popular activity is to observe young seals on the ice floes.
- Aerosport, 1390 chemin Lavernière, Étang-du-nord, ☎ . 9AM-6PM (Dominion Day to Labour Day). Kitesurfing, mountain biking, sea kayak, snow kite, buggy and equipment rental.
- Cinéma Cyrco, 380 chemin Principal, Cap-aux-Meules, ☎ . The one local cinéma, all films shown in French. A&W (hamburgers) and Subway (sandwiches) with wi-fi in the same building.
- Excursions en Mer, (Marina) 265, chemin du Quai, Cap-aux-Meules, ☎ , fax: . Marine excursions to Entry Island, Brion Island and Bird Rock. Caves and cliffs, lagoon and seals, fishing trips and expeditions.
- Centre nautique de l'Istorlet, 100, chemin de l'Istorlet, Havre-Aubert, ☎ , toll-free: , fax: . Kayak instruction and rentals, kids camp and French-language immersion, bird and seal watching. Rooms and campsites for rent, cafeteria.
- Kite aux Îles, ☎ . Kitesurfing lessons. $175-250 (3 hrs).
- Le Pédalier, 545 ch. principal, Cap-aux-Meules, ☎ . 10AM-5:30PM. Bicycle rental, clothing and accessories, activities. $24/day (bike rental).
- Veli-Vélo, 365, chemin Principal, Cap-aux-Meules, ☎ . Bicycle shop, rentals from $25/day, repair shop and accessories, open daily Apr-Oct.
- Rendez-vous Aventure, 867, road du Gros-Cap, L'Étang-du-Nord, ☎ . , Windsurfing and kitesurfing events, one week, mid-July.
- La Grave, Village de Noël. December. La Grave historic village is illuminated and transformed for Christmas.
- The Circuit arts visuels et métiers d'art des Îles-de-la-Madeleine regroups seventeen local artists, artisans and galleries. Signage identifies the individual vendors and work as locally-made.
- Artisans du Sable, La Grave, 907 route 199, Havre-Aubert, ☎ . 9AM-5PM weekdays (year-round). Creations from the sea since 1981; various artisanal and artistic objects created with the sand of the Islands and other materials, workshops.
- L’ÉTAL – Produits d'ici, 4-184, chemin Principal, Cap-aux-Meules, ☎ . 10AM-5PM Fri-Sat. Storefront promoting a group of thirty local food and agricultural producers; various local foods sold in souvenir, assortment or "gift box" packaging. A music listening station promotes local Madelinot musicians in collaboration with la Corporation Arrimage, who run the local "Circuit arts..." promotion.
- Fromagerie du Pied de Vent, 149, chemin Pointe-Basse, Havre-aux-Maisons, ☎ . Local cheese factory. A 90-minute guided tour (10:30AM-noon, $15/person, kids $5, maximum 15 people) is offered most days from mid-June to end-September; visit a dairy farm, stop by the factory to learn how the cheese is made and sample the finished product.
- Fresh lobster is available in early summer (June-July).
- Smoked fish: herring, scallops, mackerel.
- Pot-en-pot: seafood pie.
- Loup-marin: seal (very strong tasting, similar to liver or wild game).
- Boulangerie Madelon, 355, ch. Peittpas, Cap-aux-Meules, ☎ . Bakery
- Resto chez Maguy, 426 Rte 199, Grande-Entrée, ☎ .
- La Table des Roy, 1188 Chemin de la Vernière, L'Étang-du-Nord, ☎ . 6-9PM. Upscale restaurant with wi-fi.
There is a local brewery near Cap aux Meules which can be visited:
- Ã l'abri de la tempête, 286, chemin Coulombe, L'Étang-du-Nord, ☎ , fax: . noon-midnight daily (summer), limited hours off-season. Microbrewery and brew pub, patio and dining room. Beer is bottled here for sale in most restaurants, grocers and corner stores throughout the islands. Their beers, made from local ingredients, are very good: rousse(red), blonde(pale), blanche (wheat beer), noire (milk stout) and some special brews.
Their local beers are on tap at these establishments, which also serve food:
- Bistro les Pas Perdus, 169, chemin Principal, Cap-aux-Meules, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Popular restaurant-café-bar, good food, service variable. Bistro near the port in Cap-aux-Meules. Dine, buy a drink or a coffee and watch live entertainment.
- Café de la Grave, 969, route 199, La Grave, Havre-Aubert, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Reasonable, laid back, superb little café-bar in the historic port of La Grave in Havre-Aubert. Warm atmosphere, taste great food or just go for a coffee or a beer in the afternoon.
- Domaine du Vieux-Couvent, 292, route 199, Havre-aux-Maisons, ☎ , fax: . Le Moulière restaurant, Chez Gaspard event space and bar. Twelve-room hotel with wi-fi, breakfast, in-room fridge. Dining hall for 105 people, meeting facility for up to 200.
- Bistro du Capitaine, 14 chemin de la pointe, Havre-aux-Maisons, ☎ . Restaurant-bistro at the Havre-aux-Maisons marina.
In addition to Québec's already painful double-digit sales taxes, a $2/night accommodation tax is applied to lodging throughout the region.
- Auberge du Village (Village Inn), 205, chemin Principal, Cap-aux-Meules, île du Cap aux Meules, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open daily, year-round. Four rooms in the inn and eight motel rooms with kitchenette, 1km from la plage de l'Hôpital. Continental breakfast included. 2 stars. From $132 (double occupancy, high season), $10 per extra person (up to four people), from $87 off-season..
- Château Madelinot, 323, chemin Principal, Fatima, île du Cap aux Meules. 120 room hotel located directly on the sea, 3 km from la plage de l'Hôpital. Isle Margaulx restaurant on site, meeting rooms, accessible for disabled people, full breakfast included. 3 stars. Various packages offered, including the observation of whitecoat baby seals. From $147 (double occupancy, high season), $10 per extra person (up to four people), from $113 off-season..
- Havre-sur-Mer, 1197, chemin du Bassin, Bassin, île du Havre Aubert, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 8AM-10PM daily (May-Sept). Eight bedrooms and three studios. Located 0.1 km from the beach (la plage de l'Ouest). Full breakfast included. 3 stars. One September package includes spa and sauna access; rates from $120 in shoulder season and $110 off-season. From $140 (double occupancy, high season).
Bed and breakfast
- Maison d'Éva-Anne, 326 Chemin de la Pointe-Basse, Havre-Aux-Maisons, ☎ . Four rooms, two with private bath. Bicycle rental ($20/day), guided and unguided bike tours. Substantial penalties for reservation cancellations. $98-112.
- Parc de Gros-Cap, 74 chemin du Camping (located in the town of L'Étang-du-Nord), ☎ , toll-free: , fax: . Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 11AM. Campground, cabins, hostel (formerly HI-Îles-de-la-Madeleine). Beachfront park, sailing, sea kayaking, equipment rental. Wi-fi, continental breakfast. Extra charge for laundry. June 1-mid Sept. $34/person (dormitory), $72 (private room).
All of Îles-de-la-Madeleine is pretty safe. Do not walk near the edges of cliffs as they are subject to erosion and collapse. Certain beaches can have strong and dangerous currents which may pull you away from shore.