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Windswept Wonder on Îles de la Madeleine

The peace and beauty of the St. Lawrence Bay archipelago draws families from Canada and beyond for historic seaside time together.

By Claire Kerr-Zlobin

 

There is a place in Canada where the red sand from the rocks washes into the ocean and deposits white sand on the beach. Where the dunes are rich in salt and there are islands without trees. Where you can feel completely at home and like you are somewhere in an exotic far-off land at the same time. Somewhere in the St. Lawrence Bay between Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Newfoundland lie the seven islands with a rich history that makeup the Îles de la Madeleine islands.

There are a few ways you can get to the isles (also known in English as the Magdalen Islands): take a plane, catch the ferry from PEI, or cruise from Montreal. Travelling with two little ones and wanting to explore on our own, the best option for us was the five-hour ferry from Souris, PEI.

If you are looking for a Canadian destination that is completely off the beaten path, this is your place. Whether you are visiting as a family, a couple, or solo there are endless things to see and do. Are you an adventurer, nature lover, or in need of some downtime to relax? You will find it all on Îles de la Madeleine. The accommodations range from hotels, Auberge inns, hostels, glamping sites, and traditional camping sites. There is something for every type of traveler on every budget.

Îles de la Madeleine is like a magical paradise where while you may feel like it was all a dream, you can rejoice in knowing that it is real. Every turn feels like another cover photo on a postcard. There really isn’t a bad spot on the island whether you are just taking in the sights or snapping photos.

As busy parents, we really enjoyed the feeling of relaxation and stillness we experienced there. If you are looking for a place where you can have an adventure and also a sense of slowing down and really feeling present, Îles de la Madeleine is the place.

Fair warning though: you can’t help but fall completely in love with Îles de la Madeleine – you’ll want to go back almost as soon as you leave.

The ROAM Report: Îles de la Madeleine, Canada

Six Great Days

Our family spent six nights on the island – here’s a breakdown of our activities each day:

Day 1
After taking the 5-hour ferry from PEI, we arrived on Cap aux Meules, one of the seven islands that make up Îles de la Madeleine and the unofficial gateway to the islands. We took the opportunity to explore the beach at Chateau Madelinot‎, the hotel we were staying at, and walked its trails. The kids loved that they have a little farm where they could see the animals.

Day 2
I’ve often heard people say the cliffs along the water remind them of Ireland & Norway, and you can see why. We started this hike at the Lighthouse on Île du Cap aux Meules.

The contrast of the beautiful red sandbanks and the blue of the ocean is beyond captivating. We started out at Cap Herisse and then made our way over to Fatima and Cap-Vert. If you are there during their annual celebration, go! It’s free to the public and had the best food! We had the best clams and mussels out of all our East Coast adventure here. It was a treat for the kids as well. They had bouncy castles, sand boxes, music, and treats.

Day 3
We explored three islands in one day!  Île du Havre-aux-Maisons, Grosse- Île and Grand-Entrée. On our way out of Havre-aux-Maisons, we stopped by the cheese factory, bakery, and smokehouse to grab items for lunch. I highly recommend stopping here; the cheese is amazing and it’s a great do it yourself lunch.

In the afternoon we stopped at the local brewery ( À l’abri de la Tempête) in L’Étang-du-Nord. We tried their local food, including seal meat, cheese, and of course hubby got a sample of all their locally produced beers.

The beach by the brewery is lovely for a long walk, and my husband Denys, Mr. Curious, was gleeful when he spotted the shipwreck.

Île du Havre-aux-Maisons is one of the islands with a treeless landscape – something that is unusual in Canada and a bit shocking to see firsthand. There used to be trees on the island, but extensive logging in the 18th and 19th centuries deforested the island. We checked in to our Bubble tent accommodations at Auberge la Salicorne for the night and watched the sunset at the Grand-Entrée harbor.

Day 4
We started off the day on a guided hike with the kids while my adventurous husband went off to explore some of the caves on the island. Swimming up to caves and then crawling/swimming through them gives me the creeps, however, the adventurous one said they were amazing!

The kids and I got to learn all about the island, and they got to see a few carnivorous plants up close. I loved that La Salicorne has English & French speaking guides/groups. Our guide Rosie was amazing with the kids. They fell in love with her. She had a magnifying glass and showed the kids carnivorous plants that weren’t visible to the naked eye. She was also very knowledgeable about the island, and we learned a lot more than if we had gone exploring on our own.

After lunch we kayaked over to Île Boudreau, one of the small uninhabited islands, for our yoga and mud bath by the sea activity. The kids had fun finding and collecting the special mud for our mud bath. After the mud dried off, it was time for a dip in the ocean to clean off.

In the evening, at low tide, we went to another beach for clam digging! This one was for the kids (or so we thought). We all loved the activity and had so much fun! After we caught our dinner, we cooked it up and ate it right on the beach.  We spent our second night at La Salicorne in the inn. The kids preferred the bubble tent option, but it was nice to have all the comforts that a traditional hotel room provided.

Day 5
Day 5 was our relaxation day! Traveling with kids is awesome and the best way to keep it that way is to always have a relaxing day planned in. We love doing things that are off the beaten path with our little ones, and we also understand that they are kids and they are going to want to just relax, too. What I loved most about La Salicorne is that they incorporate everything into their packages. The kids got to go the kids club where they had a choice of crafts, games, and activities like pedal boats, kayaking, and stand up paddleboarding (SUP). Our six-year-old decided he wanted to learn how to SUP and they were great with him.

In the morning we all went to Old Harry beach which according to National Geographic is one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s gorgeous but with very strong riptides so be careful if you are not a strong swimmer. The kids had fun jumping in the waves and playing in the sand with the kids’club staff, and we went off for a walk along the 8.5-kilometre beach.


In the afternoon Denys went on a kayaking excursion and I opted for a massage. The massage therapist here is great and I was totally Zen afterward.

In the evening we explored Ile de la Pointe aux Loups, a little township of 50 houses on the tiniest of the inhabited islands here.

Day 6
In the morning we explored a new trail and a new beach on Havre aux Maisons. In the evening we went on a fishing excursion to catch our dinner, then I cooked it up at our place in Parc du Gros Cap.

The Good Stuff

Slow Pace I loved how I was able to get away from the hurried business of a big city and just settle into a calmer, slower pace.  It felt at times like we were the only ones on the island and there were many different things to explore. Whether it was hiking to the various lighthouses, the beaches, the watersports there is an abundance of things to try.  I really encourage people to book guided tours because it gives the opportunity to understand more about the destination. Most places have guides both in English and French.

Wonders Everywhere Just because the islands are peaceful doesn’t mean they’re not entertaining. Out on a walk one day, we found a giant red chair in the middle of nowhere. We told our son that we were in giant country and the chair was for the giant. His imagination went wild for the rest of the day!  Another spot allowed the kids to see real carnivorous plants up close with some only visible by magnifying glass.  

Any Budget This really can be as elaborate or simple as the family would like. There are may different accommodation and food options.  The biggest cost will the flights.

Winter Trip We visited in the summer, but I’d love to go back in winter where it’s a completely different experience to see the icefield and the Harp seal lay their young.  Keep in mind in winter the water is a bit choppier if you are taking the ferry and there have been times in the past when the ferry wasn’t able to run because the water was frozen. I recommend flying in and out if you go in the winter to avoid delays.

Good Tips The Îles de la Madeleine website is the best place to research things to do during your stay.

 

Claire Zlobin – March 2019

ROAM Contributor

Claire Zlobin is a mom of 2 who loves exploring our world with her family. She is the founder of www.lifewithababy.com a peer support program for new moms. You can read more her travel adventures with her family at www.dropofgoldensun.ca  The Zlobin family’s accommodations and some activities were provided by Tourisme Îles de la Madeleine but all opinions are her own. 

© ROAM Family Travel 2019 – All rights reserved

 
 

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