House numbers are a modern import to this archipelago of 12 islands in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. For years, it was the colour of the houses, each with a unique body and trim combination, that helped fisherman at sea know where to drop their nets, and how locals would explain where they live on Les Îles de la Madeleine: “I’m the yellow house with the white trim.”
Islanders have been known to agonize over their paint chips for months, trying to avoid painting their homes the same colours as a neighbour—no one would intentionally offend one of his or her 12,322 fellow islanders.
Located a five-hour ferry ride from Souris, P.E.I., Les Îles de la Madeleine is a popular escape for Quebecers, with an increasing number of visitors arriving from the Maritimes, Ontario and the United States. The 74,000 tourists, who mostly come between late spring and early fall, are there for the pastoral beauty of its rolling hills and red-sand cliffs, stunning beaches, incredible kiteboarding conditions and unobstructed, nightly views of the stars.
The islands’ biggest attraction, though, is its friendly residents, the majority of whom are descended from the original French, Acadian and Scottish settlers who came in the 1700s and 1800s. While opportunities on the islands are few, members of the younger generations are choosing to remain and taking over traditional family businesses.
Three places to visit on Les Îles de la Madeleine
1. La Grave
This charming former fishing village sits on a thin spit of land with a main road running down its centre. Businesses, including small boutiques, restaurants and galleries, line each side on the main road, with the ocean lapping near their back doors. Be sure to visit the Musée de la Mer des Îles de la Madeleine to learn about the islands’ rich history.
Sit on the upstairs balcony of the À l’abri de la tempête micro-brewery and sip on a beer made from local barley while watching the kiteboarders in the distance. Starting with a single pilsner in 2004, it now produces about seven varieties of beer a year featuring wildflowers, herbs and algae from the islands.
Opened in 1998 with 62 Canadienne cows—a recognized breed which can be traced back to Samuel de Champlain’s 1608 voyage—the Fromagerie du Pied-De-Vent produces five varieties of cheese. A short drive away, Le Fumoir d’Antan still produces smoked herring, allowing the salty breeze from the gulf to help cure its fish.
[This story appears in the January 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine]