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Exploring Îles de la Madeleine: A Visitor's Guide

Written by Chloë Ernst and Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
Jul 31, 2020

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Cap-aux-Meules cliffs, Magdalen Islands, Quebec
Cap-aux-Meules cliffs, Magdalen Islands, Quebec

About 90 kilometers of thread-like sand dunes connect six of the twelve islands in the Îles de la Madeleine archipelago. The islands lie in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, nearer to Prince Edward Island than they are to the Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec.

Inhabitants of Îles de la Madeleine, or the "Madelinots," are mainly descendants of Acadians who settled here after 1755. The population — French, Scottish, English, and Irish — live here throughout the year fishing and farming.

With their low-key and outdoor attractions, the islands are ideal for tourists who enjoy water sports and bird-watching, and for anyone who enjoys long walks in the dunes. The best time for a visit is in August. Spring is less recommended because of the thick fogs.

The name of the archipelago goes back to Samuel de Champlain, who in 1629 entered "La Magdeleine" on his chart. Known as the Magdalen Islands in English, they are largely composed of red and gray sandstone. The cliffs and rocks have been carved into fascinating shapes by erosion and have disintegrated in parts to form broad, long sandy beaches.

Cottage on the Îles de la Madeleine
Cottage on the Îles de la Madeleine

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

Where are the Îles de la Madeleine?

In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, between the Gaspé Peninsula and Prince Edward Island, the Îles de la Madeleine are the ultimate in off-the-beaten-path getaways. The islands are reached by a CTMA ferry from the town of Souris on Prince Edward Island, or by air.

Pascan flies to the Îles de la Madeleine from St-Hubert, Quebec City, Mont-Joli, and Bonaventure, while Air Canada serves the islands from Gaspé, Quebec City, and Montreal.

Île du Havre aux Maisons

Red cliff on the Île du Havre aux Maisons
Red cliff on the Île du Havre aux Maisons

Île du Havre aux Maisons, with its gentle hills, red cliffs, winding paths, and scattered houses is one of Îles de la Madeleine's most beautiful islands. Traditional homes stand between a heritage school, century-old convent, and Sainte-Madeleine Church. Also on Havre-aux-Maisons, Cap Alright has a small lighthouse and is noted for its impressive offshore rock formations.

For even better views of the carved red cliffs and rock formations, join a kayak tour to explore the cape from water level. Several outfitters offer sea kayaking packages with guides, interpreters, and all the equipment provided. The unparalleled views of the eroded coast make kayaking one of the most popular things to do in the islands.

Île du Cap Aux Meules

Abandoned ship on Île d'Entrée
Abandoned ship on Île d'Entrée

Half the people of the archipelago live on Île du Cap aux Meules, the source of all the islands' supplies. From Cap-aux-Meules, a ferry crosses to Île d'Entrée, the only inhabited island not connected to the others. There is a wonderful view from the Butte du Vent over the surrounding islands, and on a clear day, it is possible to see as far as Cape Breton Island, nearly 100 kilometers away. Near Etang-du-Nord, the sea has created some particularly bizarre rock shapes.

Île du Havre-Aubert

Anse-à-la-Cabane lighthouse at sunset on Havre Aubert Island
Anse-à-la-Cabane lighthouse at sunset on Havre Aubert Island

Île du Havre-Aubert is the southernmost island in the archipelago and its little town has the Musée de la Mer. Though the islands are fairly bare, this island has the most forest and is popular for hiking and bird-watching.

Where to Stay on the Îles de la Madeleine

One of the many charms of the archipelago is that its beautiful sand beaches and dramatic sea cliffs are not marred by giant resort hotel complexes. Island guests stay in small comfortable hotels and motels, intimate resorts, and family-owned auberges, or homey B&Bs. You'll find these welcoming accommodations throughout the islands along with rental cottages, or gîtes, usually rented for week-long vacations.

  • Luxury Hotels: Domaine du Vieux Couvent overlooks the beach in Havre aux Maisons, and some of the rooms have sea views. The hotel has a restaurant and terrace.

    At Grande-Entrée, Auberge la Salicorne et Escapades Adventure Resort has a water sports facility and canoes, kayaks, and bicycles for rent. Breakfast and dinner at the resort's Madelinot Restaurant are included in the rate.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Auberge Madeli, only five minutes from the CTMA ferry landing in Cap-aux-Meules, has a bowling center and both indoor and outdoor dining in its Le Patio Restaurant, where dishes are prepared from local ingredients.

    Breakfast is included at Château Madelinot, also a mile from the CTMA Ferry on Cap-aux-Meules. Spacious rooms have seating areas; the hotel has a seafood restaurant overlooking Plaisence Bay and an indoor pool.
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