Chruch on Miquelon Island where many Acadian families sought refuge after the deportation of 1755.
// © Gayle Christensen
For the consummate Francophile, it just didn’t get any better. Although we were 2,611 miles from Paris, the Tricouleur
(French flag) floated in the breeze, the language spoken was French and the currency used was the euro. We were on the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, located off of Canada’s eastern coast. Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are part of an archipelago of small islands located in the North Atlantic, south of Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador province. Some islands are as close as 15 miles from the coast of Newfoundland at the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The major islands — Saint-Pierre, Miquelon and Langlade — are connected by a naturally formed sand isthmus. Most of the 6,000 residents of Saint-Pierre live there year-round, while those on Langlade and Miquelon do not.
European settlements on the islands date back to the 16th century. By the mid-17th century, Basque fishermen had become permanent residents here. For more than a century, France and Britain disputed possession of these islands. During Prohibition, the islands enjoyed a brief period of prosperity by smuggling alcohol to the Eastern U.S. Seaboard. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, however, the island’s economy collapsed.
In 1976, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon became an overseas department of France, sending one deputy to the National Assembly and one senator to the French Senate.
Most of Saint-Pierre’s activity centers around its harbor. Homes and shops are brightly painted in hues of blue, red, orange and green. The town center houses a post office, several artisan shops, restaurants and snack shops, a church, library and schools.
Because of its location, Saint-Pierre’s tourist season is limited. Winters are long and harsh, while spring and early summer are cool and foggy. Our mid-July visit was pleasant, though we experienced some light rain and fog. August and September are the recommended months for travel, but it would have been a shame to miss the Bastille Day pyrotechnics and festivities on July 14. During summer, Saint-Pierre hosts a Basque festival displaying lumberjack skills and other feats of strength. Saint-Pierre is two hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time and uses Daylight Savings Time on the North American schedule.
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon feels like Europe to visitors from the West Coast. To break up our trip and heighten the French experience, we spent a few days in Montreal’s Vieux Quartier before continuing on to the islands. Our base in Montreal was the very comfortable and centrally-located Auberge Bonaparte. The flying time from Montreal to Saint-Pierre was only three hours.
Maxxim Vacations, based in St. John’s, Newfoundland, provided us with an attractive and inclusive package: roundtrip airfare on Air Saint-Pierre between Montreal and Saint-Pierre, four nights with breakfast at the Hotel Ile de France, transfers, an island tour, one dinner and museum passes. The Hotel Ile de France was pleasant, welcoming and boasted an excellent restaurant. Maxxim’s is a second-generation family business, providing both independent and guided vacations.
Air Saint-Pierre’s flights were comfortable and punctual. The airline flies frequently to Saint-Pierre from various Canadian cities. In addition, a regular passenger ferry out of Fortune, Newfoundland, serves the island as well.
Saint-Pierre also has several hiking trails. We took an enjoyable half-day, self-guided walk to the high point of the island. There are also organized excursions to the other islands. We spent a full day with a guide touring Langlade and Miquelon, partly by Zodiac, partly by small van. We saw seals, eagles and puffins, passed the sites of countless shipwrecks and learned much about the geological formation of the island.
Saint-Pierre’s rich heritage is clearly reflected in its cuisine as well. We enjoyed its wide selection of seafood featuring traditional French preparation. Lobster bisque was our personal favorite. Desserts, such as the creme brulee and chocolate mousse, rivaled the finest in Paris. And although the islands’ harsh weather does not support vineyards, French wine is readily available.