© 2012; 2006 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Anne Dickinson. Information
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Les Îles de la Madeleine – A Solo Travel Report

By Anne Dickinson

Les Îles de la Madeleine (Magdalen Islands) comprise a sandy archipelago in the Gulf of St Lawrence. A little north of Prince Edward Island and east of Gaspé, this wind swept string of islands offers a taste of Québec in the Maritimes.

A Little Bit of PEI and Newfoundland in Québec

Typical beach Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec The terrain of the Magdalenes reflects their southerly neighbor, Prince Edward Island, with endless miles of dunes and barachois (fresh water ponds carved over time from saltwater inlets by drifting dunes). Scoured by salty winds, however, these islands lack PEI's lushness and are more often described as a combination of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

The iconic picture of these islands, and an image that is often found on local folk art, pottery, and paintings, is of a steep, treeless hill dotted with grazing cattle and vibrantly painted houses with a line of wash flapping in the ever-present breeze.

That persistent sea breeze defines the Madeleine's and draws tourists from around the world to enjoy top-notch wind and kite surfing, sea kayaking, and diving. Bird- watching is also a popular pastime.

Anyone planning to spend a part of their summer there – and everyone really should – will find no better place to stay than Auberge chez Denis à François. This delightful bed and breakfast inn is located in a lovely old house on a bluff overlooking the ocean at La Grave, a narrow, gravelly isthmus on the island of Havre-Aubert.

The rooms in the inn are varied in size, style, and decoration; each one is truly unique. There is a very good dining room featuring such island specialties as seal, and pot-en-pot, a sort of fisherman's version of shepherd's pie made from seafood. Breakfast is served in the coffee shop, which is also popular with the locals.

If there is a problem finding transportation on arrival at the ferry dock or airport, Denis, the Auberge proprietor, will likely volunteer to pick up the newcomer himself. If he does, it is a sure bet that, on the way to the hotel, he will, no doubt, be willing to stop at any number of lookout points while visitors admire the view or take pictures.

Madelinots love to share insights about their island lifestyle, so Denis is likely to show visitors a traditional fish smoke house where smouldering fires and fresh local fish render delectable treats. Another stop, for those who wish to live deliciously (and perhaps dangerously), is at a dairy to pick up some wonderful raw (un-homogenized) cheese. Another stop might be at La Meduse, a shop where fanciful glass objects feature another occasional visitor to the islands – jellyfish or, in French, la meduse.

One main advantage of staying at the Auberge for the single traveler is that its proximity to La Grave means you don't need to rent a car for the whole stay; an important consideration because cars are both scarce and expensive during the islands' short tourist season.

La Grave is lined with shops, cafés and restaurants in old wooden buildings converted from fisherman's shacks. Artifacts and souvenirs sold in shops are sometimes wonderful and sometimes tacky, and that adds amusement to the browsing.

My favorite spot in La Grave, called simply Café de la Grave, is a perfect place to meet and have a conversation with locals and other tourists. Large tables are pushed together so singles seldom sit alone, especially in summer when the café is full every night. Whoever wishes to may play the piano in the corner while others add to the convivial atmosphere by humming along.

Island and Beach Hopping

To visit beaches warmed by the Gulf stream or explore the other islands, you will need to rent a car for a day or two or take a tour, which can be arranged at the Auberge.

There is no better way to spend a summer's day than driving the looping highway that connects the islands by isthmus and causeway, with miles of sand dunes and ocean all around.

An occasional stop at one of the dozen or so interpretation centers to learn more about the islands' rich Acadian history, cultural traditions, and legends, or a meander around one of the fishing villages, or a swim at one of the near-deserted white sand beaches, these are some of the ways to spend a happy day solo in the Madeleine's.

Top off the day with dinner at the screened-in porch of the Vieux Couvent (Havre-aux-Maisons, 292 route 199) where delectable fresh mussels are drawn from the ocean nearby and served with crispy frites and mayonnaise – et voila! – a recipe for pure summer bliss.

If You Go to Les Îles de la Madeleine

Information: Tourism Iles de la Madeleine.

Getting There: By plane or ferry.

Lodging: Auberge chez Denis à François.

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