August 5, 2009
Slowing the pace in Îles de la Madeleine
When you disembark on these mid-Gulf islands, you are taken with the distinct impression that time moves at a perceptibly slower pace. Whether it is the maritime climate, local accent or exceptional seascapes, it is hard to tell. But upon arrival, you are certain to experience a wondrous, relaxed sensation of wellbeing! Welcome to Iles de la Madeleine!
The archipelago lies in the shape of an elongated crescent, stretches out over a distance of 65 km, and is made up of a dozen islands, six of which are connected by narrow tracts of sand. Looking out around you, the islands and beaches seem to extend for as far as the eyes can see. The brightly coloured houses stand in sharp contrast to the vales of green, cliffs of red and beaches of white sand.
The islands are accessible only by boat or plane which adds a touch of the exotic to the destination. The maritime climate sets the tone and provides a comforting sense of wellbeing. The air is fresh and invigorating, and the winds blow ever gently through to late autumn.
On July 27th, the majestic Maasdam, a cruise ship operated by Holland America Cruises, stopped in at the islands for the first time ever on a 42-day sailing from Boston. This stopover enabled passengers to begin their journey in style and shift quickly into holiday mode.
On location, cruise passengers enjoyed a full day to discover the islands at leisure. Organized excursions took passengers to various islands in the chain so that they might truly appreciate the gentler pace of island life.
Excursions included visits to the following islands:
Ile de Cap-aux-Meules:
The largest of the islands offers up a quaint urban touch with its church, schools and local businesses set against a striking backdrop of reddish-coloured cliffs sculpted by wind and tide.
Ile du Havre-Aubert:
At the extreme southern tip of the island chain, cruise passengers were treated to an impressive succession of seascapes dotted with fishing villages, lighthouses and sites of historic interest. In the area around La Grave, they delighted in the shops, art galleries and friendly cafés where they could chat with local artists while soaking up the warm, welcoming island ambience. Works of art made from island sand, an original concept unique to the region, proved of particular interest.
Ile de Grande-Entrée:
A visit to this island made it possible to view one of the largest lobster fishing ports in Québec and to stop in at the Seal Interpretative Centre. Visitors were also introduced to an entire line of original garments made using sealskins.
Île du Havre-aux-Maisons:
Food-lovers enjoyed a visit to the Au Pied de Vent cheese production facility where they were to sample some of the delicious cheeses and meet with the master cheese maker before heading down to the sea to photograph Dune du Sud beach. Looking around, you got the distinct impression that the brightly coloured houses had been built and then dispersed into the countryside at random along the winding roads and gently rolling hills. Excursionists then made their way to À l’Abri de la Tempête micro-brewery where they taste-tested beer made from malted grains grown on the islands. This was followed by a visit to Verrerie La Méduse glassworks where a glassblower dazzled onlookers with his talent. The group concluded their tour with a well deserved break at Fumoir d’antan, an old fashioned smokehouse where they were treated to a succulent selection of smoked or dried fish and seafood. A gourmet adventure unlike any other!
This little island, with a population of just over 100, is detached from the others and home to individuals of Scottish and Irish descent. Accessible only by boat, the rolling landscape is ideal for exploring on foot. And it was here, with the wind ever blowing, that visitors got a first-hand taste of the rugged lifestyle to which the inhabitants have become accustomed. In this tiny village far out in the Gulf of St Lawrence, the vantage points for photographing the numerous species of local birds were numerous and much appreciated by visiting cruise ship passengers.
For the more active at heart, Îles de la Madeleine offer a number of other activities, including exploring coastline caves in sea kayaks, sailing, kite flying, cycling and hiking to name but a few.
The locals, known as Madelinots, were justifiably proud to welcome passengers from the Maasdam and to share with them the joys of their little corner of the earth. In the not too distant future, other ships will be calling in at the islands, affording passengers a similar occasion to relax, shift into holiday mode and soak up the good things in life.
The people of Îles de la Madeleine look forward to welcoming you into their midst so that you, too, can experience the slower, gentler pace of island life!