Saturday, February 20, 2016

St. Pierre & Miquelon -- a true taste of Europe in North America

St. Pierre

Le Café du Chat Luthier
YJust west of Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula lie the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, France's last outpost in North America. This overseas collectivity of France has a population of a little over 6000, and is principally made up of two islands, St. Pierre -- more heavily populated and the smaller of the two -- and Miquelon-Langlade. A third island, Ile-aux-Marins, is located just off the town of St. Pierre and is no longer occupied. The islands lie a short ferry ride from the port of Fortune, Newfoundland and Labrador, or can be reached by air from Halifax, Montreal and St. John's; travel between St. Pierre and Miquelon can be accomplished by air or by local passenger ferry. The islands are also a popular stop for cruise ships both large and small; a great way to visit is on an expedition cruise like those offered by Adventure Canada; I first found my way here on their Newfoundland Circumnavigation, and will return in 2016 on their Mighty St. Lawrence cruise.

The two islands have distinctly different personalities; St. Pierre has a more cosmopolitan feel despite its small size, with restaurants, hotels and shops ranked along its narrow streets, while Miquelon has a much more rural and relaxed atmosphere. Both islands, though, boast brightly coloured houses and beautiful scenery. Wine shops, patisseries and cafes make for some great culinary experiences -- after all, this is France and the wines and baked goods are legendary. Just like in mainland France, a visit to a small shop will provide plenty of options for a light lunch, including locally produced chevre and fois gras. Remember that even though this is definitely France and locals tend to be very fashionably dressed, a good pair of walking shoes is essential.

Tourism information centres can be found in both towns, and local sightseeing tours by van can be arranged. A water taxi to Ile-aux-Marins makes for an interesting addition; the island is used as a summer home by some local residents, and historic and cultural displays can be found there. The heritage of the islands' residents is varied; on Miquelon there are many descendants of the Acadians, expelled from New France by the British in 1755, and many islanders also trace their ancestry to the Basque region. Local residents are friendly and most speak excellent English; if you speak French this is a great opportunity to put it to use, but don't hesitate to go because of a language barrier -- you'll get along just fine in English.

Lobster on the menu!
St. Pierre boasts several very comfortable hotels in its central district, while Miquelon has bed and breakfast accommodations. Information on transportation to the islands and on local activities and culture can be found here. Currency is the Euro; both St. Pierre and Miquelon have banking machines where cash can be purchased, and credit cards are widely accepted.
See you in St. Pierre and Miquelon!

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