If you want to get away to a place most travelers won't ever see, these islands are for you. Sitting in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 440 mi/700 km east of Quebec City, the Magdalen Islands (also known as the Iles de la Madeleine) have green valleys, rolling dunes, white-sand beaches, red cliffs and lagoons. To reach these remote islands, you can fly from mainland Quebec; take a car ferry from Souris, Prince Edward Island; or take a passenger vessel, the Vacancier, that leaves Montreal once a week (late May-October). Most of the islands are linked by road.
These islands are a wonderful place to watch wildlife, as more than 50 species of birds stop there during the spring and fall migrations. Seals line many of the beaches, and local guides (many of them former seal hunters) take visitors out on the ice in spring to see the once-endangered baby seals.
On Ile du Cap aux Meules is Cap aux Meules, the ferry port. Be sure to see the dramatic cliffs at Belle Anse, but don't walk too close to the edge, where the terrain is unstable. On Ile du Havre Aubert, the main town is Havre Aubert, a fishing and pleasure-boat harbor. It also has an aquarium and the Musee de la Mer (Museum of the Sea), which tells the story of the many shipwrecks around the islands. La Grave is an area of town that was a favorite spot for the fisherfolk of yesteryear—it's now designated a historic site.
The town on Ile du Havre aux Maisons is a pretty, rural community. There are good beaches on Ile aux Loups (Dune du Nord and Pointe aux Loups). Grande Entree is noted for lobster fishing—don't leave without having some fresh lobster. The Festival du Homard des Iles in July includes a lobster supper as well as cultural activities, outdoor games and entertainment.
The inhabitants of Grosse Ile are of Scottish descent, still living as fisher-farmers. There is a beautiful beach at La Grande Echouerie on Grosse Ile, and 20 mi/32 km north is the bird sanctuary on Rocher aux Oiseaux—a remote, elevated rock with a flat top. It's not easy to get to, but excursions are available from Grande Entree.
Ile d'Entree is the only island not connected by road. Take the ferry to this island, where fewer than 200 people live. Interestingly, Ile d'Entree and Grosse Ile are English-speaking communities with a British character—in strong contrast to the Francophone islands. If you're on the islands during the first half of August, don't miss the Acadian Festival in Havre Aubert, which features a boat-building contest and a sand-castle-building contest.
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