There is a place in Canada where the red sand from the rocks washes into the ocean and deposits white sand on the beach. Where the dunes are rich in salt and there are islands without trees. Where you can feel completely at home and like you are somewhere in an exotic far-off land at the same time. Somewhere in the St. Lawrence Bay between Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Newfoundland lie the seven islands with a rich history that make up the Îles de la Madeleine. If your clients are looking for a unique Canadian travel experience that is off the beaten path, the Îles de la Madeleine are the perfect destination.
There are a few ways to get to the islands: travelers can take a plane, catch the ferry from PEI, or cruise from Montreal. Whether visiting as a family, a couple, or solo there are endless things to see and do. For every type of traveller—the adventurer, nature lover, or in those in need of some downtime to relax—Iles de la Madeleine has something for everyone. The accommodations range from hotels, inns, auberge, hostels, ready-to-camp sites, and traditional camping. There is something for every type of traveler and every budget.
Here’s what one family did on their 6-day trip.
Day 1 – Arrival and Cap aux Meules
The first day is largely about getting there. After taking the 5-hour ferry from PEI, we arrived on Cap aux Meules, one of the seven islands that make up Îles de la Madeleine and the unofficial gateway to the islands. We took the opportunity to explore the beach at Chateau Madelinot, the hotel we were staying at, and walked the on site trails. The kids loved that they have a little farm where they could see the animals.
Day 2 – Cap aux Meules
The contrast of the beautiful red sandbanks and the blue of the ocean is beyond captivating. We started out at Cap Herisse and then made our way over to Fatima and Cap-Vert. Cap aux Meules is the most urban of the islands, and has a main street with businesses and numerous restaurants. Plan on spending at least a full day here—there’s a lot to see and do.
Day 3 – Havre aux Maisons Island
Cap aux Meules Island is connected to Havre aux Maisons Island by a bridge so it’s easy to get between the islands. One of the highlights of Havre-aux-Maisons is the combination cheese factory, bakery, and smokehouse. It’s a must-see and a great place to grab something to eat.
Havre aux Maisons island has some incredible historical buildings for the history loving traveler including the only fieldstone building on the islands—a convent built in 1915.
In the afternoon we stopped at the local brewery ( A l’abri de la Tempete) in L’Étang-du-Nord. We tried their local food, including seal meat, cheese, and some locally produced beer. For your foodie-inspired clients, it’s a must see. In addition, the beach by the brewery is lovely for a long walk.
Ile du Havre aux Maisons is one of the islands with a treeless landscape—something that is unusual in Canada and is a little shocking to see first-hand. There used to be trees on the island, but extensive logging in the 18th and 19th centuries deforested the island. One of the really unique accommodation experiences your clients can experience are the Bubble tent accommodations at Auberge la Salicorne on Grand Entree.
Day 4 – Grand Entree
Nature lovers will be in their element here. There are guided hikes of the beaches to be taken where travelers can learn all about the island, and see a few carnivorous plants up close. I loved that La Salicorne has both English and French speaking guides/groups; our guide Rosie was amazing with the kids. She was also very knowledgeable about the island, and we learned a lot more than if we had gone exploring on our own. For the more adventurous travelers, there are caves that can be explored from the water.
A great excursion that the whole family can do together is g kayaking over Île Boudreau, one of the small uninhabited islands, known for their yoga and mud bath by the sea activity. The kids had fun finding and collecting the special mud for our mud bath. After the mud dried off, it was time for a dip in the ocean to clean it all off.
Seafood lovers will want to keep at least one evening set aside for clam digging. The whole family can work together or compete to see who can get the most clams. After catching dinner, travelers can cook it (with the help of a chef), and dine on the beach. If bubble tents seem a little too rustic for your clients, they can stay at the inn in la Salicorne and enjoy all the comforts that a traditional hotel room provides.
Day 5 – Ile du Havre aux Maisons and Grosse Ile
In the morning we all went to Old Harry beach on Grosse Ile, which according to National Geographic is one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world. The whole family enjoyed walking the beach and going to the water’s edge.
One of the best things about staying at a place like La Salicorne is that they incorporate everything into their packages. When parents need an off day (or even just an afternoon to themselves) the kids can go to the kids’ club where they have a choice of crafts and games, and activities like pedal boats, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding (SUP). While the kids are in the kids’ club, the parents can do as they please. For the more adventurous travelers, there are kayak excursions while those looking for some relaxation can book some time with the massage therapist.
In the evening, visitors can explore Ile de la Pointe aux Loups, a little township of 50 houses on the tiniest of the inhabited islands here.
Day 6 – Havre aux Maisons Island
If clams aren’t your clients’ thing but they want to try to catch their dinner, then a fishing excursion may be just the ticket.
For the culture-minded tourists, there are six lighthouses, five historic sites, and nine art galleries, on Iles de la Madeleine. There is also a nine-hole golf course, and over 40 different restaurants, bakeries, or breweries to explore.
The Iles de la Madeleine are like a magical paradise where, while you may feel like it was all a dream, you can rejoice in knowing that it is real. Once they have discovered this hidden gem, your clients will want to keep returning again and again to experience the charm and beauty.
Recommend magazine has partnered with the Family Travel Association to bring you monthly columns to help travel advisors sell family travel. This column was written by Claire Kerr-Zlobin, a travel writer and Family Travel Association Media Center member.