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November 20, 2012
Destination Îles de la Madeleine
How to describe Îles de la Madeleine? How to define this region of Québec so decidedly different from the mainland? Indeed, this area of the province resembles no other and is deemed 'exotic' in a sense by many Québecers. This island archipelago totalling 205 km2 in area is located in the heart of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and comprises a chain of islands, seven of which are joined together by two bridges and stretches of sand dunes. Four others islands or rock outcroppings are detached from the main group.
The countryscapes are resolutely different with long, deserted stretches of beach extending for kilometre upon kilometre, steep red sand cliffs, and houses of every colour imaginable that are readily noticeable when approaching by air or sea.
The local population stands at about 13 000 inhabitants half of whom are of Acadian origin, hence the lilting accent. Many make a living in either the tourism or lobster fishing industry.
The cruise season spans the months of September and October, just after the peak summer season when Québecers flock to the islands. This year, more than 2300 passengers and 1700 crew members stopped in at port to partake of the beauty of this enchanting island archipelago. Upon arrival, they were treated to an all new cruise terminal, completed just in time for the 2012 season. The new facilities provide for enhanced passenger comfort and seamless transfer to island-based excursion activities designed to ensure that visitors enjoy the scenic beauty of the islands to the fullest and are able to interact with the local inhabitants.
The Madelinots, as the island inhabitants are known, have developed their own special brand of art de vivre which charms visitors time and again. Through a blend of music, crafts, visual arts and local gastronomy, they delight in sharing the uniqueness of their way of life.
Especially popular with visitors are excursions which feature first-hand contact with local artisans replete with an opportunity to learn more about their particular crafts. These excursions include as follows:
- Pied-de-Vent Cheese Factory and Economuseum : Set against the picture postcard backdrop of Îles de la Madeleine, artisans Jérémie and Lucie Arseneau, and their team, invite visitors to sample their distinctive range of raw milk cheeses made using the milk of Canadienne cows. On offer: soft cheese, semi-firm cheese, cheddar curd and crème fraîche. Each of these savoury products is made and sold on the premises. In addition to product tastings, visitors can also observe the cheese makers in the workshop.
- Le Fumoir d'Antan Smokehouse and Economuseum : Enveloped in the exceptional décor of a typical smokehouse, visitors have the impression of journeying back in time to the origins of traditional savoir faire such as the smoking of fish. Three generations of the Arseneau family have kept tradition alive at this smokehouse. Visitors will delight in touring buildings which stand as a testimony to a bygone era when herring smoking operations were in full swing. Testimonials, demonstrations, photographs and sundry objects recount herring processing operations and development of the industry on the islands. Naturally, one can sample several of the products made on site.
- Les Artisans du sable Economuseum : What magic formula can transform fine island sand into a substance as hard as rock? The fun-loving team at Les Artisans du sable reveal all their secrets... or just about! Passengers will discover the laws of granular physics, the different types of sand and how to transform the latter into works of art.
- La Méduse Glassworks: The glassworks is located in a heritage building known as the 'La Grande École' (upper school) and which itself is deserving of a visit. Once inside, visitors can observe glass blowers at work and appreciate the many fine finished pieces on display.
Whatever visitors choose to do with their time in port, they are certain to find the Madelinots warm, welcoming and eager to share tales of life in a setting unlike no other in Québec. Never was there a better time to plan a trip to Îles de la Madeleine!