The Québec maritime Blog
What do raw-milk cheese, sand sculptures, blown-glass jellyfish and smoked herring have in common? Each occupies a place of pride among the flairs and flavours of the Îles de la Madeleine. Charm, freshness and novelty join to create a special appeal that you’ll only find on the Islands.
It’s love at first sight from the minute visitors arrive on the Islands. Some of the best souvenirs to be found in the archipelago include crafts and local products, which promise to extend the enchanting memories of a trip you will wish could last forever. One image forever etched into my mind is the mound of cheese on the front counter of the CTMA cruise ship when it was time to head back inland. Passengers returned to Montréal wielding cheese like trophies from the Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent cheese factory, which the crew obligingly kept cool for the duration of the journey. The cheese factory’s economuseum tour explains how milk from cows grazing on the neighbouring farm is adeptly transformed into a variety of delicacies by passionate artisans who went into the cheese-making business in 1998. This was followed by a tasting of Pied-de-Vent, a soft raw-milk cheese lightly washed in brine and refined for 60 days. Visitors will be blown away by the exceptional flavour of this cheese, which definitely holds its own.
Freshness and fine dining
The Îles de la Madeleine call to mind the sea, and the sea means plenty of seafood. In a land where freshness and fine dining are the rule, a typical seafood dish features the one and only island lobster. The traditional know-how of the Islands’ fishers, together with the quality of the surroundings in which this precious crustacean is harvested, have established the island lobster’s world-wide reputation. To savour this dish and other delicacies of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (including mussels, scallops, shrimp and fish), discover local specialties such as the famous pot-en-pot (seafood pot pie) and enjoy all gourmet facets of the Islands (such as meat and deli products, fresh produce, baked goods, alcoholic beverages and honey). Keep an eye out for the Le Bon Goût frais des Îles de la Madeleine logo (which means “delicious and fresh from the Islands" – website in French only). This label certifies producers, points of sale and restaurants that showcase the best of the Islands’ local products. If you’re in the mood for fine dining, look no further than the restaurants of La Salicorne in Grande-Entrée, Auberge Chez Denis à François in Havre-Aubert and Château Madelinot in Fatima. You will also want to try Domaine du Vieux Couvent in Havre-aux-Maisons, La Table des Roy in L’Étang-du-Nord and Café de la Grave at the La Grave heritage site in Havre-Aubert.
To tantalize your taste buds even more, you can visit the Fumoir d’Antan smokehouse. The Arseneau brothers offer a sampling of their traditional smoked herring as they proudly explain their trade, a story that goes back four generations.
Lastly, for more proof that human ingenuity and island ingredients combine to produce exquisite flavours, the À l’Abri de la Tempête microbrewery is worth a visit. Operated by two Quebecers who fell in love with the Islands, this microbrewery, which isn’t even 10 years old, has already won several awards for its beer, which is brewed from local ingredients. You will get to enjoy an informative tour and listen in as the brewers share their passion for their craft.
The power of imagination
Once you’ve had your fill of food and drink, it will be time to feast your eyes and imagination. Whether it’s the landscape, the sound of the wind or their Acadian souls that instill them with such inspiration, the Islanders possess an abundance of artistic talent that forges connections between nature and people throughout the archipelago.
At the La Grave historical site, for example, you will be delighted by the array of boutiques and galleries featuring artists and artisans, including sculptors, painters, jewellers and makers of decorative objects. But if you were to choose just two places that truly represent the spirit of the Islands, the first would be Grande École in Havre-aux-Maisons, where you will meet François Turbide and his partners in crime, including Sophie Bourgeois, who is featured in our artisan profile section. This century-old heritage school has been home to the La Méduse artisan glassblowers for the last 25 years. You can watch them at work and admire the distinctive pieces that come out of the ovens. It’s absolutely mesmerizing! In addition to visiting the studio and boutique, which also showcases the work of other talented Islanders, you can stroll through an exhibit area and learn even more about the art and artisans of the Islands. And then of course there’s sand... a plentiful resource in the archipelago with its 300 km (190 mi.) of beaches.
The other absolute must on your itinerary is Atelier Côtier at the entrance to the La Grave historical site, where you will meet Pauline-Gervaise Grégoire. The gifted sand artisans who work here employ a well-kept secret process to transform their raw materials into some of the most unexpected shapes: decorative objects, lamps, trays, candlesticks, hourglasses, clocks, chess sets, urns, etc. Their work is beautiful, ecological, a little off-beat and reminiscent of the spectacular sandcastle competition first organized by the Artisans du Sable founders (Pauline-Gervaise’s parents) in 1987.
When we say that the Îles de la Madeleine awaken the senses and stimulate the imagination, we’re not kidding. Anyone who appreciates beauty in all its forms is certain to be awestruck.