This morning on National Geographic Explorer, we were greeted by the iconic red cliffs of the Magdalen Islands, known as Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine in their native French. Although part of the French-Canadian province of Quebec, this archipelago is closer to the Maritime Provinces and the island of Newfoundland.
The verdant rolling hills and seaside cliffs of the islands are dotted with brightly painted houses ranging in a full spectrum of colours from sky blue to lime green to violet and more. Our knowledgeable local guides told us that fishermen once used the rainbow of homes as a form of navigation and as an eye-catching way to divvy up coastal fishing grounds. Even though most fishing vessels now use GPS systems to navigate the waters around the islands, residents continue this colorful tradition with pride.
Our guides explained to us that the abundance of lighthouses across the islands is due to the hundreds of shipwrecks that surround the small archipelago. Thank goodness for our skilled captain and crew who kept us from meeting a similar watery fate!
Touring the islands, we visited a local fumoir, or smokehouse, to learn about the islands’ rich fishing history. People once preserved millions of pounds of herring every year in the smokehouses. We had the chance to sample some delicious smoked fish. Many of us relaxed and talked at a beautifully restored convent while dining on seafood and taking in spectacular ocean vistas.
Some of us spent the day exploring the island on e-bikes, cycling over 35 kilometres. Near the end of our journey, we were treated to a tour of the cheese factory, Pied-De-Vent. Surrounding the fromagerie were picturesque farms with a breed of cattle known as Canadian cows that spend their days happily grazing on the hills next to the ocean. As we sampled the artisanal cheeses, the workers told us that the salty spray of the Gulf of St. Laurent on the luscious grass the cows feed upon gives their cheese a unique, creamy flavour. Many of us went back for seconds (or thirds) to confirm that this was indeed the case.
No visit to the Magdalen Islands would be complete without a stroll along one of its many pristine sandy beaches. Here we paused for a moment to watch the waves roll in and smelled the salt air as other visitors flew an array of kites from the shore.
Our day wrapped up back on the ship to the sounds of local musicians playing Acadian and Quebecois music on the fiddle and guitar before we enjoyed a round of succulent oysters on the sundeck.