This past June, I spent a magical week exploring Quebec’s Îles de la Madeleine or Magdalen Islands. I am in the process of writing several articles on that beautiful trip that include a little guide to all there is to see and to eat (hint: lots of lobster!) on that little stretch of land in the middle of the St Lawrence gulf. I highly recommend spending some time discovering this very unique part of the province, especially during the off season, towards the end of June or during the month of September. The months of July and August are extremely busy and see an influx of thousands of tourists to this tiny chain of islands that normally houses only 13000 inhabitants. Both June and September have advantages and disadvantages. June is still a bit cold but lobster season is at its peak while September is a nicer weather wise and the water is a lot warmer for swimming. Since September is almost here already, I recommend you plan a few days on the islands if you’re looking for a low key yet fulfilling holiday.
Here are some of the best reasons why you should travel to Quebec’s Îles de la Madeleine off season.
June is not quite the high season yet on the Magdalen Islands but it’s definitely the height of lobster season and if you’re a fan, it’s the best time to go. The season for lobster fishing is only 9 weeks long and typically starts at the beginning of May and ends at the end of June. Lobster is still available for a few weeks after the season ends but it’s not as fresh. So, back to my reasoning, if you’re a lobster fan, go in June and gorge on the succulent crustacean like I did. I feasted on lobster rolls, lobster salad, lobster pasta, whole lobster, lobster poutine, lobster club sandwiches and more. I even went lobster fishing, quite the unforgettable experience, which I will tell you all about in another blog post.
With over 300 km of beaches spread out among the 6 interconnected islands and Île d’Entrée, the Iles de la Madeleine have more than enough sand for everyone to enjoy. In fact, I like to describe the entire archipelago as a long beach dotted with a few wider fragments of land that settlers built their towns on. There are rocky beaches, red sand beaches, beaches surrounded by giant rocks, little coves carved in the cliffs and long stretches of gold-hued, wind-swept beaches demarcated by tall grass dancing in the breeze. I found myself swerving the car every time I came across a path that could lead to a beach. There’s something very soul-soothing about strolling along a beach, especially when said beach is deserted and you have it all to yourself. It wasn’t warm enough to swim when I went in June but it’s supposedly warm enough to swim at the end of August or in September when the crowds have left the Islands so now is the ideal time to visit!
Easy restaurant reservations
I didn’t make many restaurant reservations when I was on the Islands and just decided where I wanted to eat spontaneously every night. I was told that that would be quite impossible during the high season, when restaurants are incredibly busy. Some of the industry people I spoke to informed me that they already had bookings for the month of August while other Madelinots informed me that waiting for a table can take hours during the high season. Most seasonal restaurants are open from the beginning of June until September.
More affordable lodging
Most hotels, camping grounds, motels and B&Bs on the islands open in June and stay open until September. Their high season is in July and August and they often offer lower rates in June and September. It is also much easier to find lodging during those months as opposed to the high season, which you have to reserve for months ahead. Most of the places I stayed at while on the Islands were almost deserted and it was really nice to be able to explore and take full advantage of the grounds, amenities and activities without having to compete with many other guests.
More accessible activities
The Islands can be an oasis of calm and serenity if you want them to be. Otherwise, there’s a lot to do, from sports, to cultural activities to a variety of workshops. Whether you want to learn how to make your own beeswax candles or essential oils from foraged plants, reserve a kayak for a sea excursion, book a workshop or learn a nautical sport, it will be much harder to do at the height of the season. I personally also find it much nicer to be there when it’s quieter for a chance to have meaningful connections and conversations with some of the locals, who tend to be more accommodating when there aren’t a lot of visitors around.
Easier car rental
There are only a few car renting companies on the islands and a limited number of vehicles. It can be really hard to reserve a car in high season and you have to do so way ahead of time or drive your own vehicle to the islands, which can take a couple of days if you’re leaving from Montreal. It’s obviously much easier to book a car during the low season.
More ferry and cruise ship space
The ferry that crosses from Souris, PEI is one of the main entry points to the islands. It gets very busy during the high season and has to be booked weeks ahead. All the boats that cross over to the separate islands such as Entry Island also get very busy and have to be booked ahead of time during the high season. You still have to book ahead in June and September but it’s much easier to get a spot. The same goes for the cruise ship that goes from Montreal and Quebec City to Îles de la Madeleine. These can get booked pretty quickly but if you decide to head to the Islands as soon as the cruise season starts or at the tail end of it, it will be much easier to get a spot.
La Folle Virée Gourmande food festival
La Folle Virée Gourmande (or Wild Gourmet Spree) is a food festival that takes place evert month of June. If you’re a food lover, then you must head to the islands in June. Now in its 9th year, the festival sees Madelinots “producers, artists and artisans join forces to host one-of-a-kind thematic gourmet events featuring the best the archipelago has to offer.” I attended two event when I was there, a body painting, dance and gourmet meal event at Resto Bistro Accents and a “Sacred Cow” event at Café de la Grave that was a collaboration between Château Frontenac chef Stéphane Modat and the Island’s cheesemaker Fromagerie Pied-de-vent. What an incredibly delicious meal that was! It featured many unique products from the islands, including foraged wild plants.
Check out these other articles for more travel ideas around Quebec.