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Exploring The Magdalen Islands In Quebec By Bike

Exploring the Magdalen Islands in Quebec by Bike

The Magdalen Islands or their French name – Îles de la Madeleine are an archipelago of more than a dozen, almost treeless islands, linked by kilometres of sand dunes as far as the eye can see. Plunked down in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, they take up a mere 206 square km (80 square mi), so there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of them. Although French is the first language for most of the 13,000 inhabitants, many of whom are either Acadians or are descendants of shipwreck survivors, English is widely understood.

Exploring the backroads on the Magdalen Islands
Exploring the backroads on the Magdalen Islands

Getting to the Magdalen Islands

My first view of these magical islands took place on the deck of a ferry bound from Souris, PEI for Cap-aux-Meules, on Île du Cap-aux-Meules, an island of red cliffs with a smattering of rainbow-coloured houses overlooking the sea.

Other than the five hour ferry ride from Prince Edward Island or a cruise ship from Montreal, the Magdalen Islands are accessible only via flights from one of three cities in Quebec – Montreal, Quebec City or Gaspé. The difficulty in accessing the islands seems only to add to their charm.

First view of the Magdalen Islands from the ferry that runs to PEI
First view of the Magdalen Islands from the ferry that runs to PEI

Why visit?

The Magdalen Islands are a great tourist destination – best known for the beaches, windsurfing (due to relentless wind), food, cycling and culture. And as you’ll see they are also a photographer’s dream destination.

The Acadian culture is very strong on the islands
The Acadian culture is very strong on the islands
Lots of red cliffs on the Magdalen Islands
Lots of red cliffs on the Magdalen Islands
The contrast of colours you see on the islands
The contrast of colours you see on the islands

I loved my visit! We did a bit of everything –  with a focus on biking but also checking out the world’s largest sand castle competition, windsurfing, lazing on a beach and talking for hours with the locals in an intimate cafe. The one thing we didn’t do, that the islands are famous for, is kite surf.

The world's largest sand castle competition is on the Magdalen Islands
The world’s largest sand castle competition is on the Magdalen Islands
Try windsurfing if you visit the Magdalen Islands
Try windsurfing if you visit the Magdalen Islands

Cycling the Magdalen Islands

The Magdalen Islands are home to a section of the Green Route, Quebec’s famous network of cycling trails. On these islands, with only one main road, Highway 199, it’s hard, if not impossible, to get lost.

In theory you could cycle from Havre-Aubert to Grande-Entrée and back in a day but that would be 150 km (93 mi) return and sure wouldn’t leave you with much time to explore.

The Magdalen Islands deserve to be discovered at a more leisurely pace. With more than 300 km (186 mi) of beaches and so many activities to try, like cave swimming and windsurfing, and with plenty of restaurants offering fresh seafood and local specialties, it’s highly likely that you’ll want to slow down and savour the experience.

Homes with a view of the quiet lagoon
Homes with a view of the quiet lagoon
Boats moored on the Ile du Havre Aubert
Boats moored on the Ile du Havre Aubert

Although you could choose any section of the main road to cycle, you can also have fun exploring all the back roads and side trails on Île du Cap-aux-Meules for example.

Laundry blowing in the breeze, houses painted every colour of the rainbow, lighthouses, and fantastic red rock cliffs are just some of the delights you’ll encounter.

The Madelinots are not afraid of colour
The Madelinots are not afraid of colour
What much of the shoreline looks like- it's either this or beach
What much of the shoreline looks like- it’s either this or beach

But be prepared for near constant wind on the Magdalen Islands. On particularly blowy days, you might want to delay your ride. Otherwise hook up with Autobus les Sillons and get a shuttle so you can cycle with the wind at your back.

The roads we cycled weren't busy
The roads we cycled weren’t busy – and there was a wide shoulder
Beautiful scenery as you bike or drive the Magdalen Islands
Beautiful scenery as you bike or drive the Magdalen Islands

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you very much.

Where to rent bikes in the islands

There are three places to rent bikes on the islands. Le Pédalier rents bikes year round including fat bikes that can be used on sand or snow. Boutique Véli Vélo offers e-bikes, tandems, trail a bikes and  hybrids while Éco-vélo des Îles offers e-bikes.

Time out with our bikes on a beach
Time out with our bikes on a beach

Where to stay on the Magdalen Islands

We stayed at two places on the islands – one of which is one of my all time favourite places to stay – the Domaine du Vieux Couvent. There was a wonderful ambiance about the places, well-appointed rooms and a congenial kitchen.

We also really enjoyed our two night stay at Havre Sur Mer. They have chairs with a view over the ocean that beckon you to linger.

Other places to consider that I haven’t stayed at include Gîte chez Majo  and Auberge Madeli.

Mural of a nun in the lobby of the Domaine du Vieux Couvent
Mural of a nun in the lobby of the Domaine du Vieux Couvent
The hotel is housed in an old convent
The hotel is housed in an old convent

Eating on the islands

The food scene on the Magdalen Islands is excellent but note that many restaurants are only open in the summer.

Year-round you can eat bistro style at Les Pas Perdus. Cap Dauphin’s Ship Shack in the summer is a great choice. Le Four à Pain is an excellent choice for breakfast – and fish cakes and pizza, summer only.

You can also get a very good meal at the Domaine du Vieux Couvent

There are certainly lots of fast food options as well.

Poutine - the calorie laden food choice of many - fries, gravy & cheese curds
Poutine – the calorie laden food choice of many – fries, gravy & cheese curds – ok if you cycle the length of the main island!
Fantastic fresh fish - and seal served in restaurants
Fantastic fresh fish – and seal served in restaurants

For more information on the Magdalen Islands check out the Tourisme Îles de la Madeleine website. For photo inspiration of the islands check out this blog.

More reading on things to do in Quebec and PEI in summer

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Exploring the Magdalen Islands in Quebec by bike

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Beautiful islands. Your photos do it justice. There also seems to be plenty of activities to keep you busy for a couple of weeks at least. Thanks for the information. My bucket list seems to be getting longer and longer thanks to posts like this.

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