Trip to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

Saint – Pierre and Miquelon

The French Territorial Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon consists of the two small islands, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and a handful of even smaller ones, which lie in the Gulf of St. Lawrence a short distance from the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland. The total land area is only 242 square kilometers. St. Pierre is smaller than Miquelon but has the majority of the population and infrastructure.

Balmoral House guests experience

Saint – Pierre and Miquelon Islands from the Burin Peninsula

The territory is the last bastion of France in North America. It is a very delightful taste of French architecture, cuisine, culture, and style. And in our opinion, the people are much friendlier to non-French speaking outsiders that are the French in Europe. We are typically American in our lack of linguistic ability, and virtually everyone we encountered was most willing to make an effort to communicate. Please note that we feel that it would be insulting for foreign guests to expect fluency in their language. We always feel grateful for the kindness and patience extended to us as foreign visitors. This is the case in Quebec as well. In point of fact, some of the people in St. Pierre do speak fluent English, and many people speak some. There are warmth and openness in the faces of these people – if you’ve ever gotten the cold shoulder in France, you’ll know what we mean. Another mark of the hospitality in St. Pierre is the universal and hassle-free acceptance of Canadian currency at a fair rate of exchange. We did bring back some small denominations of Franc notes and coins for our grandkid. The bank teller really liked the idea and was very helpful in picking out nice crisp bills. Different currencies can be a pain, but it can also be fun.

Canadian Customs in Fortune

Ferries are running between Fortune, a small town on the west side of the Burin Peninsula, and St. Pierre. Visitors are required to clear customs to enter the French territory and to reenter Canada. We found it most convenient to book our hotel and ferry tickets as a package with St. Pierre Tours Ltd. There is a toll-free number (800-563-2006) for a travel agency in St. John’s which can provide information, make the booking and accept payment by credit card. St. Pierre Tours Ltd. is housed in the same building as the ferry office right in the middle of Fortune. They also provide vehicle storage and shuttle service to the dock for a nominal fee.

Weekday Boat Exchanging the Maple Leaf for the Tricolor

A small, slow ferry makes the run on weekdays. A larger, faster boat makes the weekend runs. The above left photo was taken the day before we sailed. The boat hugs the coast of Newfoundland for as long as possible before making a run across the open water for St. Pierre. There was a strong headwind on the day we sailed, and the spray from the bow cleared most of the people from the outdoor, topside seats. We heard that it was stuffy inside though, and we were only a little wet. It was more fun than a water slide. The formalities of sailing to a foreign port are also part of the joy of the trip to St. Pierre.

The Rocky Coast of St. Pierre

These islands are physically much like Newfoundland – rocky and profoundly influenced by the sea. There is lots of barren rock and stunted boreal vegetation. The islands are made of very ancient (Late Proterozoic) volcanic rocks and slightly younger sedimentary rocks. Miquelon Island consists of two smaller islands – Langlade and Grand Miquelon – which are joined by a sand bar.

Pointe aux Canons Lighthouse

The ferry passed a couple small, rocky islands and the lighthouse on the quay before docking behind the customs building. We were through in a few minutes, walked around the Post Office building and emerged in the center of town.

Place du General de Gaulle

The Place du General de Gaulle is the heart of the town. It’s an attractive open space with a fountain, canons, flower beds and benches. The great man visited St. Pierre in the 1950s, and the entire population of the territory turned out in this place to see him. The square is named in his honor.

We choose to come to St. Pierre on one day and return the next. If you were extremely pressed for time, this would certainly be better than no visit at all. However, this place is so pleasant that it seems a pity not to tarry a bit longer. We spent an extra day to savor the unique atmosphere – French and friendly. Two extra days would have been even better for a day trip to Miquelon Island as well. The Post Office, Customs Building and Fishing Boats We awoke on the next day to a wonderful foggy morning. Five years in the Seattle area had taught us to see the beauty in such soft-focus days – they are a gift from the sea.

Rue des Francais Libres

Most of the accommodations, restaurants, and shops are within three or four blocks of the Place du General de Gaulle. The views up the streets that begin at the square are quite picturesque.

Hotel Neptune

We stayed at the Hotel Neptune at the west end of the square. It’s the best hotel in town. Since there are only a handful of hotels, that might not necessarily say a lot. In fact, the hotel is new and quite nice. The rooms are a little small, but they are very nicely furnished. The staff is very friendly and helpful. There is a small bar/cafe/breakfast room at the hotel. A continental breakfast is included and it is the real thing – very good French coffee and croissants. There are some display cases with souvenirs and a few racks of clothes in the lobby. We found some cool tee shirts for our grandkids there.

A View from the Belvedere

There is a sightseeing tour of St. Pierre that takes in some of the outlying areas. The town is delightfully old and European, but it is nice to see some of the more modern residential neighborhoods and a bit of the boonies too. The bus tour can be booked at the St. Pierre Tours office in Fortune or on the spot in St. Pierre. In September the tour began at 4 pm and the bus left from a parking lot across the street from the Hotel Neptune. The bus driver was a very good tour guide, and St. Pierre is such a unique place that it is well worth learning a bit about it.

Freshwater Pond near the West Coast

The tour takes in some scenic areas, and there are nice views of the coast and of the interior mountains. The bus passes a number of sports facilities for soccer, hockey, ice skating, and even jai lai. One of our favorite sights was the row of small boats pulled up on the strand by wooden, hand-turned capstans. The bright red paint seemed a particularly charming touch of French style and color which transformed functional pieces of equipment into a thing of beauty.

The Cemetery – Small Boats and Bright Red Capstans

One of the most interesting stops on the bus tour was the island’s cemetery. It’s on a hillside, and the driver let passengers off at the top end so that they could walk downhill to be picked up at the bottom. One look and we decided to return on the following day to spend more time there.

Rue General Leclerc

It is possible to include a prepaid, fixed-priced dinner with the bus tour. Many of the people on tour must have done so because they all filed off the bus and headed en mass for the same restaurant. The bus tour was great, but that was enough group activity for us. On the recommendation of the bus driver, we set out up Rue General Leclerc for the Le Maringouin’fre restaurant. The narrow street had the look of many such streets in old French towns. Had the houses been built immediately adjacent to the street or had the street been widened out to the house fronts to accommodate vehicles? We’re not sure, but the arrangement is typical.

Le Maringouin’fre Restaurant – A House on Rue General Leclerc

The restaurant was three and a half blocks from the Place du General de Gaulle, and it was just the sort of casual, local eatery that we favor. Any restaurant named The Fly would have to be good. We had steak topped with finely minced onions and mushrooms, the other with Roquefort cheese. The food came with a nice smile from the young waitress. We split a banana split for dessert and enjoyed the stylish, bright, cool green decor. Check out the windows on the house in the above photo. We began to notice in Quebec many years ago that the front windows in homes both urban and rural, be they modest or mansion, were sparkling clean and very nicely curtained. We found this to be the case in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands too. It always makes me feel as if I should go home and wash windows; the feeling wears off by the time we get home though.

Old Grave & New Grave

What a perfect, foggy day for a walk through a cemetery. We like cemeteries. They say so much about the living culture of the people who bury their dead in them. Frequently the gravestones are made from really beautiful rocks. And of course, there is the spooky, macabre aspect of such places to send a tingle down the spine. The cemetery here in St. Pierre is fascinating. The family graves are used for multiple burials, and plaques are placed on top for each. There is a very strong sense of familial continuity through the generations here – a good feeling of ongoing.

The Mall

There is a modern shopping mall in the residential section of town near the cemetery. The mall has a large hardware store at one end and a very well stocked supermarket at the other; Both sell an interesting mix of Canadian and European goods. Between then are a few smaller shops including a nice gift shop and an excellent bakery with tables. The small shops close for an hour or so at midday, as do the shops in the center of town. If you are a walker the cemetery and the mall would be quite walkable from the town center. However we were saving our feet in the cemetery itself, and it was easy to get a taxi.

Bakery Goods

We enjoyed a late lunch of croissants, pastries and great French coffee at the bakery. Then we bought some more to add to the sausage, cheese, and fruit we’d purchased at the supermarket for dinner. Six rich, yummy, high-calorie items and one plain bun – laissez les bons temps rouler… !

Plaza and Post Office

The next morning was bright for a nice departing shot of the Place du General de Gaulle and the Post Office. It was Saturday and the ferry schedule and equipment change on weekends. It’s always a good idea to check and recheck schedules. We forgot to do so and sat for an extra hour of waiting – not so wrong as we relaxed in the square and just watched this little microcosm of France in the New World go by.

SPM Express

Above is a photo of the faster, larger ferry that is in service on weekends. There is no outdoor seating, but we found some comfortable seats in the front of the boat. It’s quieter, roomier and less stuffy up there than farther back. We broke out some leftover sausage and cheese for an onboard picnic. There is a two-way flow of peoples between St. Pierre and Newfoundland. On Saturday when we returned, Partridge hunting season had just opened. Many men from St. Pierre were coming over to the Burin Peninsula to hunt. It surprised us a little that the guns and hunting dogs were passed so quickly through customs. But then it isn’t in the nature of Canada to be obstructionist for no good reason. Come to think of it, Canada is just about the best neighbor any country could wish for.

St. Pierre Contact Numbers

St. Pierre Tourism Board – 800-565-5118

Saint Pierre Ferry Office