St-Pierre -Miquelon — ‘in­con­tourn­able’ (must see)

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PERSPECTIVES - BY WENDY ROSE

I’ve had al­most 48 hours to collect my thoughts af­ter re­turn­ing home from St-Pier­reMiquelon (SPM), and I’m still hav­ing trou­ble form­ing sen­tences.

This is par­tially be­cause my brain tem­po­rar­ily switched into Français mode, but also be­cause I have so much to say about this short but jam­packed trip that I truly don’t know where to start re­count­ing the ad­ven­ture.

I’ll start at the be­gin­ning, when I reached out to the SPM tourism board to fan­dan­gle my way over to the is­lands on their dime. Suc­cess­ful in my quest, the ex­cite­ment quickly set in — I was re­turn­ing to French colony for the first time in 14 years, to cel­e­brate Bastille Day, the na­tional hol­i­day, with the towns­folk. SPM tourism en­sured that I would make the most out of my visit, by cre­at­ing a stacked itin­er­ary that would bring me all around St-Pierre, L’Île-Aux-Marins and Miquelon, with nu­mer­ous boat tours, van tours, mu­seum vis­its and guided walk­ing tours.

I ar­rived in St-Pierre early Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, amidst a mon­soon of rain. By the time I checked in at the Hô­tel du Vieux Port, the rain stopped. Sun­shine and high tem­per­a­tures would con­tinue for the next four days, a sur­pris­ing rar­ity, the lo­cals said. A Bastille Day mir­a­cle, I joked.

Day 1 kicked off with a boat tour to L’Île-Aux-Marins, a short but highly ed­u­ca­tional ad­ven­ture led by a young French tour guide. The semi-aban­doned vil­lage, once a bustling com­mu­nity of in­de­pen­dent fish­ers and their fam­i­lies, would end up be­ing one of my favourite parts of the trip. I rec­om­mended the lit­tle ex­cur­sion to ev­ery tourist who would lis­ten.

I re­turned to St-Pierre with just enough time to snag a pizza from Pizze­ria Chez Alain be­fore link­ing up with Jean-Claud Fouchard of Le Cail­lou Blanc for a scenic and again, ed­u­ca­tional, mini-van tour. Fouchard, a wealth of in­for­ma­tion, would be­come a good pal through­out the trip.

A night­cap at a French bar was a must, so I linked up with a friend’s friend at Le Bar Joinville. Com­mu­ni­cat­ing only en français, we strangers would soon be­come friends, aided by lo­cal beer and spir­its. This then­win­ning com­bi­na­tion did not ex­tend its warm em­brace to my early rise for the Miquelon ferry, but an espresso at the Mai­son de la Na­ture proved help­ful.

Thurs­day’s tour guide, Anja Gas­pard, brought fun and hu­mour to an­other ed­u­ca­tional mu­seum tour. The day was rounded out with a walk­ing tour and auto tour, show­ing off the in­tense beauty of the sparsely pop­u­lated is­land. Miquelon is to St-Pierre like Labrador is to New­found­land — it’s un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated, un­der-sold, and highly de­serv­ing of more tourists to admire its breath­tak­ing land­scapes and lo­cal flair.

Re­turn­ing to St-Pierre around 6 p.m., I was left with just enough time to pre­pare for an even­ing din­ner date. A din­ner at Les P’tits Graviers was the per­fect end­ing to a long day in the sun, es­pe­cially since I was eat­ing cold pizza for days on end as I bat­tled with the very long French lunch hour, when the town and its restau­rants shut down for lunch.

In­stead of ris­ing early for Bastille Day on Fri­day, July 14, I caught up on missed sleep, opt­ing in­stead to wake up just in time for the “vin d’hon­neur” at Place du Général de Gaulle, the town square. Lo­cal vol­un­teers filled hun­dreds of glasses of free wine, while chil­dren played mini-games and rode the merry-go-round.

The high­light of the day for me was not just the cheap al­co­holic punch, but the ‘Mât de Cocagne,” or the “meat­pole.” Pic­ture this: a large metal pole, with sealed char­cu­terie dan­gling high from a hula-hoopesque de­vice.

Com­peti­tors strapped into a safety har­ness and at­tempted to shimmy up the pole to snag a chunk of meat, while spec­ta­tors cheered them on. It was a spec­ta­cle un­like any other, and the ex­cite­ment was con­ta­gious. As the town con­tin­ued to drink all day long, the sun­set would lead into live mu­sic and fire­works — a per­fect fi­nale for the fête na­tionale.

The bars were packed Fri­day night, with Bar le Rus­tique ex­cep­tion­ally packed with lo­cals and tourists rang­ing from 18 (their le­gal age) to 88, it seemed. When Le Rus­tique closed, the dis­cotheque opened. I was nearly first in line, happy to end my night on the dance floor.

I wrapped up that very Eu­ro­pean ad­ven­ture early, as my Satur­day even­ing de­par­ture was pre­ceded by two mu­seum vis­its and a walk­ing tour, my fi­nal taste of lo­cal his­tory.

The ic­ing on the gâteau came shortly be­fore my ferry ar­rived, when I lucked into find­ing the lo­cal stash of LPs, in­clud­ing French ’80s hair metal records – the per­fect sou­venir.

I boarded the Cabestan with an “I don’t want to go home” feel­ing.

De­spite the con­stant an­noy­ance of awk­ward restau­rant hours of op­er­a­tion, the weak Cana­dian dol­lar ver­sus the strong Euro, and the un­for­tu­nately unim­pres­sive mu­si­cal acts at the lo­cal bars, I’m al­ready think­ing about re­turn­ing to the French is­lands. Here’s hop­ing the dol­lar im­proves, along with my abil­ity to par­lez en français. À bi­en­tôt, SPM.

WENDY ROSE PHOTO

Look­ing to­wards the Route du fond de L’Anse, at the base of “Le Cap,” one of the many horses of Miquelon shows its ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the warm mid-July weather.

WENDY ROSE PHOTO

This grounded boat on the is­land of Miquelon brings in­spi­ra­tion to a young woman and her sketch­book.

WENDY ROSE PHOTO

Sit­u­ated on a large hill at the top of the town, the Ob­ser­va­toire de l’Anse à Pierre pro­vides stun­ning views of StPierre, which boasts a pop­u­la­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 6,000 peo­ple.

WENDY ROSE PHOTO

Af­ter the large of­fer­ing of “vin d’hon­neur” was de­pleted, vol­un­teers be­gan hand­ing out snacks com­prised of lo­cal breads and char­cu­terie.

WENDY ROSE PHOTO

This fruity wine, doled out freely by the town of St-Pierre, dou­bled as both a cel­e­bra­tory toast to Bastille Day, and break­fast for me.

WENDY ROSE PHOTO

The “mât de cocagne” or “climb­ing of the meat­pole,” was a hi­lar­i­ous high­light of the Bastille Day cel­e­bra­tions.

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