Beaujolais and baguettes far from home
Two little islands off the Newfoundland coast are marking 200 years of French rule. Nigel Tisdall pays them a visit
How can it be that 15 miles off the wild, iceberg-dotted coast of Newfoundland there are two tiny islands that are forever France? This Wednesday, and for much of the rest of the year, the remote, barren and thoroughly bizarre archipelago of St Pierre and Miquelon will be awash with wine, music, picnic tables and tricolors as it celebrates 200 years of being a proud “morceau de France” in the vastness of North America.
While other European countries also have their crumbs left from the days of empire, the French maintain an enviably exotic spread of overseas departments and collectivities across the world. St Barths, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Réunion, Mayotte in the Comores... What makes these two enigmatic specks next to Canada stand out is that they represent the last gasp of a colonial territory that in the early 18th century stretched from Labrador to Louisiana. They are also not in the tropics – all the other French outposts that are inhabited lie somewhere warm and sunny, and are often places you might well want to go for a holiday. By contrast the average winter temperature here drops to minus 30C – as one resident confides, “the low season here is very long and very low”. Perhaps that explains why, while President Hollande paid a visit in December 2014 (and before that de Gaulle, Mitterrand and Chirac), Sarkozy never made it...
Getting to the gateway island of St Pierre, which lies west of the Burin Peninsula and is home to most of the 6,000 residents, requires determination – or bloody-mindedness if, like me, you get pleasure from reaching forgotten corners of the world. I do it by flying via St John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, which is only a five-and-ahalf-hour flight from London. From
Local lobster at L’Auberge de L’Ile