Îles de la Madeleine, Que.
WHEN JACQUES CARTIER visited the Magdalens back in 1534, he noted in his diary that they were “very sandy.” Happily, the Maggies are still very sandy, which is why this small archipelago in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence remains a beach-lover’s dream, especially if you prefer your sand without crowds. On my first visit, I walked for three blissful hours along a 12-kilometre beach and barely saw another soul. But the beaches — and the jagged red coastal cliffs — are just part of the attraction. If you hop in a car (or on a bike), you will quickly discover Instagram-worthy lighthouses, harbours and villages scattered throughout the six main interconnected islands. You’ll also meet some of the 12,000 Madelinots, most of whom speak with an Acadian-infused French accent heard nowhere else in Quebec, and many of whom still make their living from the sea. On my final evening, I strolled to a wharf and watched excited local fishermen unloading huge slab-sided halibut. Fantastique.
An aerial view of GrosseÎle, the northern end of Les Îles de la Madeleine.