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Oct 6, 203

5 min. read

After a 45-minute flight from St. John’s (Canadians don’t need a passport, just valid photo ID), I arrive at my hotel in Saint-Pierre. Les Terrasses du Port SPM looks out to a bustling harbour—only this time, with French flags and names like Marcel and Marie painted on the boats. Saint-Pierre is the smaller of the two main islands in this self-governed, French-owned archipelago. It’s also the most urban—in the loosest sense of the word—with a population of about 5,300. Summer visitors to these islands include dolphins, orcas and puffins—as well as francophiles eager to spend their euros on fresh-baked croissants and stinky cheeses.

Rich History, Wild Beauty

Saint-Pierre and Miquelon had its heyday during Prohibition, when islanders supplied booze from their “wet” French territory to be smuggled to the dry U.S.A. Today tourism and fishing are the main economic drivers. Keen to understand the history of this distinctive place, I start my visit at Le Musée de l’Arche.

My legs tremble as I stand by a guillotine as tall as an NBA star and listen to my guide recount the sole public execution in these parts. It was the first and last time a guillotine was used in North America.

I examine stone microblades, chiselled for skinning animals, as I read about the Indigenous peoples who came to hunt, fish and gather here millennia ago. And I take in treasures recovered from some of the 600-plus shipwrecks on record from the past 200 years—the North Atlantic doesn’t play around on stormy days.

Later that day, crossing lichen-covered rocks over treeless terrain, I’m able to put the history and culture of this place into its geographical context, thanks to my guide, Gilles Gloaguen, of Escapade Insulaire. As I take in undulating landscapes carved by melting glaciers, Gloaguen points out a soaring trio of bald eagles. We pick wild cranberries as we hike and chat about the fishing grounds, the semi-wild horses that roam in herds, the challenges of farming on a rock, and the presence of white-tailed deer and snowshoe hares that were introduced for hunting.

To get a taste of local heritage crafts, I spend my final morning at Chez Rika Simon, a studio-boutique redolent of leather and sparkling with handcrafted necklaces and earrings. While Erika Simon tells me all about the elderly lady who was Saint-Pierre and Miquelon’s last fish-leather tanner, I pick out pieces of cod and calfskin for a craft project. Next, I learn to trace, cut and stitch the leather to create my own luggage tag.

Simon’s love of reviving traditional techniques and materials to make contemporary objects ties into a bigger dream for this young mother of two—keeping the distinctive local culture alive and relevant. When her kids run through the door at noon (the whole island stops for lunch en famille, French-style), I can’t help thinking they have the best of all worlds.

Where to Eat in Saint-Pierre 

Before heading out for a meal, make reservations as restaurants here tend to get fully booked. And they keep French hours—noon to 1:30 p.m., then, 7 p.m. onwards—so plan your day accordingly.

In the wood-panelled bistro Les P’tits Graviers, the crispy-edged beef entrecôte comes with pan-fried potatoes and melted-Roquefort dipping sauce so tasty I mopped up every last smear.

Le Feu de Braise serves the silkiest crème brûlée, whose torched top shatters satisfyingly at the tap of a spoon.

Meanwhile, perfect for a late breakfast, Roc Café offers up paper-thin buckwheat crepes filled with molten goat cheese, locally cured bacon and a sunny-side-up egg, then folded like origami.

Want a Taste of France?

Take a trip to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and make planning easy by connecting with a CAA Travel Consultant for expert travel advice and helpful tips. Enjoy Member-exclusive savings and earn CAA Dollars on dining, shopping, car rentals and hotel stays along the way. Visit CAA Rewards for a complete list of partners.

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