The French Collectivity of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (SPM) is a collection of 8 islands in the north Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland. The two inhabited islands are the only remaining part of the French Empire in North America. The 6000 or so inhabitants are French citizens with European Union passports. French is the official language and the islands are unmistakably French.
There are two ways to get to SPM. You can fly from Canada from any of Halifax, as I did, Montreal, St. John’s or Sydney. The flights are only certain days or the week and have strange seasonal schedules that change frequently. The Airline website is highly confusing as well. The best bet is to call Air Saint-Pierre directly and hope they return your call to book an expensive flight.
While cheaper, unless you live in Maritime Canada, the ferry can be a big hassle. You must get to a place called Fortune, Newfoundland where there is a daily one-hour ferry to SPM. In order to get there it takes either flying to St. John’s, Newfoundland or taking a series of ferries from Nova Scotia after a long drive from anywhere in the States or even Canada. Trust me, it can be confusing as I seriously looked into it. With gas prices etc., it’s better to just fly.
I based myself at Hotel Robert (pronounced Row-Bair) right in the center of town across from the port and easy walking distance to all restaurants and any points of interest in town. The rooms are very clean, reasonable and the staff was very friendly and helpful.
I ate lunch at the restaurant in the hotel twice and it was fabulous as all the restaurants I ate at in SPM were. Restaurants were the major highlight of my visit to SPM.
Sad to say but the weather was terrible for the first two days I was here and today it was nice on St. Pierre but I went to Miquelon and the weather there, only a few miles away was awful! Go figure!
That aside, my favorite restaurant where I had dinner twice was definitely ‘Restaurant Le Feu De Braise’. This place had tremendous steak frites with assorted sauces (Roquefort and au poivre are always my favorite), risotto with shrimp and they even had pretty good thin crust pizzas.
SPM was like a little Paris for good food. There were also a few patisseries of course. I couldn’t help but indulge in pain au chocolate and brioche just like in Paris. The only thing that was missing from Paris was much to do!
Obviously, when you come to a place like SPM, you’re not expecting a big party or anything but it is a small island to say the least and with the horrible weather I had, the activities were limited. Hiking was off limits because the hiking is all up steep rocks and the rain and mud made it too slippery to go alone.
So I braved the rain, wind and cold the first day and checked out the town and what it had to offer and basically just sought out the best looking place for dinner and took some pictures. On day two, the weather was again very rainy so I arranged a car tour of the rest of the island. It was only an hour but the driver, Jean-Claude, was very nice and spoke excellent English. Speaking French makes my head hurt so I was thrilled!
The excellent tour took me to all points on the island with some history about each stop and site. Aside from just checking out the scenery through the low-lying fog, the most interesting thing for me was hearing about SPM during prohibition.
Mobsters, such as Al Capone, used SPM during the 1920’s to smuggle booze from Europe and Canada into the United States. There is actually a house still standing built solely from the crates of Cutty Sark that Capone smuggled from SPM. That was pretty cool.
Obviously after prohibition was repealed; SPM went into an economic depression as it lost its main source of revenue. Now the main source of income is subsidies from the French Government. Most people work “government” jobs somewhere on the island. SPM is also granted certain tax relief. The islands couldn’t survive without the subsidies from the government. Much like other overseas territories of the French and British such as Wallis or Pitcairn.
On my last day I retook a lot of pictures in better weather on St. Pierre and then I took the one-hour ferry to Miquelon and had a look around. Originally, I was going to walk the length of the 15-mile island but the uncertainty about the weather made it a smart move to just head to town. Luckily, I did because it was freezing, and rainy.
Miquelon is a small and flatter version of St. Pierre. The houses and architecture is the same, brightly colored houses and buildings and lots of open land. There isn’t much else to do on Miquelon unless it’s good weather and you can head across the connecting sand isthmus to Langlade.
As you can probably tell from my tone I am very lukewarm at best on SPM. I am very excited to get out of here in the morning. I did enjoy my time here but there isn’t enough to occupy you for four days unless there is good weather and you have someone to hang out with. Food is the highlight and the locals are very pleasant.
If you choose to come here, do a day trip from Newfoundland on the ferry or work the schedule so your flights give one or two night maximum; which would be ideal in summer. Take it easy because there isn’t much going on but it is an interesting place to be.
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
May 13, 2012 by 33 Comments