During our Newfoundland road trip, we could not resist making a pitstop in France. Small French islands near Canada are part of France and still have a very European feel with many tourist attractions. We spent one day in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and had the opportunity to walk the narrow cobblestone streets, take a guided tour and visit some of the local shops and crafts exhibits. Here are the best things to do in Saint-Pierre and some tips on making your visit to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, an epic one.
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Where are Saint-Pierre and Miquelon?
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is a group of tiny French islands in the Atlantic Ocean 25 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland, in Atlantic Canada.
Why visit Saint-Pierre and Miquelon?
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon have European charm, friendly residents, and stunning ocean views. It has a fascinating history and plenty to see and do. You can wander the cobblestone streets of Saint-Pierre and shop the boutiques, hike the trails of Miquelon or cross the 12-kilometre sandy isthmus between Langlade and Miquelon.
A bit of History
The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended the Seven Years’ War and gave the tiny islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon to France as a fishing station. It remains a territory under the French flag where the french culture is still very present despite its proximity to North America. Today, about 6000 people reside on this small island.
Things to Know Before You go to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
You will need a valid passport to go from Newfoundland, Canada, to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, France.
The currency in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is the Euro. However, most businesses will accept Canadian dollars.
Saint-Pierre is half an hour ahead of Newfoundland’s standard time.
Shops will close from 12 pm to 2 pm daily. Restaurants will close after their lunch rush hour and reopen in the evening for dinner.
The official language is French. Now, if you don’t speak French, you should be ok to communicate in English with most residents, shop owners, waiters or waitresses and tour guides.
There is no need for a car in Saint-Pierre. You can walk everywhere in town. The island is only 5 kilometres across, so it is possible to walk from one end to another.
The SPM ferry
The SPM ferry from Fortune, Newfoundland, to Saint-Pierre, France, is 90 minutes.
You should book online with SPM Ferries to ensure you can hop on the desired date. Book the hotel as soon as possible if you plan to stay overnight. There are limited accommodations in Saint-Pierre.
Arrive 90 minutes before departure, and plan for parking for the duration of your stay. The Tourist and Information Centre for Saint-Pierre and Miquelon on Bayview Rd in Fortune offers parking for a fee. They also have a shuttle available if you have luggage. If not, it is a 5-minute walk from the parking lot to the ferry. You can reserve a parking spot online.
You will need a passport to enter France in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and return to Canada just as you would upon entering any other country. Arriving in Saint-Pierre, you will go through French customs when you step on the island and again go through Canadian customs when you return.
The ferry has a lower and upper-level seating area. There is a small deck outside at the back. It is also helpful to step out if you feel nauseous from the boat’s movement. There are enough waves to make you feel seasick.
The large windows will let you take in the ocean and, if you are lucky, maybe a whale, dolphins, and even seals.
Best Things to Do in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
Walk around the Place du général de Gaulle
This plaza is a meeting place where festivities happen in the town of Saint-Pierre. It is named after General Charles de Gaulle, the French president at the time who visited Saint-Pierre in 1967.
Walk around the shops and restaurants downtown.
The downtown is filled with souvenir shops with local crafts and charming restaurants. Like the feel of Europe, the streets are narrow, and some are cobblestones. The sidewalks are nearly non-existent. Be vigilant as a pedestrian.
Visit the Cathedral
The original building burnt and was rebuilt in 1901. It stands tall in the centre town of Saint-Pierre.
See the colourful wooden houses.
Fishermen would paint their houses the same colour as their boats. They used bright colours to spot their home, even in the fog. The colours make everything more joyful on those gloomy, foggy days. Nowadays, the French government gives a grant to the residents to maintain and paint those lively houses every five years.
Walk through Square Joffre
The park features the lost sailors’ monument. On Saylor’s Day in June, there is a celebration in the square to honour those lost at sea. It is the tradition to place flowers at the foot of the memorial.
Have a picnic at Pointe-aux-Canons and admire the lighthouse
By the sea, the canons still stand at attention. They were placed pointing out to sea, fearing a Russian invasion, but they have never been used. The small lighthouse was built at the end of the rocky point.
Visit Île aux Marins.
A little abandoned fishermen’s village remains on the island. At one point, 700 people were living on this tiny island. The church is now a museum; the remaining houses are mostly summer houses.
See the Salines
Those colourful little houses lined up on the shore were initially used by fishermen to store the salt and fish. They are part of the island’s heritage.
Suntan or swim at the Savoyard Beach
The public beach with a picnic area near Savoyard Cove and the Savoyard Pond has beautiful ocean views.
Hike a trail
A few hiking trails are heading out of town from Saint-Pierre. Most range from a 90-minute to a 2-hour walk. They mostly wander on the west side of the island behind the town bringing hikers to ponds or the ocean shore.
Stop at l’Anse à Brossard
Stop at L’Anse à Brossard for a chance to view dolphins swimming near the shores. The cliffs of Langlade are visible in the distance, and an abandoned fishermen’s village sits on a rocky hill.
Stop at Cap aux Basques
This lookout features the infinite Atlantic ocean and a bit of Newfoundland on a clear day. The dial on the platform will help you situate yourself and look out to the different coves and capes around the island.
Tour the island
Tour guidé STR Sightseeing is a pleasant and comfortable ride across the island to key points and features history and incredible views. The guides are knowledgeable and make the tour interesting and fun. The tour is available in both French and English.
Fun (and not so fun) Facts About Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon’s Flags
On the left, Saint-Pierre’s flag features the flag of the original nations that first settled in the archipelago in the 1600s; the Bretons, the Normands and the Basques. Jacques Cartier’s La Grande Hermine takes up most of the space on the right. The yellow ship stands over a blue background representing the ocean.
Miquelon flag is a bit different. It still portrays the three nations as their ancestors. At the top of the banner, you will find three colours; red, white and blue for France and the yellow star representing the Acadian heritage of the island. During the Great Upheaval, or the Acadian Expulsion, in the mid to late 1700s, Miquelon welcomed Acadian refugees, and the culture is still present today. The flag also depicts the national bird, the kakawi.
During the alcohol prohibition years in the 1920s in the United States, residents of the island, once fishermen, now focused on smuggling alcohol. They would bring in crates of alcohol by the hundreds to store in the warehouses on Saint-Pierre and then smuggle them onto the American coast.
Before entering the American waters, they would put the bottles in bags with salt and let them sink into the sea. Once the Americans had cleared the ships with the crates only containing legal merchandise, the seamen would appear to make their way home. As the salt melted, the bags would surface and float on the water. The seamen would then retrieve the contraband.
Al Capone frequented the island during that time. The smuggling ended in 1933 with the end of the American prohibition.
Conflict existed for a time between France and Canada as both countries claimed the fishing territory between Saint-Pierre and Newfoundland. However, the dispute was eventually resolved by a New York court in favour of Canada.
With this decision, the town of Saint-Pierre saw its thriving economy diminish. Eventually, the fishing factory closed its doors, a massive loss for the generations of fishermen on the island.
Heading back to Canada from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
Our visit to Saint-Pierre was a day of adventures, full of French culture and the island’s history. We returned to the ferry 30 minutes before departure to hop back on the boat. Once in Canada, we had to go through customs. After a few common questions from the customs officer, he cleared us to reenter our country.
Visiting Saint-Pierre and Miquelon’s Three Islands
Keep in mind that one day exploring Saint-Pierre was plenty for us, but while you are on the island, you might want to include the other islands of the archipelago. Langlade and Miquelon also have their charms and adventures. I recommend three days to explore all three islands fully.
You can use this list of the top 10 best hotels in Saint-Pierre-and-Miquelon from TripAdvisor for the best prices and availability during your stay.