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CULINARY TOUR OF HAVRE-AUX-MAISONS
ILES DE LA MADELEINE

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Culinary tourism brings many visitors to Ile du Havre-aux-Maisons. One of 12 Magdalen Islands (Iles de la Madeleine) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, this Quebec island is known for its food and drinks.

At Le Barbocheux, Sylvie Langford holds bottles of Le Chalin blueberry-and-berry fortified wine and L'Ariel raspberry liquor.
At Le Barbocheux, Sylvie Langford holds bottles of Le Chalin blueberry-and-berry fortified wine and L'Ariel raspberry liquor.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Our culinary trip was a Flavours package on the CTMA Vacancier ferry cruise to Les Iles de la Madeleine from Montreal, Quebec.

For a small island, Havre-aux-Maisons has a disproportionate amount of unique regional foods and drinks. Most of them are not available outside Quebec. Some are sold only in the Magdalen Islands.

Fruit wine

The first stop on our Havre-aux-Maisons culinary tour was Le Barbocheux (address: 475 Chemin du Cap-Rouge). Sylvie Langford, her husband Leonce, and her sister, Nathalie, make and sell three types of homemade wine.

Bagosse, the traditional home-brewed wine of the Magdalen Islands, is a 13% alcohol drink, served as an aperitif. Sylvie and Leonce make a red bagosse from raspberries and strawberries that they grow behind their house. They make a white bagosse from local cranberries and dandelions.

Bottles of strawberry and raspberry bagosse and cranberry and dandelion bagosse (traditional home-brewed wine)
Bottles of strawberry and raspberry bagosse and cranberry and dandelion bagosse (traditional home-brewed wine)
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Le Barbocheux also makes a blueberry-and-berry fortified port-style wine (19% alcohol). Le Chalin is an old French word, meaning "hot lighting," according to Sylvie.

L'Ariel is an intensely flavored raspberry liquor (22% alcohol) and digestive for serving after dinner. "It's also great on ice cream," says Sylvie.

After trying a sample, one participant in our culinary tour bought a bottle. "This drink is so good, I'm not going to share it with anyone," he said.

"The name of the raspberry liqueur comes from the name of Leonce's grandfather's ship, L'Ariel," explained Sylvie Langford. "It ferried passengers from Pictou, Nova Scotia, to Les Iles de La Madeleine between 1940 and 1950. It later became shipwrecked, after it was sold as a pleasure craft."

Smoked fish

The second stop on our food tour was Le Fumoir D'Antan (address: 27 Chemin du Quai, Pointe-Basse).

"Fifty years ago, every Havre-aux-Maisons village had its own smokehouse," said Hugh Petitpas, our Autobus Les Sillons tour guide.

Smoked herring in Le Fumoir d'Antan traditional fish smokehouse
Smoked herring
in Le Fumoir d'Antan traditional fish smokehouse
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"This is the last one," said Sylvia Poirier, who showed us antique fishing equipment and posters that described herring fishing and smoking in Les Iles de la Madeleine between 1900 and the 1970s. "Now, we have to import herring from New Brunswick because fishermen no longer catch enough herring in the Magdalen Islands."

Sylvia used a long pole to slide open a red door near the top of a grey-shingled building. Inside, rows of golden smoked herring hung from wooden sticks.

"First, we salt the herring for two days. We then skewer them onto sticks and hang them above 18 small maple wood fires. We keep the fires small because we want to smoke the herring for three months, not cook it."

Inside the Fumoir d'Antan shop, Daniel Arseneau offered us flavorful samples of smoked mackerel and smoked marinated herring. "The marinade is an Arseneau family recipe. It contains vinegar, oil, lemon, pepper and bay leaf," he explained.

Daniel Arseneau holds smoked herring.
Daniel Arseneau holds smoked herring.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Daniel and his two brothers, Louis and Benoit Jr, continue to smoke herring the old-fashioned way in buildings once used by their grandfather. Le Fumoir d'Antan is classified as an Economusee.

Besides smoked herring, the shop sells smoked salmon, smoked mackerel and smoked scallops.

The third stop on our regional foods tour was the Pied-de-Vent cheese factory, which makes artisanal cheeses. Local restaurants feature them on their menus.

Good restaurants

The best Havre-aux-Maisons restaurant is Le Refectoire restaurant at Domaine du Vieux Couvent. Other good restaurants include Le Sablier (address: 257 Route 199), where we enjoyed codfish cakes and seafood chowder. The blue mussels in the chowder came from Havre-aux-Maisons lagoon, which is enclosed by the long arms of Dune-du-Nord and Dune-du-Sud.

Le Sablier restaurant fish cakes, pickled beets and salad
Le Sablier restaurant fish cakes, pickled beets and salad
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Another good restaurant on Havre-aux-Maisons Island is Auberge de la P'tite Baie (address: 187 Route 199). The 100-year-old pink wooden house, with yellow trim, is located behind a white picket fence. The inn was once a customs building.

At our table beside a lace-curtained window, we tried an appetizer of loup-marin (sea wolf), which is the local word for seal, a traditional source of protein for islanders. Stewed, Bourgogne-style in rich red wine sauce, it tasted like tender liver and onions.

La Meduse glass factory sign
La Meduse glass factory sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

What to do

Besides a culinary vacation, there are several things to see and do in Havre-aux-Maisons. From Pointe-Basse, drive along Chemin des Echoueries to Cap Alright, where you will find a photogenic red-and-white lighthouse.

Colored houses, stacks of wooden lobster traps and rust-red sandstone cliffs line the route. Double-crested cormorants rest on the cliffs, above arches and pillars carved into the eroded rocks by relentless waves.

At Verrerie La Meduse (address: 638 Route 199), you can watch glassblowers make whimsical glass jellyfish paperweights from molten glass.

The island also has several cycling and hiking trails. Exercising on these picturesque routes is a great way to stimulate an appetite for Havre-aux-Maisons regional foods and burn calories from indulging at local restaurants.

 


TRAVEL INFORMATION

CTMA Vacancier: www.cruisesctma.ca

Iles de la Madeleine Tourist Office: www.tourismeilesdelamadeleine.com

Le Quebec Maritime Tourist Office: www.quebecmaritime.ca

Tourism Quebec: www.bonjourquebec.com

More things to see & do in the Magdalen Islands/Iles de la Madeleine:

Live Lobsters in Grande Entree

Cap-aux-Meules - Magdalen Islands

La Table des Roy Restaurant - Cap-aux-Meules