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lighthouse on cap-aux-meules
lighthouse located At Pointe Hérisse, on the west side of Île du Cap aux Meules. sea arch
one of the dozens of sea arches on the western cliffs

other information

The majority of photos used in this website were taken in June and July of 2007. We endeavour to replace and update photos as formations change, but cannot always do so. Note that the formations may have changed since these images were taken.

Cap-Aux-Meules: The Hub of Les Îles

Unless you travel by air, Cap-Aux-Meules is your likely point of entry to the Magdalen Islands. You disembark the ferry to a broad expanse of a pavement and concrete pier, hardly a vision of an idyllic island getaway. If you turn left when you exit the port compound, you're immediately in the busy community of Cap-Aux-Meules, the island's namesake town and center of government and services for the archipeligo. After a few minutes' drive the town sort of winds down, you turn left and pass the regional high school and college, and soon you are looking at a very long, very empty beach connecting south to Havre-Aubert.

If you turn right out of the port, you'll climb a hill and almost immediately take in a view that reveals topography unlike anything you've seen before. You may have pored over plenty of photos, but they couldn't possibly prepare you for the unusual interplay of grassy hills, endless beaches, sandstone cliffs and colorful cottages. Welcome to Îles de la Madeleine!

Butte du Vent

Above is a view from the summit of Butte du Vent, looking west toward l'Étang-du-Nord. This viewpoint is reached by turning off Rt. 199 on Ch. l'Étang-du-Nord at the 3-way intersection, then turning right almost immediately on Chemin Cormier, and left on the unpaved and precarious Ch. Butte du Vent. The road is steeper than most Americans are accustomed to; it's best to park and walk up from a parking lot if you get wigged out driving up this thing. If steep rutted roads don't bother you, continue on Ch. Butte du Vent after you leave the viewpoint. Eventually the road winds up at Ch. des Caps, but not without a few white-knuckle ruts and pitches. Not recommended for low-clearance vehicles at all. We managed in our trusty minivan, driving very slowly and carefully. If you do continue out this road, you drive through the heart of a deep forest. It will give you some idea of what Les Iles would be like if they hadn't been cleared of trees.

Another photo from Butte du Vent, above, looking south toward Havre-Aubert.

l'Étang-du-Nord


Above, Looking south toward l'Étang-du-Nord from Cap à Fidéle. l'Étang-du-Nord is a charming, historic fishing port with the requisite bistros, souvenir shops, ice cream, etc. It's a little quieter than Havre-Aubert's la Grave as far as tourism goes, but it is still quite an active fishing port. A large sculpture pays tribute to the fisherman and history of the community. l'Étang-du-Nord is a "must-see" location during your Magdalen Island visit. Below, another view of l'Étang-du-Nord.

La Belle Anse


Above, the main sea arch at La Belle Anse. This incredible spot, complete with arches, cliffs, sea-caves and a waterfall, is easily found on the aptly-named Ch. La Belle Anse, right off of Ch. Les Caps on the western side of Cap-Aux-Meules. Literally translated, it means "beautiful handle," which is a neat point of view for an arch. Considering the setting, this is arguably the most dramatic arch in the Magdalen Islands.

Below is a view of the same arch from the opposite side, and reveals that it is technically a double arch. Many of the sea arches on Îles de la Madeleine have multiple openings, and the additional openings are only visible if you look from an uncommon viewpoint.




Above, a photo taken of the cliffs to the south of La Belle Anse. Like any of the cliffs on Îles de la Madeleine, these are treacherous and you should not approach the edges. Your life is not a good price to pay for a glimpse of scenery!


Above, this quaint bridge and seaside waterfall add much to the charm of La Belle Anse. This angle requires a bit of rock scrambling, and you'll definitely find this easier at low tide. Below, if you cross the bridge and hike along the headland for a bit, this is the view to the north (looking "back" at La Belle Anse).



Pointe Hérissé: Lighthouse & Arches


Above, there are a lot of arches to be found in the vicinity of Pointe Hérissé. If you park at the lighthouse and walk around a bit, you'll see the prominent ones. The twin arches shown in the photo above are found by exploring the cliffs on the south side of the headland at the lighthouse. The second span doesn't reveal itself at first; the background cliffs seen through the opening requires you to move around a bit to see that there are indeed two arches in this finger of rock.

Tours of Cliffs and Caves at Gros Cap

A number of operators offer cliff and cave tours, on everything from party boats to zodiacs to kayaks. Some operate from l'Étang-du-Nord, most from the main port at Cap-aux-Meules. It's an interesting and fun diversion. Let your tour leader know that you speak English, and they will provide a guide who can translate. Our zodiac made a diversion to a lobster boat, where we were welcome to examine their catch. The video above and the photos below show some of the typical cliffs, arches, and sea caves.













More About Gros Cap

There is a scenic park and view area at Pointe de l'Echouerie, unfortunately the cliffs here are so unstable that it is virtually impossible to find views of the natural arches except by boat. This is one of those spots that Madelinots talk about the rocks they used to jump off of, the beach they used to enjoy -- now lost to the sea. Even if you don't choose to drive in and enjoy the views from Pointe de l'Echouerie, you'll want to familiarize yourself with Chemin du Gros Cap, mainly because of the fine seafood restaurant located here. The restaurant is called La Factrie (I think that means "factory") and the entire operation is called Les Pêcheries Gros-Cap. (Fisheries of Gros Cap?) The retail store and restaurant are built around a fish processing plant; the restaurant actually looks down on the factory floor. Not sure what the attraction is of eating while you watch people clean fish and shuck clams, but patrons seem to enjoy it. I'm personally partial to the seafood store out front, it's got some fantastic deals on lobster, spider crabs, and especially scallops. The counter personnel are extremely patient with those of us who don't speak French, they usually appoint the best English speaker to help you. Grab a bottle of l’Écume from the cooler and you're all set. This place is easy to find, just drive south on Ch. du Gros Cap as you head south on 199 out of Cap-Aux-Meules. It's a large reddish storefront attached to a factory, and the parking lot is generally crowded! click here for more information. After about two days I learned that the best thing to do about the evening meal when you're on Les Iles is to just drive to Gros-Cap, buy a bunch of seafood and cook it yourself while tipping back a bottle or two of l’Écume. The gastronomic experience is absolutely fantastic; you can do this every day of your vacation and never get tired of it.

La Grande Echouerie

There is a nice public beach with a large parking area on the south side of the town of Cap-Aux-Meules. Head past police headquarters, and you're there. It's practically right in town. This beach has some interesting arches in the cliffs south of the parking lot, and as of 2007 there was an interesting mature arch formation north of the parking lot. This latter formation, pictured above, is rather fragile and if it hasn't fallen by now, it will soon.

Below is a small pillar arch found along the cliffs south of the parking lot.

Below, front and back views of another arch further down the beach.

This east side of Cap-aux-Meules suffers some of the worst erosion in all of Les Îles de la Madeleine, so these formations may be non-existent by the time you visit. Why then, do we present information on these? Mainly we're trying to give you a guide to finding the arches, and knowing what to look for since some are well hidden. Also, because certain cliffs are prone to arch formation, you are likely to find new or forming arches even if these are gone.

Etc.

Believe it or not there have been quite a few books published about the Magdalen Islands. Unfortunately, most of them are rather dry tomes about geology...you can find a study on oil exploration, even a lengthy tome on the gypsum found here. Books about naturalist subjects, such as birds and plants, tend to have been written prior to 1900. Not the sort of stuff that makes for exciting reading in advance of a trip to the Madeleines. Most travel publishers tend to lump the archipeligo in with books about the Maritime Provinces, then fail to say much of anything about Iles de la Madeleine other than "nice beaches, friendly islands, blah blah blah..." In fact the best book on the subject has been out of print since 1995. It's called The Adventurer's Guide to the Magdalen Islands (Maritime Travel Guides) and was written by George Fischer. Although it's out-of-print, the text is still excellent and the overall "guide" aspect of it is the best available. Out-of-print doesn't mean it's obsolete, just that it's hard to find. So anyway, if you click here:The Adventurer's Guide to the Magdalen Islands (Maritime Travel Guides) you may find a copy on Amazon.com. At anything less than $40, it's well worth it to help with planning your trip and to gain a better insight into the numerous recreational opportunities on these islands. As I said, the link goes to Amazon.com, and you're probably looking at used copies or bookstore cast-offs, but again, well worth it.

-- Rick