Travel articles you can use.
Top

France in North America: Saint Pierre & Miquelon

October 10, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Text as appeared in Business Jet Traveler Magazine,October/November 2011

A Taste of France in North America

Even many of the world’s savviest travelers have yet to discover pristine Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, two sleepy but thoroughly enchanting islands 15 miles south of Newfoundland. They swirl in fog and mystery and boast the anomaly of being France’s last foothold in North America. Don’t confuse these isles with neighboring Canada–residents on these shores carry the euro, use 220 voltage and savor Brie, baguettes and Bordeaux.

Visitors come to this charming maritime province to slow down and escape, and savor an authentic taste of France. You’ll drive alongside Renaults, Citroens and Peugeots, hear French spoken, see lace curtains hanging in windows and, perhaps best of all, enjoy the aroma of oven-fresh French bread and pastries.

Relative inaccessibility deters most tourists from even contemplating a visit to these isles. A ferry runs from Fortune in southern Newfoundland, although the journey by water often includes choppy and rough seas. Flights on Air St. Pierre connect from St. John’s, Newfoundland, as well as Halifax and Montreal, but schedules are erratic. However, aircraft owners can land at the modern airport, which can accommodate large business jets. It stands just a few miles from downtown Saint-Pierre–by far the archipelago’s most densely populated settlement as well as the capital. A five-minute taxi drive skirts past colorful frame homes reminiscent of those in Burano, Italy; some are painted in neon crayon hues that look exceptionally radiant on foggy days.

Downtown Saint-Pierre nestles against the banks of the harbor like a European village on a San Francisco incline. Cobbled brick lanes, alleys and street lanterns evoke the French Quarter of New Orleans. Canadian Dale Fuga, who vacationed here with his wife Cynthia, said, “We did not need to rent a car, as we were able to walk to all of the restaurants, shops and other attractions.”

Place de Gaulle, the town square, is near the wharf, ferry ­terminal and the post office, which is topped with a gabled ­tower. Decorative Saint-Pierre and Miquelon postage stamps attract fervent collectors who make the post office their first stop.

Thirty Paris-trained gendarmes patrol the crime-free environment. They readily volunteer for two-year stints, claiming the quaint atmosphere suits family life.

A must-do walking tour includes the red- and white-striped Point Aux Canons Lighthouse and three sentinel canons, which were formerly used to guard the harbor from British attacks. Nearby rests a poignant memorial dedicated to island sailors lost at sea. Hundreds of shipwrecks lie scattered around the treacherous rocky shores. A Catholic cathedral built in 1906 from rocks quarried on Saint-Pierre lies behind the memorial. Adorning the sanctuary are two stained-glass windows brought by President Charles de Gaulle when he visited in 1967.

Memorial to those lost at sea.

Feel like a Francophile and follow your nose to the bakery and several gourmet food and wine shops up the street. Browse over bottles of French wines and champagne at European Union prices, a real bargain for many tourists. A glass cabinet displays fine chocolates and shelves are lined with imported foodstuffs such as haricot verts, escargot, white asparagus and jellies and jams. The selection of croissants and fromage is fantastic. And, don’t miss the foie gras made in Miquelon–it’s scrumptious enough for export to Parisian cafes.


Portuguese explorer Joa Alvarez Fa­gundes discovered the islands in 1520. On Cartier’s 1536 voyage, he claimed the territory for the king of France. For the next few centuries, the British and French squabbled over the holdings. France eventually lost its North American empire but the tiny islands were conceded by the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Since then, the French have celebrated Bastille Day on these shores.

The archipelago, which includes eight smaller islands, totals 93 square miles–about the size of Martha’s Vineyard. Miquelon, the largest in area, supports a petite village with one main street. The population of only 500 includes numerous Acadian ­descendants who were driven from Canada’s provinces by the British during the 18th century. Langland, another of the tiny islets, remains the most wild and green. A seven-mile-long strip of sand connects it to Miquelon–drivable depending on sea conditions. Langland serves as a summertime getaway for by about 400 Saint-Pierre residents.

The islands remain important fishing grounds due to their proximity to the legendary Grand Banks. While the French government continues to dispute the territorial fishing zone, it has no intention of abandoning the outpost. Today, the colony’s infrastructure and 6,000 residents are highly subsidized. Cod fishing copiously sustained the economy until 1992, when a ban on cod dried up the time-honored occupation. A majority of citizens now work at government-related jobs. Tourism is beginning to emerge, however, with the arrival of cruise ships that offer curious passengers a chance to touch French soil.

Be sure to visit the Heritage Museum, which showcases the island’s history. The highly visual exhibits offset the sparse English signage. Displays showcase the early 17th century Catholic immigrants and their religious practices. You’ll see models of sailing ships, old marine tools and gadgets, photographs, bottles of bootlegged alcohol and an amusing array of ’40s, ’50s and ’60s household appliances.

L’Arche, a public museum, features the infamous guillotine used to behead a murderer in 1889, the only one ever employed in North America. L’Arche also houses the territorial archives and displays the monumental canvas by Gaston Roullet for the 1900 Paris Exposition depicting cod fishing and drying on Saint-Pierre.

A few entrepreneurs offer guided driving tours to Pointe de Savoyard, the fringes of Saint-Pierre where horses roam free. Both humble cottages and several large homes dot the sparsely inhabited hills and bogs while ponderous surf crashes against the rocky coastline and beaches–reminiscent of coastal Maine. The view could easily be a movie set for a Scottish or English seacoast saga. As the oversized crustaceans caught by fishermen suggest, it is an excellent locale for lobster pots. Stiff Atlantic breezes blast the inland water, making Savoyard Pond a popular windsurfing spot.

Fresh Lobster

During Prohibition, when alcohol was forbidden in the U.S., it was perfectly legal to import liquor to the French-owned Saint-Pierre. Thus, the island became a warehousing shop for huge stocks of Canadian whiskey. Al Capone ran a major smuggling operation, employing residents to repack 300,000 cases of alcohol each month. The noisy uncrating process was too risky state-side so workers wrapped the bottles in straw and packed them into jute sacks. Rumrunners would secret the contraband into the U.S. while locals seized the emptied cases to fuel stoves and build houses. Life truly roared on Saint-Pierre in the years before the U.S. repealed Prohibition in 1933.

Historic photo taken during Prohibition

Be sure to search for the Cutty Sark House, built from wooden whiskey crates hidden among overgrown scrubby brush in the Savoyard area. Local lore says bootlegging persists and formidable old warehouses remain by the harbor, but no one offered inside tours. Another legend claims that Capone once slept ashore and St. Pierrais, as the people call themselves, seem to enjoy keeping that story alive.

Isabelle Lafargue-Ruge handpaints porcelain.

An authentic and lovely souvenir awaits you in Isabelle Lafargue-Ruel’s studio, La Butte. She hand-paints china in the traditional French Limoges fashion, a technique that requires several 16-hour firings. Born on Saint-Pierre, Isabelle left to study in France and returned in 2006 to manage her studio, which houses intricately designed and signed porcelain pieces.

A short Zodiac (schooner) journey to Ile aux Marins, Sailor’s Island, whisks you to the desolate property sans cars, streets and full-time residents. The island–formerly dubbed Dog Island because of plentiful dogfish–was once home to 700 seafarers. Now, only a picturesque church and old fishing shacks remain.

Ile aux Marins

 

Food beckons many to this unspoiled French fantasyland. Awaken for a breakfast of cafe au lait and petit pain au chocolat, or enjoy a mid-morning meal at a sidewalk cafe. Dinnertime begins around 8 o’clock and adheres to the French custom of unrushed enjoyment over multiple courses. Why hurry when a cozy Basque bistro, Ongi Etorri, sends out piping hot escargots swimming in melted Roquefort cheese, encased by fried bread crumbs? Choose from a variety of fish such as Coquilles St. Jacques, halibut (a local favorite), or lobster and snow crab. Menus also include juicy beef entrees. Desserts look sinfully delicious, but mon Dieu, it is difficult to indulge in a peach melba or crème brulée after all those croissants!

Joie de vivre and the French lifestyle abound on Saint-Pierre with its amiable partial-English speaking residents. Sojourners relax and slow down to island time with a French twist. So, why not fly over and collect one of the least-seen passport stamps available. Afterwards, you can say, “I had lunch in France.”

Debi along the blustery shores of Saint Pierre

Traveler Fast Facts:

What It Is:
A territory of France in North America, including two inhabited islands: Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are located near the shores of Newfoundland, roughly 800 miles northeast of Boston. American visitors will need a valid US passport. The official language is French, currency is the euro and most major credit cards are accepted. Clocks are two hours ahead of Eastern standard-time. Canadian dollars are accepted but change is given in euros.  www.tourisme-saint-pierre-et-miquelon.com

Climate:
June and July are typically wet and foggy, August is clearer and September offers the best weather. Very cold winters with an average annual snowfall of 118 inches and rainfall often exceeds 40 inches.

Getting There:
The Saint-Pierre airport (FSP) can handle small jets up to a Boeing 737 or Airbus A319/320. Miquelon also maintains a regional airport (MQC) with a 1,000-meter runway for turboprop and small jet aircraft.

Air Saint-Pierre

The territory’s official carrier, Air Saint-Pierre, operates flights from the Canadian cities of St. John’s, Newfoundland; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Moncton, New Brunswick; and Montreal. The only other regularly scheduled transportation is two-hour ferry service from the port of Fortune in southern Newfoundland.

Traveler Report Card

Accommodations (B+)

La Taie n’Art d”Hier, a chic B & B high on the hill overlooking the town; run by the charming husband and wife team. C’est bon. www.lataienartdhier.com Hotel Nuits Saint-Pierre, a gracious boutique style hotel conveniently located downtown. Suitable for a romantic getaway. www.nuitssaintpierre.com Both rate 4 stars.

Restaurants (A+)

Restaurant l’Atelier Gourmand – offers harbor views and inventive French cuisine showcasing seafood. Prix fixe option and English menus available. www.lateliergourmandspm.com
Ongi Etorri, a cozy Basque bistro (the name means welcome in Basque) where owners Dominique and Cecile Hacala personally greet patrons. Reservations are necessary, as they fill every night. Many consider this the best restaurant in town.
www.ongietorrispm.com
Restaurant Creperie de Vieux Port- perfect for lunch.  Crepes, of course.

Les Delices de Josephine offers exquisite baked goods and coffee plus pizza, quiches and baguette sandwiches.
Salon de THE La Ruche- coffee, tea and fresh French pastries.

Activities (B)

Guided Mini-van Tour – Lifelong resident Jean-Claude Fouchard offers group or individual tours with the insider scoop. www.lecailloublanc.fr
L”Arche, the staff of the public museum offer guided museum tours of artifacts and sightseeing tours, usually by appointment. www.arche-musee-et-archives.net
Cathedral St. Pierre – To see the interior, locate the rear side entrance as the front doors, with interesting fish door knobs, remain locked.
Heritage Museum – Take a step through St. Pierre’s history. Worth a visit. Only euros accepted for admission. www.musee-heritage.fr
Miquelon Day-Trip– Leave Saint-Pierre at 8 am and return at 7 pm via a 55- minute ferry ride to Miquelon. You’ll cross a strait known for its strong currents, so motion sickness medicine is suggested.  Why not fly!

Langland- You’ll need a tour guide in the summertime to visit this rugged and sparsely populated island.

Franco Forum- French language immersion school  www.francoforumspm.net

Saint-Pierre Shopping

La Maison de Cadeau – Floor to ceiling French wares: wines, foodstuffs, dinnerware and linens. Also a wonderful selection of historic photos and postcards.

La Tire Bouchon – fine wines and food, gifts and French Quimper ware.  www.letirebouchonspm.com

La Butte- Hand-painted porcelain using the traditional French Limoges technique.  www.labutte.com

Shopping

 

Montserrat for St. Patrick’s Day: Sunshine, Shamrocks and a Smoldering Volcano

March 1, 2011 by · Comments Off on Montserrat for St. Patrick’s Day: Sunshine, Shamrocks and a Smoldering Volcano 

Below is a story I wrote after visiting Montserrat on St. Patrick’s Day, March, 2010.

Montserrat

Mention a visit to Montserrat and you can expect quizzical expressions. Spanish mountain? Massachusetts college? West Indies island?

The name applies to all three, but only the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean beckons with shamrocks, sunshine and the still-smoldering Soufriere volcano. Travelers savvy enough to venture beyond neighboring Antigua, Guadeloupe or St. Kitts find a tropical throwback to another time. The British-governed territory endears itself to divers, nature lovers and villa vacationers with unspoiled reefs and a unique Irish-Caribbean culture. Montserrat’s people maintain phoenix- like hope, despite the fact that the volcano has rendered two-thirds of their island off-limits.

Outside Ireland, Montserrat is the only place to declare St. Patrick’s Day a national holiday — even passport entries come stamped in the shape of a shamrock. Celebrations honor the 17th-century Irish indentured servants who settled here after fleeing anti-Catholic violence. The festival also recalls a failed slave uprising of March 17, 1789. Resilient islanders merge all traditions and ethnicities for a week-long party.

Fly MontserratMy visit to the 39 square mile island began with a flight to Antiqua followed by a 15-minute adventure on Fly Montserrat’s 8-seat twin engine Islander plane. Upon arrival, I was given an invitation to attend a party at the Governor’s house that evening. Apparently March 16th is when the festivities begin as the honorable Peter Andrew Waterworth met me wearing an orange tee shirt emblazoned with green lettering and a plaid kilt. He carried a pewter tankard of Guinness stout, flown in from Ireland for the occasion. Dublin’s own Martin Healy band entertained with flute and fiddle until local crooner, Shaka Black commandeered the microphone.

Debi and the Governor

Back in the eighties and early nineties, music ignited this tiny (39 square miles) mountainous isle. Sir George Martin, the former Beatles producer, built AIR Studios for recording stars like Paul McCartney, Sting and Elton John. Mick Jagger flew down too, along with Dire Straits and Jimmy Buffett, who recorded his album Volcano here. Arrow, a Montserrat native, sang hot, hot, hot as reggae beats pulsed in discos and nightclubs while calypso simmered through posh villas and restaurants of brightly colored stucco.


Soufriere erupts

Then, on July 18, 1995, a loud rumble, like a jet roar, swept over the tropical landscape. Longtime resident and expat Carol Osborne recalls seeing smoke rise from a green mountain–not wispy puffs but powerful columns shooting skyward. The plumes kept churning and the noise kept pounding, day and night. Plymouth, the capital, and the surrounding southern hills were emptied–no small problem given that the north end of the island had little in the way of housing or other facilities for 10,000 residents.

Finally, the Soufriere Hills volcano went back to sleep, but the temperamental toddler wasn’t through with her tantrums. She acted up again and again, spewing ash, which necessitated masks for breathing and numerous evacuations. Then she blew her top, exploding like a wild child flinging off her clothes, the verdant peak transformed into gray shale.

Today, she continues, a turbulent teen. One day she’s gentle and kind, approaching sweet sixteen; the next day, she rages. Life with teenage Souffi, as I nicknamed her, teeters on the edge, and Montserrat is still without a new capital. Its remaining 4,500 residents will never be the same.

Still, a retreat to her simple lifestyle blesses one with a laid-back escape. Rent an inflatable kayak at Scuba Montserrat and paddle around the corner to Rendezvous Bay, the only golden-hued beach. All the others glimmer with sparkly black sand and typically lie empty, except in the fall when the green and hawksbills turtles nest ashore. Woodlands Beach, which has restrooms and showers, offers views of migratory humpback whales in the spring.

Inflatable kayak

Divers plunge into the slightly warmer aquamarine Caribbean Sea (79 to 85 degrees) due to the volcano, which formed boulders, pinnacles and walls that now anchor new coral reefs. Troy Depperman at Green Monkey Dive Shop guides visitors into caves and rock formations where spotted morays, porcupine fish and octopuses hang. Deep-sea fishing benefits from the lack of cruise-ship traffic. Wahoo, bonito, shark, marlin and tasty yellowfin tuna cavort just two to three miles offshore.

Tourists, especially the eco-kind, enjoy hiking on the 14 well-marked trails established by the National Trust. At 2,437 feet, Katy Hill requires a guide, as the often-overgrown route easily leads visitors astray. The trail demands a high level of fitness and about five strenuous hours. Oriole Trail, the most frequented, provides 1,287-foot scenic outlooks and, if you’re lucky, a sighting of the endangered Montserrat Oriole. James Scriber, a former forest ranger, leads hikes and recounts local lore. With his thumb, mouth and voice, he mimics their song, luring the melodic creatures out of the bush and almost into his hand.

A boat ride to see the ruins of Plymouth, frequently called the modern-day Pompeii, is a must. Worldwide, no other destination compares with the ghostly apparition of the lost capital. I cannot forget my first sight of the now-forbidden city that stands as if Medusa turned it to stone.

Buried Capital City

 

Soufriere doesn’t spew lava; she heaves red-hot rocks and boulders over the dome like popcorn, along with blasting steam currents called pyroclastic flow. They travel up to 100 miles per hour, mushrooming like clouds of an atomic bomb. During Montserrat’s rainy season (usually July) gushers gather trees, rocks, ash and mud in a mixture resembling wet concrete, then flow in torrents down the ghuats (ruts) created over time. Gradually Plymouth has sunk deeper and deeper, buried in a cement stew. Sightseers cruise her shores but aren’t allowed to stop. Nonetheless, the outing engulfs the senses with dusty smells, eerie quiet and a stark vision of a once-vibrant village.

Buried House

Plymouth took a direct hit, but her suburbs on the neighboring emerald mountainside suffered, too. The lavish villas and Creole cottages paint a memorable still life in the government-quarantined exclusion zone.

Don’t miss the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, where scientists monitor the situation 24 hours a day. Watch the 3-D documentary of past eruptions to understand the volcano’s dynamic force. An eruption in February 2010, sent ash billowing 40,000 feet and carpeted the last remnants of the control tower at the former W.H. Bramble Airport. Pyroclastic flows create new land, leaving the seawater at shoreline a gorgeous luminescent turquoise and increasing the mass from 39 square miles to more like 41. But no one can use the additional property–temperatures below the ground simmer around 300 degrees.

New Land Formation

Folks have high hopes for the geo-thermal wattage in the volcano’s core. David Lea, a longtime resident and documentary videographer, said Montserrat could become “the breadbasket of power in the Caribbean.” If only the Montserratians could finance and pull off such a grand, eco-friendly project.

Passport entries come stamped in the shape of a shamrock, recalling a distinctive Irish heritage. Outside Ireland, Montserrat is the only place to declare St. Patrick’s Day a national holiday. Celebrations honor the 17th-century Irish indentured servants who settled here after fleeing anti-Catholic violence and recall a failed slave uprising of March 17, 1789. Resilient islanders merge all traditions and ethnicities for a week-long party.

St. Patrick's Day Parade

A parade starts near Little Bay, the proposed new capital, and marches to the Village Heritage Festival, where replicas of plantation slave huts and traditional African food take center stage. Try Duckna, a paste of shredded sweet potato, coconut and spices, wrapped in elephant-ear leaves (taro) and tied with strands of banana palm. The national dish, Goat Water, reigns most popular despite its less-than-enticing name. It looks, tastes and smells like spicy gumbo with pieces of tender goat meat.

Expats and visitors from other Caribbean islands unite at the Green Monkey Bar. The Martin Healy Band from Dublin plays, while patrons quaff pints of Guinness along with mango rum punch.  But…no green beer. At Soca Cabana, reggae artist and Montserrat native Shaka Black belts a soulful tune. Music once brought prosperity to this island and now it simply unites. Mother Nature bubbles up clean mountain water, breezy trade winds and planetarium-worthy stargazing. But some days she also blows ash in the air. Come see the haunting beauty and listen to her song.

Flute Player

 

Enter a Photo Contest to Win a Trip to St Lucia

October 15, 2009 by · Comments Off on Enter a Photo Contest to Win a Trip to St Lucia 

Gazebo on the Beach at Coconut Bay Resort

Gazebo on the Beach at Coconut Bay Resort

I traveled to St Lucia about a year ago and believe me, this island offers more than you can imagine- read my article St. Lucia: Small Island, Big Adventure or about my zipline adventure at Zip Therapy.

All you have to do to win a family vacation at Coconut Bay Resort is send a photo to Caribbean Travel and Life magazine. To entice you I’ve included a few of my own photos taken during my wonderful stay at Coconut Bay.

Palm by the beach

Palm on the beach at Coconut Bay Resort, St Lucia

Just follow all the links below.

Win a 5-day/4-night all-inclusive stay at St. Lucia‘s Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa!

Think you have a winning Caribbean vacation photo? Send it to us and you just might find yourself on another Caribbean getaway courtesy of St. Lucia‘s Coconut Bay Beach Resort. The family-friendly resort is putting a 4-night stay on the line–including all of your meals, snacks, drinks and even resort taxes + gratuities for one lucky family of four–and all you have to do is share your favorite Caribbean snapshot!

It’s easy to enter in two simple steps: Just become a fan of Caribbean Travel + Life’s Facebook page–where you’ll enjoy daily Caribbean updates like travel news, hotel and airfare deals, contest announcements and more–then submit your favorite Caribbean travel photo to winatrip@caribbeantravelmag.com.

Official Rules


ENTER NOW

Step 1: Click the link below to become a fan of our Facebook page…

Caribbean Travel + Life’s Facebook Page

Step 2: Email us your favorite Caribbean vacation photo at winatrip@caribbeantravelmag.com!

** Bonus: Become a fan of Coconut Bay Beach Resort’s Facebook page too–Then if you win, you’ll also get the VIP treatment with round trip airport transfers, a bottle of champagne and a fruit platter in your room!

The entry period for this contest is October 12th through November 8th, 2009, and winners will be announced by November 20th, 2009.

Official Rules


Your stay includes: four nights of all-inclusive accommodations at Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa in St. Lucia for two adults and up to two children (in same room); all meals, snacks and drinks at the resort; fully supervised children’s center; use of the resort’s water park attraction and other amenities; and all hotel taxes and gratuities.

** If you’re a fan of Coconut Bay Beach Resort’s Facebook page, your stay will also include round trip airport transfers from Hewanorra International Airport; a welcome bottle of champagne; and a VIP fruit platter on arrival.


Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa, located in St. Lucia’s exotic southern coast, is a 254-room, all-inclusive casual Caribbean resort that caters to couples and families alike. Mirrored after the island’s most famous landmarks, the twin Piton Mountains, Coconut Bay has its own set of twins, Harmony and Splash. “Harmony” is a tranquil adult-only oasis offering the perfect setting for a romantic escape with a palm-fringed pool, braided hammocks, intimate cabana beds and the oceanfront Kai Mer Spa, while “Splash” offers families a tropical playground featuring CocoLand Kidz Klub, a paintball facility, a watersports complex offering kitesurfing and the island’s largest water park.

View of the famous Gros Piton on St Lucia

View of the famous Gros Piton on St Lucia

Official Rules

Kayaking in St Lucia

Kayaking in St Lucia

View while hiking in St Lucia

View while hiking in St Lucia

Next Page »

Bottom