There’s a little group of islands just off the south coast of Newfoundland, Canada but doesn’t belong to Canada. They belong to the European country of France and have a lot of history. Whilst doing a road trip around Newfoundland, I had the opportunity to do a weekend trip to the main town of Saint Pierre and grabbed the chance to go there.
History lesson: The islands were first recorded in the history books when a Portuguese explorer found the islands in 1520. A short time later in 1536, the islands were grabbed by France’s Jacques Cartier, another explorer who claimed lots of land in the area for his country which is now present-day Canada. Over the years many fishermen from Northern France and the Basque region came and went to grab the fish to take home but it was many years later that the islands were settled permanently by them. Then there was a war between England and France and the islands were grabbed by the British for a few years before a treaty was written by the two countries and eventually the islands were returned to France in 1814. Since then life has been good apart from a minor dent in the community when 400 people lost their lives serving the French army in World War II in Europe.
So now I want to take you through my short time in this outpost of France in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Getting there and some handy tips: As I was driving around Newfoundland, I took the road down to Fortune where the harbour is located. It is best to book this trip in advance as the boats are quite small. As I had a car, I had to go to the ticket office on the main street of town and pay for the parking as I had to leave the car in Canada. Then I drove around the corner to the harbour where the parking attendant told me to go to the car park and then a shuttle service was provided to take me back to the harbour (it was only about a three minute journey). Then back at the harbour, allow thirty minutes (in case there is a huge crowd of people) to get through passport control and security. Once at Saint-Pierre there is French passport control (of course) but I got through pretty quick. The same will happen on the return journey (apart from the car parking) but expect a longer queue on the Canadian side.
The boat journey itself was a quick one, one-hour long in fact. The seats were comfortable and plenty of plugs to charge cellphones and laptops (but remember you MUST have the EUROPEAN adaptor as it's a French ferry company and France has European power supplies etc so if you have North American plugs, have the adaptor!). There is no food for sale on board but there are hot drinks and water. Not much to be honest. The sea can get very rough on the crossing, so most of the time everyone just stays seated unless you are like me who had to sit on the small open deck and try and not get seasick. I have done many ferry crossings across the world and never known a rougher sea than this area.
However if anyone wants to avoid driving through Newfoundland and the rough ferry crossings, there are direct flights to and from Halifax and Saint John’s in Canada and Paris on mainland France.
Geography and language: there are several islands which make up Saint Pierre and Miquelon. The big one is Miquelon, not many people live there but it is mostly a nature reserve and great for hiking. I heard that there is a brewery there. However I went to one of the smaller islands in the southern parts called Saint Pierre, where the main town of Saint Pierre is located. The town has 5,000 people living there (but I hardly saw a soul during my visit) in a town the size of, well, London’s Heathrow airport. There is a small mountain which overlooks the town and there are plenty of hills where the houses are located north of the main centre.
Now, I love this. The language. As these islands are located in North America, it doesn’t mean they speak the same derelict French which is used in Quebec, Canada. No, they use Parisian French with a slight accent of the French people from the Brittany and Normandy regions where the fisherman mostly came from. The Basque derelict disappeared about fifty years ago. Many people who visit the islands think it’s Quebec version of French is spoken but the locals soon tell them straight as I have seen.
Arriving: I arrived late in the afternoon and as soon as I walked out of the ferry port (which is also the town’s post office), I was in the heart of the town. Just like that.
Accommodation: Stayed at the modern hotel called Jacques Cartier on Rue St Jean. More on this on my review later on.
Now the fun starts, Saturday evening out: Just like many tourists who landed on the island as I did by the ferry and just checked into their accommodations, it was time to get dinner. There are around four-five restaurants in town. The one at Hotel Robert on the seafront, you need a reservation (but it was packed with diners). Another restaurant (which was also packed) needed reservations. The staff there recommended an Italian restaurant around the corner, went there and was told I needed a reservation. However they did do pizzas and I asked if I could do a take out to which they agreed (and also checked out a local blond beer which was delicious).
On Sunday lunchtime, the same thing happened again. Wanted a meal before I departed the island and everywhere was either packed or needed a reservation. I found another restaurant near the cathedral and was told I needed a reservation. It was half empty. However the waitress said I could eat if I wasn’t going to be long which wasn’t a problem. By the time I finished, everyone had left and the restaurant was empty. I was very confused.
I had a funny feeling that reservations are a requirement here so if anyone knows they are coming to the island and wants to eat out, make reservations. There isn’t really a back up plan with buying products at the shops as they were closed in the evenings and nothing is open on Sundays. There is a supermarket on the outskirts of town but that is a distance to walk.
Bars: there are not many bars either. Everyone went to the discoteque in town and it seemed pretty lively. However I wanted a sociable drink and landed up at La Baratin on Rue Marcel Bonin. This spacious bar with a snooker table and televisions dotted around was the perfect place to have a drink. I spent most of the night speaking drunken French with the bar man and the locals (who don’t know any English apart from the word ‘Queen’).
Sightseeing: Actually couldn’t do much in the time I had there because of the ferry times etc that weekend. Also it's impossible to do the island of Miquelon to the north of the island of Saint Pierre to do the fantastic hiking and see the nature on offer which is heavily advertised by the tourism board.
Everything in Saint Pierre town is very close together and I did a walking tour (by myself of course) and completed everything in one hour. Yes, one hour but it would have been longer if the museums were open at the weekend.
Started off at the Place du Charles de Gaulle right next to the harbour. I saw the post office and a quirky little ice cream stand. This made me feel like I was definitely in France and not just a town built here by the Canadians and was then taken over by the French (by the looks of the facades of the buildings and signage). The buildings reminded me of those in the harbour towns in Normandy or Haute de France. There were French flags everywhere on buildings, cars with French registration number plates (SPMs followed by a few numbers) and a cafe/visitor centre which was closed.
Walking westwards along the Rue du 11 novembre and then slightly into the suburb (about four minutes worth of walking), I was out of the centre. The buildings here do look like those from the Canadian Arctic or Norway. Wooden and colourful. However the hills around here are very steep but the next part of the walking tour was at the top of a nearby hill so I had to conquer it. One place to check out is Le Fort Lorraine where a panoramic view of the city is to be had. However this viewpoint is also historical because it was built as an observation post after the liberation of the islands by the Free French Forces during the Second World II (yup, there’s some history to be had here and if the Nazi Germans wanted to, when they captured France, they could have sailed over here and used this an outpost and brought the war to North America but it never got that far).
Nearby is a Christ-on-the-cross sculpture made out of hand-sculpted wood which is also a great place to look eastwards and get a good view over Saint-Pierre and it’s harbour.
Walking all the way eastwards to the sea (and skimming the northern outskirts of the city centre), I came across the Cathedral. History states that the locals in the 19th century decided to build a cathedral out of cement (which was opened in 1907) as smaller churches which were made out of wood were burned down but not sure on the reason why they were burnt down.
The highlight was walking down a path over the sea to where the lighthouse is located (and seems to be the main emblem of the islands). It is called ‘La pointe aux canons et le phare’. Despite getting another great view from here (if you look back at the town and see the small mountains overlooking), there are also cannons nearby which were installed by the French and were used when the English tried to invade.
I then headed back westwards along Boulevard Constant Colmay and landed at my starting point at the ferry terminal. So remember guys, here’s the best advice I can tell you: when you are planning a trip to the islands, RESERVE everything. Don’t expect to get a meal or a hotel room on arrival. BOOK IN ADVANCE. I love this little corner of France, despite the awkwardness with reservations.
How to get to & where is it located: St Pierre is located off the coast of Newfoundland in Eastern Canada. There are passenger ferries from Fortune to St Pierre but booking ahead is advised. Journeys take one hour. There is also the airline Air Saint-Pierre which flies in and out of the airport located on the island of Saint Pierre. There are also flights from here to the other island, Miqueleon. To Canada there are flights to St Johns in Newfoundland, Halifax in Nova Scotia and Montreal in Quebec. The only other country the island serves is Paris, France.
Time difference: St Pierre et Miquelon is thirty minutes ahead of Newfoundland, Canada. Just remember that if coming by ferry or plane from a different part of Canada.
Accommodation: There are not many accommodation options. My first point of call is always Booking.com and can offer a range of hostels, hotels, campsites, apartments, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts. After that I always have a look through AirBnb for great deals on apartments and other lodgings especially when traveling as a family. As you can see I stayed at the Hotel Jacques Cartier and I totally recommend a stay here. (Details below).
Currency: St Pierre is a part of France so it uses the Euro currency. There are not many places to exchange currency so it is best to do this before arriving on the island. If coming from Europe, especially France, Euro currency is easy to obtain via ATM machines, currency exchanges and banks. In North America, if coming from Canada, the best places to get these are at St John's (Newfoundland) and Halifax (Nova Scotia) airports or at the banks there. Anywhere else on the Eastern Seaboard, you're going to find it harder to obtain Euro currency.
Language: It’s France, so it would be French. It's proper 'Parisian' French and not the French spoken in nearby Quebec. However it does have a twang which sounds like the French spoken in the Brittany region on mainland France.
Watch out for: Didn't have a problem here. Use common sense but to be honest, not many people live on this island and the crime rate is very very low.
Flying into the area: Then I would recommend using Skyscanner to find flights as that is my first point of call. Then if necessary use the airlines directly to find a good deal. I sometimes use Momondo as well to compare prices before booking.
Need insurance? Safety Wingoffers coverage for a lot of adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and so forth. I never travel without travel insurance. I highly recommend them for those who need travel insurance.
Need a visa for France? Always check if you need a visa when coming to France, especially for those who come from outside Europe.
Hotel Jacques Cartier Review - Ideal location to explore Saint Pierre
During my weekend trip to the island of Saint Pierre et Miquelon, I stayed at the very modern and slick Hotel Jacques Cartier. Located in the centre of the island’s main town, Saint Pierre and a few minutes walk from the main ferry terminal (and a short drive to and from the international airport), I made the right choice by staying here.
The four star hotel is the newest hotel to pop up in the archipelago and its modern facade is really noticeable against the other typical ‘North-Atlantic-fisherman hut-style’ buildings in the surrounding area. The reason I stayed in this luxurious hotel is simple. Location, price, the bed, amenities and of course, breakfast. At arrival, the young female lady (who also spoke English) checked me in very swiftly and unlike hotels on Mainland France I have come across on our travels, she was very informative and gave me some ideas for meals out, where the bar is and lots of information on my room.
When I got to our room on the first floor, the only disappointing feature of this hotel had to be the views from the window. That is because the hotel is not right on the seafront but a few streets back, so the view is just the other buildings and the quiet street below. Nothing to see really. The most noticeable thing was the aircon. I have been traveling over North America for quite a few weeks before I arrived in Saint Pierre but whilst I was a short hop (ferry ride) over the water in Newfoundland, aircons were hard to come by in hotels and bed and breakfasts. Here, the aircon was already on and I was cooling down from the heatwave outside.
The room itself was one of the nicest hotel rooms I have stayed in for a very long time. Whilst the bed was huge, comfortable and I got a perfect night sleep, it was the little features that impressed us the most. A very modern television with all the French television stations from Europe with a clear signal (yes, I love to watch television shows from France and watching some of them brought back a lot of memories). There were a lot of plug sockets and I mean a lot! Tip: don’t forget the European plug adaptor especially if traveling from North America!. The lighting in the room was fantastic but the black out curtains were a fantastic feature and enabled me to get a perfect sleep and not get woken up by the early sunrises.
The washroom was fantastic. Whilst a spacious sink where I could put all my toiletries down without taking too much space, there was also the usual hotel amenities from shampoo bottles to hairdryers. There was no bathtub but the shower from the ceiling had a good pressure, the temperature was good and to be honest, I have voted it the shower of the year (however I have no award to give out but I thought it was the best possible statement we could give).
The breakfast here is included in the price and is the typical continental style ranging from yoghurts, crossisants, toast cereal to hot drinks and juice. This is as good as it gets for breakfast on this island as I didn’t see any restaurants or cafes doing breakfasts. However it still filled me up before I returned to Canada later that day.
Overall, Hotel Jacques Cartier is a really good choice for your stay in Saint-Pierre. Despite being central, there is no noise from the nearby bars or restaurants, there is no traffic outside and is the ideal location to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep. It’s so close to everything you need for a short stay on the island. To make reservations, contact the hotel.
On the way to the islands, needing accommodation? Then stay at Abbie’s Garden
The name says it all. The Bed and Breakfast I stayed in had a nice garden with lots of beautiful flowers dotted around the place, as well as a lot of green grass and trees to make the surroundings here perfect for a stay. Abbie’s Garden has certainly lived up to its name and I haven’t even walked through the door to meet Bruce and Donna, the father and daughter team who run the accommodation. Located on the outskirts of Grand Bank on the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland on route 220, this is the ideal place to stay if visitors are heading for the ferry to take them to France the next morning (well, the French overseas territory of Saint Pierre et Miquelon which is a one hour ferry ride from nearby Fortune), or just doing a road trip to see the beautiful scenery on the peninsula.
Parking up on the gravel drive, I was met by Donna who gave me such a warm welcome and during my stay with her (and Bruce of course), I got to know them well and learnt more about the area. This is what I loved about staying in Bed and Breakfasts on different parts of the island, meeting locals, learning a lot of local history, taking lots of advice and enjoying their hospitality and comforts. This is why I recommend staying in Bed and Breakfasts in Newfoundland.
Abbie’s Garden has two areas on the property. There is the Cottage where there is one private suite and one private cozy room which is located in the main building where the breakfasts are served and then there is a building in the garden nearby called ‘The Loft’ and this is where I was staying.
The Loft has two private suites which both include a queen size bed, a desk, a wardrobe and an en-suite bathroom. Included was WI-FI and also a television with all the Canadian (and the odd American) channels showing (but no French channels if you want to get into the French mood before heading to France the next day).
The bed itself is very comfortable and to be honest, I had one of my best sleeps whilst staying in Abbie’s Garden. In fact instead of my usual six hour sleeping pattern, I managed to get nine to ten hours worth in. It was just that comfortable. It also helped that there was air conditioning as well (it was a hot day when I arrived) but also in the winter months, there is heating which I could imagine is ideal to snuggle up under the duvet while the room is at a cozy warm temperature.
The private bathroom had a bathtub with a shower in it and once again, I loved standing underneath the shower and cooling down. It was just right, the temperatures and the shower pressure (it sounds strange I know but this is one area which could make or break the stay a success or just horrible - that’s how important showers are to me. Abbie’s Garden gets 10/10 for the shower). Also there are plenty of towels to use around the sink basin and to be honest, I did love the looks of the mini-shampoo bottles which had ‘Abbie’s Garden’ branded logo on it. The hairdryer with the big mirror next to the sink basin was ideal also.
The room outside each of the rooms is shared which has a kitchen which includes a sink and a fridge for storage. A microwave, coffee machine and kettle are also provided (which for being English, I did need my early morning English Breakfast tea fix before breakfast for the perfect wake up call). Just remember to put the shoes on the tray just inside the door to keep the floors clean (which is an excellent idea especially in winter time with the amount of snow which falls on this island). Did I mention laundry facilities? Well, I just have and it’s an ideal feature to have when doing long road trips like I did.
There is another door which leads out of the room onto an outside wooden deck where I could sit on the wooden chairs to relax and look at Abbie’s Garden. Sometimes I may hear the odd car from the main road (which is a distance away) but the sound of the slight breeze going through the branches of the tree whilst the sun rays hit my face was simply perfect and the best way to end an afternoon before heading out to dinner in town.
Breakfast was simply perfect the next morning. Starting off with some fruit which came with some yoghurt but the scones with jam was simply tasty and filling. Afterwards I ordered the pancakes which came with scrambled eggs and bacon which simply filled me up and set me up for the day. With the usual hot drinks and juices included, I would have to say this was one of the best breakfasts I had on the road in a long time.
One thing I noticed during my stay which I didn’t use due to the length of my stay (and exploring this beautiful area) is that Abbie’s Garden does have a brunch and dinner service (reservations required). The garden is that beautiful, they even have wedding day photography taking place here. I wasn’t surprised, I loved what I saw of the garden and to be honest, it did remind me a little bit of home and what England’s gardens are like in the rural countryside.
How to Book at Abbie’s Garden: if you haven’t booked in advance you’re always welcome to knock on the door and see if a room is available but it’s best to plan in advance and pre-book a room. You can call in advance. All details can be found here.
As you can see, I absolutely loved my stay here and I highly recommend that if you are traveling to St-Pierre or staying in this area, check out Abbie’s Garden. Bruce and Donna really did make me feel welcome and I can guarantee you, that visitors will not be disappointed.
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Please note that while I was not working with any companies in the St Pierre et Miquelon (but I did work with the guys from Abbie’s Garden B&B,, my review and experiences written about in this post are 100% genuine. I value my readers too much to lie to you. My blog would be nothing without you and your continued support! There maybe some links above which are affiliate and are at no additional cost to you. If my readers use them, I earn a commission to buy their products and remember, I only mentioned products and companies I use. The income from this keeps this website going. Thank you.