As part of a 5-day family road trip in Québec’s Îles de la Madeleine (The Magdalen Islands), we decided to spend two nights at the all inclusive holiday resort, La Salicorne. When we discovered that there was a choice of accommodation, and that one of the options was a large, blue inflatable bubble, there was no need for debate. Unanimously, we decided to sleep in “la bulle”!
The Magdalen Islands offer a culturally vibrant, family-friendly holiday destination that feels remote, but is not. Located at 47 degrees latitude in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the warm, windy islands are situated closer to the Maritimes than their own province of Québec. If you stand at the end of Cape Breton’s skyline trail on a clear day, you can see the shape of the islands on the horizon; they are easily accessed by car or bicycle by taking a 5-hour ferry ride from the town of Souris, Prince Edward Island.
Once you arrive at the main port of Cap-aux-Meules (in English, Grindstone), all but one of the islands are linked by a beautiful, flat two-lane highway, Route 199, which is immensely popular with cyclists. At only 85 km in length, its wide shoulders, frequent lay-bys and relaxed “stop where you feel like it” culture make it the ideal stretch for lazy family road-trippers like us.
La Salicorne is located at the far eastern tip of Route 199 on the Island of Grand-Entrée, reached by driving through the English-Speaking Island of Grosse-Île. Local attractions include La Grand Échouerie Beach (Old Harry Beach), which, were are told by many locals – although we were unable to confirm the fact – was voted by National Geographic as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. There’s also a fascinating Anglican church, a salt mine and interpretive centre, a bustling lobster-fishing port and an expanse of untouched nature, perfect for paddling, swimming, caving and even mud-bathing!
In its former incarnation, La Salicorne was called Le Club Vacances des Isles. Now operating as a non-profit, it still retains a holiday-camp feel, with dedicated “Aubergistes” allocated to look after each guest’s experience, from booking excursions and tours, to recommending meals, to discussing local history.
La Salicorne also houses the Island’s Seal Interpretive Centre, a myth-busting museum dedicated to both the seal as a pup, and the seal as a meal. (Importantly, the two are distinct!)
Our bubble accommodation is best described as an electrically inflated, hollow dome-shaped bouncy castle, with a vertical zippered opening. The zipper is flanked by two puffy lips to retain inflation, and each time we cross this threshold (sidestepping, as recommended), it looks as though we’re being birthed. Fittingly, our young children burst through the opening each time, tripping, stumbling and partially deflating the tent, which re-inflates quickly with windsock-style “poof”.
The interior of the bubble is deceptively large, roomy and bright, with a comfortable full-sized double bed and two firm, made-up mattresses underneath, which we pull out for the kids. The rest of the furniture consists of two charming chairs made out of lobster traps, a small table, and a modern lamp. High quality linen (I am guessing at least 300 thread-count cotton), freshly laundered white towels and top hotel-grade toiletries create a superior, luxurious feel.
Breakfast and dinner are taken in the Madelinot restaurant, on an all-inclusive basis, but don’t let the term “all-inclusive” fool you: the delicious food and excellent table service is a far cry from the resort buffets of the Balearics or the Carribbean. On our first night there, my four-course dinner from the table d’ d’hôte includes the “Délice des Îles”: a creamy, Thai flavoured soup with lobster, scallops and clams.
On night two, I go à la carte and choose the “Burger Loup-Marin”. Having spent the afternoon in the Seal Interpretive Centre, I don’t feel the least bit guilty about eating the seal meat. Served in a toasted bun with caramelised onions and a wedge of melted local cheese, it is completely delicious, and (I have recently learned), very low in fat.
The part of the restaurant at La Salicorne that we like best is the large enclosed children’s play area to keep the children separate from the dining guests. In design, it resembles the a crying room sometimes found at the back of a church. Surrounded by new toys and even a television, our children definitely aren’t crying…but yes, we feel blessed.
After eating, the children dash from the table and spend hours with the variety of toys, games and even a television, enabling me and my husband to slow down and relax over our dinner, and even to sample some local beer by the award-winning microbrewery, A l’abri de La Tempete.
The resort also offers a kids’ club, which, on weekdays, is also attended by children from the local area. At two years old, our son was too young for the club, but next time we will enrol both children for at least one day – a wonderful opportunity for authentic french immersion!
Other than sleep (the fresh sea air means that we sleep like babies on every night of our stay in the Magdalen Islands), we don’t spend much time in our bubble. There is too much to do on Grosse-Île and Grand-Entrée. A short walk through the woods at La Salicorne becomes an afternoon of kayaking at Bassin aux Huîtres (Oyster Bay); a quick dip at Old Harry turns into a long an afternoon on the beach; a swift refreshment at La Salicorne’s bar evolves into an evening of genial conversation with our hosts. This is the pace of the Islands: gentle, and spontaneous.
The Magdalen Islands are full of pleasing contradictions. They are remote but easy to access. The communities are small but bursting with culture. And, just like our crazy blue camping bubble, a family holiday to the Magdalen Islands is adventurous…but extremely restful.