Havre aux Maisons, Canada

Photo: Tourisme Îles de la Madeleine

It’s lobster season! The short season only lasts for nine weeks on the Îles de la Madeleine (Magdalen Islands). The tightly regulated industry issues licenses to less than 300 fishermen. They depart long before the sun rises to haul, empty, and rebait their traps. Spawning females must be thrown back. Those who don’t meet the weight minimum must be, as well. But the ones who return to shore are baked, boiled, grilled, and drowned in butter. Are you drooling yet?

The Îles de la Madeleine always have good seafood. Snow crabs are caught in iron traps in April and May. Scallops are dragged off the ocean floor until July. Mackerel is harvested by handlines through the end of the summer. Atlantic halibut, blue mussels, clams, and rock crabs are always available. Home-brewed wine, distinctive beer, semi-soft cheese, and smoked herring can be found, as well. But lobsters are, unsurprisingly, the highlight of the year.

So where is this foodie paradise? The Maggies, as they’re affectionately called, lie 100 miles off the coast of Prince Edward Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Even though their ferry departs from Souris—the ride takes five hours—the eight islands aren’t technically part of the Maritimes. They’ve actually been part of French-speaking Québec since the Acadians, hunting seals and walruses, landed on the uninhabited islands in the 18th century. The low-lying islands, lined with red-sand cliffs and miles of sand dunes, haven’t changed much since then.

Okay, maybe a little. A two-lane paved road now connects six of the islands; boats are needed to reach the wildlife reserve on Brion Island and the small community on Entry Island. Their hills are now treeless due to excessive lumbering. Brightly colored houses now stand in their place. There’s a tiny airport on Havre aux Maisons (House Harbour Island); airplanes can accommodate a maximum of 15 passengers. Plus, on the same island, an early 20th-century convent has been turned into a cozy boutique hotel.

Domaine du Vieux Couvent sits on the south shore of Havre aux Maisons. The historic building features brick walls, wooden floors, and commanding views of Entry Island and Plaisance Bay. Its 11 rooms are filled with sunshine most of the day. They’re stocked with fluffy duvets, cotton robes, local toiletries, and, this time of year, beach towels. La Moulière, the bistro-style restaurant, serves seafood during all meals.

Yes, that includes breakfast. A lobster omelet is a perfect way to start the day before you watch harp seals sunbathe on the windswept beaches, sea kayak through bays and tunnels, and hike to remote lighthouses. You’ll be ready for round two—perhaps a glass of Chablis and lobster risotto as the sun sets—by the time you return to the hotel at the end of the day. You have to take advantage of the two short seasons, summer and lobster, after all.

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