I have just returned from ten days in the Quebec region of Canada, visiting Les Isles de la Madeleine (Magdalen Islands), Montreal, and Quebec City. Canada has pristine lakes and soaring mountains as beautiful as those in the USA, delicious food (think fresh lobster and maple syrup butter), and endless adventures, especially involving wind (kite buggying, wind surfing and kite boarding). According to a recent international survey, 53% of adults in the world's 24 leading economies would -- if given the choice -- leave home and move to Canada. The United Nations ranks Canada fourth on their quality of life index.
ISLANDS BRUSHED BY THE WINDS
The best kept secret in Canada's Quebec maritime is Les Isles de la Madeleine, -islands an isolated archipelago of seven inhabited islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with only 15,000 residents. These islands are especially appealing to winds sports enthusiasts, and have been ranked in the world's top ten destinations for wind sports.
The Micmac Indians named the archipelago Menagoesenog which means "islands brushed by the waves." You can visit Les Isles in any season (Feb/Mar is best for seals and seal pup viewing; May and June for the fish and lobster, but for the best "brushed by the waves" wind sports season, head there at the end of August.) Go windsurfing, kitesurfing, acrobatic kite and sailing, sea kayaking, surf kayaking, snorkeling, canoeing, and boogie boarding.
Two-time world and Quebec champion snow-kiter, Eric Marchande is the founder of Aerosport. The first kite sports school in Quebec celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, it offers lessons in kitesurfing, snowkiting, and kite buggying. I decided to try kite buggying, maybe because everyone's eyes went buggy when I told them I planned to ride a five-wheel go-cart across the sand dunes as a kite pulled me.
Before the buggy could pull me, I had to learn how to control the airplane wing-shaped. For an hour, I tried to get the kite to turn in the direction I chose, but the wind was around 40mph, and my kite crashed continuously into the sand. When Marchande said, "let's go," I thought that meant I was going to have to control the buggy alone, but fortunately, I was to sit behind him in the buggy and go along for the ride. "Faster, faster," I begged him as he controlled the kite and we flew across dunes in the little two-man buggy.
"I can't," he said. "I can't go fast with two people."
I tried to hide my disappointment.
LA SALICORNE - THE BEST LODGING DEAL IN LES ISLES
The day was not over. It was Happy Hour - what the Canadians call "Cinq a sept," ("five to seven") -- and I had just checked into an inn in Grand-Entrée Island, Auberge la Salicorne, an outdoor recreation and adventure center with an inn that was inexpensive, comfortable, and included both breakfast and dinner in the price of the room. Not only was the staff super-friendly, but there was free WIFI in the rooms. The food was excellent, as good as anything I'd had in any restaurant in Canada. Even better, La Salicorne offers package stays in which excursions such as a complete day with a guide to visit the islands, and bikes, canoes, kayaks, and pedal boats are all free. Activities such as an excursion to a cave, a kayak excursion to visit the red cliffs, or surf kayaking (wet suits included) only cost $15 for guests -- unheard of, considering they'd cost from $50-$100 anywhere in the U.S.
I donned a wetsuit, hopped into the bus that also pulled our kayaks, and along with four other guests, head guide Emmanuel and a gaggle of his kayaking staff, we drove to the beach with the biggest waves, just like surfers do. Surf kayaking is not for the faint hearted because the goal is not to paddle around beautiful red cliffs or study the seagulls or contemplate the stones on the beach; the goal is to be able to paddle out past the breakers on a sit-on-top kayak, wait for the biggest, nastiest, gnarly wave there is, and ride it all the way to shore. Sounds easy, but it's scary, not only because there's no way to ride all the way to shore without flipping, but you have to be really strong and determined to push your kayak out past huge waves crashing into you before you can even mount and paddle out.
I managed to stay up on my kayak for a few rides to shore, but always crashed before I reached the écume, a French word which means where the shoreline begins and the waves end -or, the sea foam. Emmanuel rounded us up and we paddled out to the red cliff caves where we explored a cave by kayak, but it was dark and smelled like Guano. Finally, we paddled back to shore, rode home, doffed our wetsuits and headed to dinner at La Salicorne, where we ate whole fresh lobsters! Aaahhhhh.