The combination of French culture, Newfoundland-like geography, a historically fishery-based lifestyle, and the distance from France has created a unique place to visit.
After getting settled away, we spent some time exploring the community and checking out the lighthouse. We wandered around the narrow streets, keeping our eyes out for restaurants, and it was then that we learned our second rule of Saint Pierre: Reservations are always required for dinner. Luckily, there were a few tables remaining on the terrace of L’Atelier Gourmand so we jumped at the chance. It was a bit foggy and cool outside, but the time zone in Saint Pierre meant that it didn’t get dark until almost 10 pm, which was great.
After visiting Tourist Information and booking a tour for Sunday morning, we proceeded to L’Arche Musée to book a walking tour for that afternoon. For €13 each, we explored the museum and had a private 1 hour walking tour. It was a great deal. L’Arche Musée has a new, contemporary design and covers the timeline of Saint Pierre et Miquelon. It also has some artifacts on display, and the most famous of those is the only guillotine that was ever used in North America. It had to be shipped from Martinique in order to commit the execution, as death by guillotine was the required punishment for murder in France (and French colonies) at the time. So on August 24, 1889 Joseph Néel was executed in Saint Pierre, by this guillotine.
After spending the morning at the museum, we had lunch at a tea room called Les Délices de Joséphine. Since we finished eating our lunch just after 1 pm, we had an hour until the shops and museums reopened for the afternoon. So we decided to wander through the narrow streets of Saint Pierre, past all of the houses and buildings, and climb to the top of the hill. The view was amazing… until we were attacked by mosquitos who also video-bombed us.
It was then time to go back to L’Arche Musée to take our Houses of Saint Pierre walking tour. The tour guide was great and we had the opportunity to ask her some questions about growing up in Saint Pierre and the community itself. On the tour, she pointed out various characteristics of Saint Pierre houses, and mentioned the effect that fires had on building regulations. One of the most interesting things that was brought to our attention is the fact that there are not many trees on the island of Saint Pierre, but all of the houses are made of wood. This is because the fisherman who settled in Saint Pierre would have been familiar with wooden boat building, so that’s what they would favour that material. Once wood from trees on the island ran out, the settlers got creative and retrieved wood from shipwrecks to build their houses. They also collected wood from wooden crates that were used during the prohibition. There were so many facts that we learned during the tour which made us appreciate things that we hadn’t noticed as we were walking around the community.
Dinner on Saturday was at Le Feu de Braise and the food was tasty; we had 3 courses each. Learning from rule #2, we booked it earlier in the day so we had no trouble getting a spot.
Then on Sunday morning we began our 3 hour tour of Île-aux-Marins. The island is a short 10 minute boat ride from Saint Pierre and our tour brought us there by Zodiac. We were lucky enough to have great weather and the sea was calm so we were able to go around the island, stopping at the shipwreck of the Transpacific. The Transpacific got caught on the shoals of the island in 1971, and the bow of the boat remains on the beach while the engine is aground, a few hundred metres offshore.
We continued around the island, welcoming the cool breeze on the boat. After we docked on Île-aux-Marins, we separated into two groups – French and English. It worked well for us because it was the second time in two days that we had a private walking tour for no extra cost. The history of Île-aux-Marins is an interesting one because it went from an uninhabited island to a bustling town with its own mayor, before becoming a ghost town in the 1960s. Easy access to the fishery and room to dry cod were its major draws, however the inability to secure electricity for the island was its final downfall. Nowadays, there are a few summer homes on the island and some older buildings are being repaired.
While we were on the island, we had the opportunity to visit the Musée Archipélitude (located in an old schoolhouse), the church, and the wash house. We also saw an old cemetery and wandered around the island.
All in all, a great weekend Saint Pierre! The weather was beautiful, we learned a lot, and you can’t complain about 0.5 L of good wine for €8. While we were there, we were reminded of our last trip to France, which was also our first trip together, to Paris in March 2012.