Saint Pierre and Miquelon are the last vestiges of France's North American empire. Situated just south of the Canadian province of Newfoundland, the islands are cold but the towns are quaint and relaxed. Originally settled by French cod fishers in the 17th century, the territories passed temporarily from French to British control between 1713 and 1763. Cod fishing, after this time, was the central industry of the islands.
For travellers, the appeal is in low-key attractions such as museums, rustique old architecture and the islands' history. The islands are also popular amongst birdwatchers, and hikers find the nature trails of particular interest.
There is evidence of prehistoric native inhabitants on the islands, but there is no record of native inhabitants at the time of European exploration. Europeans began to regularly visit from the early 1500s and their settlements are some of the oldest in the Americas. At first the Basque fishermen only visited the islands seasonally during the fishing season, by the mid-1600s there were permanent French residents on the islands.
From the end of the 17th century, British attacks led to the French settlers abandoning the islands, and the British took possession from 1713 to 1763. The French then reclaimed them and settlers returned to live peacefully for 15 years. French support of the American Revolution led to a British attack and the deportation of the French settlers. Possession of Saint Pierre and Miquelon passed back and forth between France and Great Britain for the next 38 years, as the islands suffered attacks by both countries, voluntary or forced removal of the island's residents, and upheaval associated with the French Revolution.
France finally reclaimed the islands after Napoleon's second abdication in 1815, and there followed 70 years of prosperity for the French fishing industry and residents. However, political and economic changes led to a slow decline of the fishing industry after the late 1800s. There was a short 13-year economic boom on the island associated with the period of Prohibition in the United States, when Saint Pierre and Miquelon were prominent bases for alcohol smuggling. This boom ended with the end of prohibition in 1933, and the economy sank into depression.
The islands were an overseas territory of the Nazi-controlled regime of Vichy France after the fall of France in World War II, and were liberated a year and a half later by Free French forces in 1941. After the war, the fishing industry continued to languish, and now fish stocks have fallen so low that fishing is severely restricted. Saint Pierre and Miquelon are now trying to diversify their economy into tourism and other areas.
Located in the heart of the Grand Banks in the North Atlantic, 25 kilometres southwest of Newfoundland, the archipelago is composed of eight islands, totalling 242 km2, of which only two are inhabited. The islands are bare and rocky, with steep coasts. Saint Pierre, whose area is smaller (26 km2), is the most populous and the commercial and administrative center of the archipelago. Miquelon-Langlade, the largest island, is in fact composed of two islands, Miquelon (110 km2) connected to Langlade (91 km2) by the Dune de Langlade, a 10-kilometre-long sandy isthmus. North of Miquelon Island is the village (710 inhabitants), while Langlade Island was almost deserted (only one inhabitant in the 1999 census). A third, formerly inhabited island, Isle-aux-Marins, known as Île-aux-Chiens until 1931 and located a short distance from the port of Saint-Pierre, has been uninhabited since 1963.
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is made up of two communes.
The original Saint-Pierre Cathedral burned down in 1902 but it was rebuilt between 1905 and 1907 and is located at the same spot as Saint-Pierre's original church from 1690 and was built in the style of Basque churches.
When you enter the Saint Pierre harbour, you will spot this distinctive landmark which is painted in bright red and white colors, the Pointe aux Canons Lighthouse. It is not open to the general public but is located at the end of a jetty if you want to take photos. Near the lighthouse is a canon battery which dates back to the Crimean War.
Located near the harbor of Saint-Pierre is the General Charles de Gaulle Square. Here, the French Tricolor is raised on Bastille Day and the square is the centre of festivities on this day. The Old Fountain and the Gazebo are here as well.
The Town of Miquelon has about 700 inhabitants. Here, Acadian history and culture is prevalent and after the Acadian deportation of 1755, hundreds of Acadian families sought refuge here. Nowadays, Miquelon is proud of its heritage and history. The wooden church is a beautiful traditional building with many old artifacts.
The Cap is the northernmost point of the island of Miquelon and has some fantastic rough coastal scenery and an incredible diversity of wildlife.
The climate on Saint Pierre and Miquelon is a cool marine one, with rarely any warm and sunny days. Winters are cold and long, lasting from October to April. Temperatures are somewhat tempered by the surrounding waters, but can still drop well below zero, both during the day and night. Snowfall occurs during this time as well. Sping and early summer are still quite cool and foggy. Late summer and early fall (August and September) are quite warm, sunny and dry. Rainfall is possible during most months though, and averages around 1,500 mm a year. Average temperatures range from -10 °C in winter to around 20 °C in summer, with relatively little variation between day and night compared to neighbouring mainland Canada.
The only airline flying to and from Saint Pierre and Miquelon is Air Saint Pierre. Its base is at Saint Pierre Airport (FSP) and there are international flights to several Canadian cities like Halifax, St. John's and Montreal.
Saint Pierre, Miquelon and the smaller islands of île aux Marins and Langlande are very small; getting around most of the island and towns is best done on foot or by renting a bicycle or scooter. Rental cars are only available on Saint Pierre.
Otherwise, taxis can bring you to some more remote spots. On the island of Saint Pierre taxi drivers double as guides, which offers a good opportunity to see a lot of the island and if you are with 2 or 3 people it's an economical way of getting around. There are no taxis on île aux Marins and Langlande.
SPM Express travels between the main island Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
Although Saint Pierre and Miquelon are territories of France and use the Euro, they are not part of the European Union or Schengen Zone, so immigration procedures are different from those of France. Canadians will need passports for a stay of over three months, otherwise some forms of photo ID are acceptable. All other nationalities need passports and, in some cases, visas. Check with your local French consulate or embassy. Most travellers are only given a cursory inspection when entering the island of Saint-Pierre.
See also: Money Matters
As an overseas collectivity of France, Saint Pierre and Miquelon has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
The French spoken in Saint Pierre and Miquelon is very similar to that spoken in Normandy, Brittany, and Paris. The islanders are quite proud of their linguistic heritage.
Due to its proximity to English-speaking Canada, Saint-Pierre has become a popular destination for anglophone students wishing to become immersed in French language and culture.
The islands have a specialized language teaching facility named the FrancoForum, owned and operated by the local government in Saint-Pierre. Staffed by professional French instructors, the institute offers a variety of courses for both students and teachers wishing to improve their fluency.
French cuisine is standard in Saint Pierre and Miquelon. Those who love seafood should look into the Seafood Festival that is held every year in mid-August in the small town of Miquelon.
Both islands have a number of hotels, B&Bs, and rental apartments, though none are large — only a couple of establishments on Saint Pierre have more than a dozen rooms, so be sure to book in advance. Expect to pay around €35-50 for budget accommodations, €70-80 for a fancier grade.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
Saint Pierre and Miquelon pose very few health threats. Be warned that the weather is often very chilly and a sweater comes in handy, even during the summer months. If a serious injury should occur, there is a small hospital located in the town of Saint-Pierre. Patients who require special treatment are usually sent to larger, better-equipped hospitals in Canada.
See also Travel Safety
There is very little crime in Saint Pierre and Miquelon and this destination should be considered one of the safest possible in North America.
See also International Telephone Calls
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