Located at the mouth of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon (for convenience, referred to as SPM), is a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France. An archipelago, it consists of several islands; Saint-Pierre is the only island visited by cruise ships. Miquelon-Langlade is known for its nature activities and Ile aux Marins (Island of Sailors) makes a perfect day trip for cruise passengers.
Although just 12 miles distant from Newfoundland, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon's culture is oceans apart. The most western of the French possessions, SPM maintains its French heritage. The SPM flag pays tribute to those who settled the islands: Basque whalers and Briton and Norman fishermen. Fishing remains a major component of the island's industry.
During Prohibition, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon operated a rum-running operation, greatly benefiting the residents who concentrated on this endeavor, allowing their less profitable cod-fishing operations to dwindle. Many improvements to the infrastructure of the island were made during these prosperous times. Once Prohibition was repealed, the cod-fishing trade re-established itself, with some of the fishermen having to relearn the requisite skills that had been lost to the rum-running trade.
At just 25 square kilometers (less than 10 square miles), the island is easy to navigate. The downtown area consists of colorful buildings, including traditional homes, which have a distinctive airlock entry called a tambour. Walking about town gives a glimpse into the French way of life. Everything here is French: the language, the culture, the architecture; even the welcome pastries at the tourism bureau. The French influence pervades, but Basque names and games, like pelota, exist. At La Place Richard Briand, a colorful wall used for playing pelota called Le Fronton Zazpiak-Bat, is the oldest such wall in North America.
The pace is slow on the island, and the setting outstanding. A stroll along the water's edge passes the dories (boats used by fishermen). Les Zigotos, a group dedicated to the preservation of the dory, focus on keeping the tradition alive, restoring the boats and also offering fishing trips.
A quick taxi ride or a short hike leads to several overlooks, which give a view of the town and the surrounding sea and islands.
There are basically two options for docking here. Large ships will dock alongside the Deep Water Pier, which is just over a half-mile walk to the downtown area. When ships are in port, the tourism bureau offers music, French pastries, coffee and brochures. At the in-town pier, Roselys, cruisers are welcomed with maps and city info. Should there be the rare necessity for a tender, cruisers will arrive near the fishing sheds just a few blocks from downtown. They will also be welcomed by the tourism agency.
SPM has about 140 days of rain per year, often accompanied by fog and wind; awareness is essential.
Also, keeping track of time with a cellphone can be risky. The proximity to another time zone means that the earlier time might be picked up, automatically resetting the clock on your phone. (This is more likely to happen on Ile aux Marins.) A manual phone time setting or a mechanical timepiece eliminates the confusion and reduces the possibility of missing the ship's all-aboard time.
Most shops close between noon and 2 p.m., although a few will remain open all day when ships are in port. Restaurants remain open for lunch. The tourism office (Place du General de Gaulle), in addition to the aforementioned complimentary French pastries and coffee, offers free Wi-Fi and information about the island, including menus from restaurants.
On Foot: Saint-Pierre is quite compact and the downtown area is easily walkable.
By Taxi: Taxis are available and cost 5 euros within the downtown area and 7 euros beyond.
By Ferry: To reach Ile aux Marins, the ferry is the only option. (The ferry company, BPE desserte, is at 12, rue Pierre Perrin, near the tourism bureau.)
By Shuttle: Some cruise lines offer shuttles, cost varies by ship.
As in France, the currency on SPM is the euro. There are three ATMs in the downtown area of Saint-Pierre. The local bank does NOT exchange money. Although a few merchants accept Canadian -- and even fewer, American -- dollars, it's best to carry euros or use a credit card. Mastercard and Visa are accepted; American Express and debit cards are not.
Being part of France, the local language in Saint-Pierre et Michelon is French. Some people also speak English.
As expected, the food on SPM reflects French cuisine. A few boulangeries offer pastries; restaurants like the friendly Les P'tits Graviers (rue Marechal Foch) serve French fare along with pizza. The Creperie Restaurant du Vieux Port(10 rue du 11 Novembre), on the waterfront, offers traditional Briton food like crepes. There are just a smattering of restaurants and some only serve during dinner hours. It is considered gauche to share a meal or request a doggie bag. The tourism bureau has a list of restaurants and menus on file. Several of the shops in town sell spices, fine chocolate, specialty foods and wine. The one large grocery store is just outside the downtown area. The craft beer brewed in Miquelon -- Miqu'ale -- can be found locally.
The shopping area is quite compact and easy to maneuver as most shops are located in the walkable downtown area. Most stores are closed on Sunday and many also close from noon to 2 p.m. Favorite souvenirs include: local stamps (there seems to be a stamp commemorating almost everything), sailor shirts with an SPM logo on them, cod leather, local products like pates and foie gras, and wine -- because it's France after all. There is a dedicated souvenir shop, Re-Creation (4, rue du 11 novembre) with a variety of products including locally handcrafted goods, perfumes and French products. (This shop does accept U.S. or Canadian dollars.) Find gourmet food products and wine at Le Tire-Bouchon (Corner of rue Amiral Muselier and rue Marechal Foch), which accepts Canadian and U.S. dollars. Be sure to inquire about its wine tastings. Leather goods, including tanned cod, are found at Cuir Ocean SPM (Impasse Marguerite). Foodies should check out Arts et Delices (29 rue Boursaint ), which offers a selection of gourmet food products including chocolates, nougats, jams, foie gras, teas, wines and spirits.