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An Excursion to the Magdalen Islands

The Magdalen Islands (Les Isles de la Madeleine), a 5-hour ferry ride north of PEI, are a dozen low-lying islands linked to each another by sand spits. Around 13,000 people live here, in peaceful fishing villages and farming communities; the red-sand cliffs look like PEI, but the farmhouses, wharves, cows, boats, and accents remind me of the Atlantic coast of France. (The Magdalens are actually part of Québec, even though they're closer to PEI.) The islands boast nearly 320km (200 miles) of uncrowded beaches, and urban Montréalers in search of leisure time love the place. The islands are also famous for their persistent winds, which seemingly never cease blowing.

Advance planning is necessary for a trip to the islands, since the summertime demand for accommodations far outstrips supply. A free island tourist guide is available by calling tel. 877/624-4437 or 418/986-2245. On the web, head to www.tourismeilesdelamadeleine.com.

Ferry service from Souris to Cap-aux-Meules is provided by the Coopérative de Transport Maritime (tel. 888/986-3278 or 418/986-3278; www.ctma.ca), also known as the CTMA. The long river crossing takes 5 hours one-way on a seven-deck ferry that can carry 95 cars and 400 passengers. The boats sail as many as 11 times weekly in summer; the schedule is reduced to as few as three weekly boats in the off season, so check a schedule online before arriving on PEI.

One-way rates during high season (mid-June to mid-September) are C$45 per adult, C$37 per senior, and C$23 per child age 5 to 12, plus C$84 for a normal-sized automobile (more for vans and campers). Tip: Those rates plunge by about 50% outside of the 3 peak months.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.