I thought I had mastered Canadian geography in Grade 5. There are 13 US states that border Canada and I didn’t forget Alaska. I was an A+ cartographer, color-coding a map with all 10 provinces 3 territories and outlining every little island surrounding our coastline.
So imagine my fascination after stumbling on a news report 15 years later. RCMP cracking down on booze smuggling off the coast of Canada to France by the French islands of Saint-Pierre-Miquelon.
My reaction was “Google, are these French islands part of France France or just Quebec?”
The islands were in fact part of France. I had no idea. It became personal and I had to go check it out.
So for my birthday this year, I decided to explore France in North America. And since my wife has no interest visiting an island without a five star resort, I proceeded to ask my dad to join me.
Me: “Dad do you want to go to France?”
Dad: “Shuuure. Dad retired. You have points?” (aka “I don’t want to pay”)
Me: “Yeah we can use points to fly to eastern Canada and then we take an one-hour flight from there.”
Dad: “Nahhh. How that possible?”
Me: “There are two islands off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada that belongs to France.”
And without telling him it’s the only place in the world where he can’t eat at a Chinese restaurant, he agreed and I started planning.
Getting to St Pierre
There are six direct routes to get to St Pierre, for a territory of 6000 inhabitants, the number of options is actually quite impressive.
The only airline operating flights to St. Pierre and Miquelon is their independent local carrier Air Saint Pierre.
Direct flights to Saint Pierre can be flown from Montreal, Halifax, St. John’s, Magdalen Islands (summer) and Paris CDG (summer 2018). After speaking with a couple locals about their new nonstop service to Paris in the summer, they mentioned it must be fully booked as everyone was pleased with the convenience of not having to backtrack with a connection in Montreal. Also, I guess the locals wouldn’t need to go through customs when flying to Paris direct!
There is one ferry route to Saint Pierre and it departs from the town of Fortune, Newfoundland. According to Google Maps it takes 4 hours to drive from St. John’s to reach the port. You can park near the terminal for $10 a day.
The sailing takes 55 minutes to reach France and reading about the journey, the sea conditions are quite turbulent. If you tend to get sea sick, you should arrive early to grab a seat near the rear of the ferry or consider flying instead.
Currently the ferries do not support vehicles on board but the locals mentioned they recently purchased a couple new ships and vehicles will soon be allowed. The ferries will also have a new route in the summer from Fortune, NL directly to the larger island of Miquelon which has only one-tenth of the population of St Pierre but inhabits plenty of birds and sea life.
Cost to get to St Pierre
Prices are published on both the ferry and airline websites and prices seem to be fixed up to the time of departure. Below is a chart of their nonrefundable rates for a roundtrip ticket. A one-way ticket is also available for ~60% of the return fare.
From Newfoundland, you can visit Saint Pierre for as low as $115 roundtrip on the ferry. The flight from St. John’s is also quite affordable at $360 roundtrip but from Montreal it’ll run you $1,200. YIKES.
Although, if travelling with children or seniors you will save a bit of money per passenger as they have lower pricing for non-adults. Teen (12-17) / Senior (60+) tickets are available for ~20% less than the adult fare for air tickets. Child (2-11) tickets are ~50% less.
Ferry tickets are bookable online however airline tickets must be booked over the phone.
How I Planned to get there
Originating in Vancouver, I was sure to use and maximize the distance of my Aeroplan points to position myself in either Halifax or St. John’s and be one segment away from St Pierre.
After comparing itineraries and prices, we chose to fly into St. John’s, drive to Fortune and take the ferry option as we had planned on renting a car to explore the local landscapes anyways. Even with the combined 8 hours of driving to the ferry terminal, cost of gas, extra days of car rental to just park at the terminal, it seemed like the better deal. And so after confirming the Aeroplan tickets, I went online and booked the roundtrip ferry for 1 Adult $115 and 1 Senior $107.
How I Actually got there
In my preview post, I mentioned flying Air Saint Pierre and I did because on the day of sailing, our ferry to St Pierre was cancelled due to weather. I received the cancellation email with the only rebooking option to catch the next sailing 48 hours later which wouldn’t work for us. I checked the flight option from St. John’s which fit our original plans perfectly. I called my credit card provider, explained the situation which they interpreted as a trip delay claim which would cover the flight to St Pierre! So I called Air Saint Pierre to book a roundtrip ticket for 1 Adult $360 and 1 Senior $299.
While putting together the trip delay claim, I found out the ferry has been cancelling a lot of their sailings due to weather or mechanical issues, whereas Air Saint Pierre has a near perfect flight record. If you plan on taking the ferry to St Pierre, absolutely make sure you have travel insurance on your credit card. I personally have the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard which covered my travel insurance and foreign transaction fees. The Scotiabank Passport Infinite Visa would have been the best option with the insurance, no forex fees, and the option to offset the travel charges with Scotiabank Reward Points.
So that’s the gist of how to get to St Pierre. It’s a bit tricky piecing together separate itineraries but it was totally worth the hassle. The coolest thing is telling your family and friends you are taking an hour-long ferry ride or flight from Canada to France.
Prepare for weather delays when travelling around the Atlantic provinces, especially in the non-summer seasons. And booking on a credit card with travel insurance is imperative. For this trip, I had claims for lost luggage, rental car damage, and two trip delays!