Loud clapping erupted throughout the plane upon landing into Pointe-à-Pitre International Airport and now I know why! Most of the passengers were returning to their lovely island home and I was just glad to be visiting! Guadeloupe may appear to some as a bit ‘out of the loop’ when it comes to the hedonistic fame of the French Caribbean and this, to me, is a tragedy! Whilst maybe thought of as the not so pretty sister next to her famous siblings St Barts and Martinique, this lovely island paradise oﬀers just as much fun, sun and frivolity as do her glamorous les soeurs!
Originally named Karukera meaning ‘land of the beautiful waters’, Guadeloupe is butterﬂy shaped due to being made up of two islands Basse-Terre (also home to the active volcano of La Grande Soufrière) and Grande -Terre. Both are accessible by bridges and are thought of as one island. The smaller islands next door of Marie-Galante, Îles des Saintes and La Désirade are also able to be visited and make up the Guadeloupe or ‘Gwada’ (as the locals say) family. French is mostly spoken here as is Antillean Creole, but not much English, so before visiting, make sure you dust oﬀ those French books and dive in!
Being an overseas department of France, the Euro is used which makes Guadeloupe a bullseye holiday spot for Europeans. When I was there in early January with MB, many cruise ships were coming and going throughout the week which oﬄoaded a sea (pardon the pun) of American and Canadian tourists, it being a close area for them to indulge in a bit of sun and to escape their depressing winter blues! I think I was the only Australian on the island, which was fun, as us down under can’t really be bothered to travel all that way! Such a shame as it is a lovely little place and this is exactly why I slog over these blogs; to try to get us lazy Aussies to venture out of our comfort zones and explore more exotic and far ﬂung destinations!
MB and I were fortunate to stay with his lovely parents in their home in Le Gosier, one of the better areas on Grande -Terre and close to the major town of Pointe-á-Pitre. Le Gosier which means gullet in French, refers to a species of pelican found on the island and lived up to its name as many of these lovely brown sea birds could be seen nesting in the nearby jagged cliﬀs. Le Gosier has a fantastic beach La Datcha which is not overly large or overcrowded, boasting clear water and pale sand with a few nooks and crannies hidden in the rocks for privacy. Some bars and ‘snack’ restaurants have popped up here over the years making it a great spot for a full day outing. For those olympic swimmer types amongst us (NOT ME), an extremely popular practice amongst the locals and expats alike is to take the early morning plunge into the sea and swim 20 minutes to the tiny neighbouring island of Îlet du Gosier. All very wonderful and brave, it seems simple and not too far, but if you are in favour of the less vigorous version, there is a boat which leaves every 30 minutes and costs 5 euro to take you over and back for the day so you too can enjoy the pristine beach or visit the pretty lighthouse. Merci for small mercies!
La Datcha Plage
Staying true to her French heritage and classic Creole roots, Guadeloupe boasts quirky colonial stye houses and shop fronts, with boulangeries by the dozen, wonky narrow streets and languid, colourfully dressed locals, seemingly without a care in the world, either loitering on the street corners or exchanging their daily dilemmas in the cafés! More proof of this carefree Caribbean lifestyle and attitude is represented in the stunning little town of Deshaies or Déhé (pronounced deh hey) which was made famous due to it being the quintessential back drop to the well known and popular BBC television series Death in Paradise. British and French tourists ﬂock to this area to experience the realness of their favourite TV drama and feel like one of the extras for even just a moment! [FYI: There is also a museum dedicated to the series, but I didn’t visit it on this occasion.] Having only watched a few episodes (and by the way it is a fantastic series and I highly recommend it), even I felt a bit star struck walking the famous street and capturing that special vibe! My sister, being a huge fan, would have adored it!
Bar featured in Death in Paradise
For a more upmarket day out or just for night a on the town, head to the huge Marina (Marina Bas-du-Fort) area and take a stroll around the boutiques or just sit and have a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants and watch the weathered boaties or linen-clad yachtsmen tend to their beloved water-craft. On a rainy afternoon ( there will be a few), ﬁnd the time to take in one of the various museums on the island to learn about the fascinating local culture, art and history or take a lesson in rum production.
For a fantastic and fulﬁlling beach day out, I recommend checking out the areas of Saint – Anne and Saint – François both having glorious beaches just to laze upon or, if you’re up to it, a competitive game of beach bat ball! La Caravelle Plage or Club Med Beach is a big highlight and a ﬁrm favourite of MB’s maman as it is pure paradise with postcard perfect water and white sand with gently swaying palm trees for you to plonk your towel under and have a snooze. [FYI: It is a bit of a treacherous walk from the carpark for those who are not able bodied.]
La Caravelle Plage
St Anne and St François also oﬀer a wide variety of typical Creole style dining options which are budget friendly, authentic and always tasty. For example, ditch the gin and tonics and make sure you indulge in a glass of the ever popular Ti’ Punch ( small rum drink with sugar and lime) or a fruity and refreshing Rum Punch that is a staple aperitif in Guadeloupe. Housing a horde of rum distilleries and acres of sugar cane ﬁelds, it is well known for this pure, deadly white Caribbean spirit. Even if you’re not a rum drinker, you will probably be converted! Sip these tasty concoctions along with a plate of delicious Accra (deep fried ﬁsh/seafood cakes) and try to have just one… impossible! For main meal, why not try the local curry dish Colombo or a plate of Poulet Coco (chicken in a creamy coconut sauce). A typical dish for the adventurous is a bowl of stewed Conch (Lambis). These large pink and white sea shells are everywhere on the island and they are not just pretty to look at or to try your hand at blowing, no, they’re actually a very tasty local delicacy and I urge you to try some if you get the chance! Finally round oﬀ your magniﬁcent meal with a sweet and sticky Banana Flambé (with caramel and rum of course) or the icy indulgence of a bowl of Sorbet Coco (locally made coconut ice cream)! If you want a typical fast food option, I would go for the street food of the area Bokit. A deep-fried ‘bread’ sandwich (bit like a pita pocket) ﬁlled with meat, ﬁsh, cheese or vegetables and utterly delicious! Trust me, it’s all way too scrumptious for words!
Saint Anne, which was one of my favourite areas, also has a market on the beachfront which oﬀers many traditional and locally made products: clothing, hats, bags, beach gear, leather sandals, jewellery and plenty of creole style checked table cloths which are typical of the area, sit along side luscious fruit and vegetables stalls and sorbet coco stands. There is more than enough to keep even the non shopper interested and are the best for ﬁnding those last minute souvenirs. If you are after some regular shops to browse through or to purchase some French food contraband (moi? never) like fois gras, major supermarkets like Casino, SuperU, Carrefour and Leaderprice are all in abundance and the huge shopping mall of Destreland is home to hundreds of popular chain stores.
Sorbet Coco stand
Market in St Anne
One glorious Sunday before we departed, MB and I were given a gift of a fantastic day out on the water with the family. All inclusive for 50 euro pp, you can hire a local skipper and his little boat to take you for a mini cruise along the Petit Canal where you anchor at a wild deserted island and are treated to a beautifully prepared, mouth watering lunch which includes aperitif then locally caught lobster with rice; rum, wine, soft drinks and water all topped oﬀ with an enormous ultra fresh tropical fruit platter for dessert! It is well worth organising and all the hard work is taken care of whilst you either bask in the suns rays, swim, snorkel or just explore the beach at your own leisure till “lunch is served madame!” Relaxing and enjoyable and with a crazy captain to boot and a fun boat ride home through the marshes, I would recommend trying this if the chance ever arises!
MB and the Boat
Now… this blog wouldn’t be complete without an honourable mention of the utterly glorious little area of Îles des Saintes or Les Saintes. As mentioned earlier, this unbelievably pretty place is just next door, being one of the small dependency islands of Guadeloupe and is simple to access by numerous ferry companies (around 22 euro pp return day trip). Brightly coloured houses with their rust coloured roofs, tiny ﬁshing boats, glorious green mountains, bistros, bars and lively souk music all greet you upon berthing into ‘one of UNESCO’s most beautiful bays’. Like many seaside villages, she oﬀers her visitors and residents a snippet of the easygoing lifestyle of a somewhat forgotten, bygone era.
Typical houses of Les Saintes
Transport options are plentiful with mini golf cart style vehicles and scooters being the most popular and convenient. Both are available for hire near the Port along with the new fashioned electric bicycles with their fat, chunky tyres which appear to be all the rage around the globe! Legs are another popular and cheap choice and the one which we opted to use for our trip around the island.
Having ﬁrst gotten our priorities sorted and visiting the bakery for a ‘just hot out of the oven’ snack before booking restaurants for lunch and dinner, we proceeded to take a stroll to the wild local beach Plage de Rodrigue. Simple and mostly deserted, it is a pretty spot for that ever refreshing swim and sunbathe before sitting down for lunch at the friendly little bistro in the main street – La Terrasse. To work oﬀ the plate of locally caught tuna (divine) and rosé, just pop across the road to bathe in the crystal waters of beautiful Grand Anse Plage, which is next to the Port and have a siesta to rejuvenate for the afternoon ahead.
Plage de Rodrigue
Grand Anse Plage
Before sunset, take a wander around town and marvel at the charming Caribbean architecture or climb to the top of the mountain to explore the huge Fort Napoléon. Destroyed in 1809 and rebuilt in 1867, it is surrounded by a magniﬁcent garden of succulents and sports a view to die for. Hence the tragic and heart wrenching story of the lovers who hurled themselves over the cliﬀs to their deaths. [Girl meets boy, boy goes oﬀ to war, girl thinks he’s never coming back so throws herself to her watery death from heartbreak… boy RETURNS for girl years later to hear she is dead… boy then follows suit from despair and pain.] It is enough to keep the romantics amongst us stumbling through the remainder of the day with puﬀy, red, blood shot eyes!
View from Fort
In the evening, indulge in some Creole/French fare in any one of the wonderful bustling bistros along the street or beach side. Thibault DoDo is a popular new, modern and upmarket style restaurant and Le Triangle is right on the beach and is great for either lunch for a casual dinner. If you’re keen for a night cap, try out some of the lively local hangouts in town!
Spend a day using your free leg-transport and take the long hike up and down steep hills to visit the popular but tranquil beaches of Plage de Crawen and Le Pain de Sucre (said to be named as such as it resembles Rio’s famous Sugar Loaf Mountain). The steep, natural decent to this beach from the main road is slightly unnerving but well worth the trip to arrive at this lovely swimming spot. Go early in the morning as it becomes very popular after 10am till dusk as the sunsets are apparently quite memorable. If your are feeling energetic, enjoy the trek across the island to spend some time on Plage de Pompierre before the long walk back into town.
Le Pain de Sucre
View from the Top
A tasty sweet end to your Les Saintes visit and the best sugar rush snacks for the ferry ride back to the mainland are the famous Tourment d’Amour cakes. Torment of Love – they are named as such because of yet another moving and tragic love story of this area. Girl bakes a special cake for her sailor lover for his homecoming from sea, but he is delayed. Girl thinks he is dead and suicides. He returns many months later to ﬁnd the now stale cake and dead girlfriend beside it. [Word of warning to all men…when you say you are coming home and we take the time and eﬀort to bake a damn cake, make sure you call us if you’re going to be late!
Well, we had a ‘gwadalous’ time in Guadeloupe and I hope you all enjoyed the quick and colourful trip to this petite Caribbean Isle. I have only just touched on a few of her ﬁner points, but there is so much to explore that maybe I need to go back to uncover even more of her hidden secrets, untamed beaches and time-honoured tragic love stories.?
…”smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit ﬂy”…Van Morrison