“Nous sommes en grève.”
Thierry, our friendly guide tries to sooth the first-morning bad news. ‘It took me twice as long to cross the bridge this morning as it normally does. We are going to have to change our itinerary’. Bienvenue en France!
As many of you who follow followsummer’s adventures, France is perhaps one of our most favourite and most-visited countries. Last December, we visited a part of France that we had never visited before, let alone even considered. Full of enticing, uninhabited beaches, UNESCO rainforests full of gushing waterfalls and lush plant life, ancient mangroves sitting beside vast sugar plantations producing sugar and Rum, and storied history of pirates, explorers, slavery and Napolean himself. Where in France can you enjoy all of these things?
The Caribbean French Antilles archipelago islands of Guadeloupe is a comfortable four-hour flight from either Montreal or New York. And sometimes, particularly in our cold winters, you may need a little bit of French familiarity that Florida or Mexico does not offer. This tropical overseas department of France is located in the Leeward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean and offers vacation-seeking visitors beautiful tropical resorts, a lively gastronomic mix of Creole, Caribbean and French classics, as well as remote beaches, a world-class museum and the chance to hike an equatorial rainforest.
And as the North American jet set thankfully has yet to discover Guadeloupe, it makes for a laid-back, sun-soaked vacation. Go on, order a Ti’Punch and eat your weight in the local cuisine and answer the Caribbean call by packing your suitcase and filling your travel itinerary with exploring Guadeloupe.
Enjoy the Resorts
Enjoy first-night drinks on warm Caribbean porch of the Relais du Moulin in picturesque Saint-Anne. Guarded by a huge, ancient windmill that greets you upon arrival and is your constant dinner and breakfast companion and guide, and home to one of 40 bungalows, 15 Junior Suites or five Superior Jacuzzi Suites, all with a classic French Caribbean feel. Placed discreetly among lush floral and tropical gardens just minutes to the Plage de Bois Jolan and tropical walks, the Relais is the perfect hotel to begin or end your Guadeloupe adventure. Enjoy her inviting pool, perfect Caribbean porch for a cocktail, dinner in the evening-romantic Le Mango restaurant, a soothing spa experience, including products of partners Sothys and Bernard Cassière or just indulge yourself in the attentive, personal and professional service of the ever-smiling and efficient staff.
Set on its own private white sand beach and central to pretty much everything in Gosier, La Créole Beach Hotel & Spa offers a big resort feel: three spacious freshwater swimming pools, one exclusively for the kids, water-sports on the beach at La Kaz Notik, on-site restaurants and lobby bar entertainment, or a total family vacation base to discover Gosier’s Aquarium, the Beach of Petit-Havre or the Fort Fleur d’épée. Adult time includes a romantic dinner overlooking the booming, crashing waves in the resort’s Le Zawag Restaurant, or the Créole Jazz Club and La Rhumerie offer fun adult times away from the kids. Play your best James Bond doppelganger and try the tables at the off-resort Casino du Gosier.
Enjoy Some Nature
The boundaries of the UNESCO listed World Biosphere Reserve, Le Parc Nationale de la Guadeloupe encompass a green and very wet area of 173 square kilometers and is one of the leading attractions of visiting the Basse-Terre’s tropical rainforest. Picnicking Sunday families enjoy the rushing rivers and share the park with active hikers on La Maison de la Forêt, and gushing waterfall enthusiasts frolic the Cascade au Écrevisse and the Carbet Falls (Les chutes du Carbet), a series of waterfalls on the Carbet River and perhaps one of the most visited tourist sites in Guadeloupe. Mountain thrill seekers will want to wander the summit of La Soufrière, an active volcano and the highest point in the park. Be sure to trek the Route de la Traversée to the twin side-by-side peaks of the Mamelles. The coastal wetland forests of the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve comprises almost half of Guadeloupe’s ancient mangrove swamps, some 21 square kilometers of marine and terrestrial landscape just waiting for you to discover. We particularly enjoyed our sunset kayak tour with Yalode Canyon Kayak, and when the sun finally set over those ancient mangroves, we were utterly unprepared for the magic that ensued.
The easy climb up to the high cross of La Pointe des Châteaux offers spectacular, sweeping views across the Grand-Terre and Basse-Terre and petit La Désirade islands, all from the very tip of the Eastern coast of Grande-Terre. Our young guide quietly mentions that La Pointe des Châteaux is somewhat of a religious pilgrimage for locals, and we spied flameless votives, weathered rosaries and – an acknowledgement of the islands ‘Vodou’ practices, the direct result of African slaves combining their spiritual practices with the beliefs of their captors – we spied the odd pin-stuck doll, and an unfortunate chicken who gave it’s life, countering an evil spell or two.
Enjoy some History
Sitting on the edge of the harbor of Pointe-à-Pitre, and the former Darboussier sugar factory, the Memorial ACTe is one of the most comprehensive and engaging museums wholly dedicated to the global, collective memory of slavery and adult trafficking and is a must-visit when in Pointe-à-Pitre, and worth the short drive from wherever you vacation on Guadeloupe. Opened in May 2015, the museum’s black façade pays tribute to the millions of victims of slavery. A quartz constellation represents the millions of lost souls to the slave trade and the building’s silver latticework envelopes the building like the spreading roots of a banyan tree, all beautifully designed by the Guadeloupian Architecture Workshop BMC (Berthelot / Mocka Celestine). Add the museum to your must-do list in Guadeloupe.
Continue your history lesson and walk in the footsteps of one of the ‘tribes’ that were corralled and herded up the ancient stairs of the Marché des Esclaves in Petit-Canal. Those stairs still vibrate today with the memory of all those African souls, traded and sold so far away from home. Such a complicated history of slavery all tied to the production and sale of sugar cane, which still accepted imported souls, selling them at this very market, up until 1794.
Marie-Galante: Beauty an Hour Away
Guadeloupe, like many other Caribbean islands, is dotted with rum distilleries and sugar plantations, and you cannot leave the island without tasting some of her surprisingly easy-to-drink and readily available specialty. Take a short ferry ride to the charming island of Marie-Galante and spend the day exploring her three different municipalities: the main Grand-Bourg, Capesterre, and Saint-Louis. At nearly any of Guadeloupe’s nine distilleries and every bar, you’ll find Ti’ Punch, a rum-based specialty of the French Antilles.
We spent an intoxicating (literally!) morning at La Rhumerie Bielle, tasting Rhum Blancs and Vielle et des Liqueurs. And while you can indulge in mojitos and pina coladas aplenty, it’s the Ti’ Punch that the locals sip. To appreciate this drink, you need a very smooth rum: it’s the only ingredient besides cane sugar and lime juice and a spoon.
And ‘in the know,’ Thierry of Prestige Service insists that true Guadeloupians would never add sugar to their Ti’Punch! Be warned, though: the spirit is often of much higher proof, 50-59% and can pack a Ti’ PUNCH. Even if you don’t consider yourself a rum drinker, a sip of Ti’ Punch may turn you into one.
Pack your bags, practice your Antillean Creole and you’re French and enjoy the warmth and smiles of the people of Guadeloupe. Just make sure no one is on strike!
World Traveler, Writer, and Blogger, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the followsummer.com travel blog. A former Actor, current shower-singer, and non-hipster foodie. Loves his week-end house in St Marys, Ontario. Happily married to John Mountain and Dad to Sophia and Ariel, two of the best cats in the world.