Where in France can we find enticing, uninhabited beaches, rainforests full of gushing waterfalls, overflowing rivers fringed by lush tropical plant life, vast sugar plantations and storied history of pirates and European explorers? The Caribbean French Antilles archipelago islands of Guadeloupe is but a comfortable four hour flight from Montreal, or an easy eight-hour flight from Paris Orilly. Sometimes, particularly in the winter, our only desire is a familiar yet warm, change of scenery. This tropical overseas department of France is located in the Leeward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean and offers her vacation-seeking visitors steamy, tropical resorts, a unique mix of Creole delicacies, Caribbean staples and French classics, remote, pristine beaches, a world-class museum and hiking an equatorial rainforest. The European or North American jet set hasn’t discovered Guadeloupe just yet, which makes for a laid-back, sun-soaked long winter weekend. Go on, order a T’Punch, eat your weight in local cuisine; your in-country, familiar getaway is beckoning.
Guarded by a huge, ancient windmill, The Relais du Moulin in picturesque Saint-Anne greets us upon your arrival and is our constant dinner and breakfast companion, and guide 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 and minutes to the Plage de Bois Jolan and tropical walks, the Relais is the perfect hotel to begin or end our Guadeloupe adventure. We enjoy her inviting pool; perfect Caribbean porch for a cocktail; dinner in the evening-romantic Le Mango restaurant; soothing spa experience, including products of partners Sothys and Bernard Cassière; and indulge yourself in the attentive, personal and professional service of ever-smiling and efficient staff.
Looking for a larger, total resort getaway? 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, and 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. The Créole Jazz Club and La Rhumerie offer adult fun times away from the kids. Be your best James Bond doppelganger at the off-resort at the Casino du Gosier.
Nature: Les Saintes
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. Sundays, families enjoying the rushing rivers share the park with active hikers on La Maison de la Forêt. Gushing waterfall enthusiasts explore the Cascade au Écrevisse and the Carbet Falls (Les chutes du Carbet), a series of waterfalls on the Carbet River that are among the most visited tourist sites in Guadeloupe. Mountain thrill seekers wander the summit of La Soufrière, an active volcano and highest point in the park. Be sure to trek the Route de la Traversée to the twin side-by-side summits of the Mamelles. The coastal wetland forests of The Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve comprise almost half of Guadeloupe’s ancient mangrove swamps, some 21 square kilometers of marine and terrestrial landscape, just waiting to be discovered. We particularly enjoy our Sunset Kayak Tour with Yalode Canyon Kayak, and when the sun finally sets over those ancient mangroves, we are utterly unprepared for the magic that ensues!
The easy climb up to the tremendous 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. According to our guide, La Pointe des Châteaux is somewhat of a religious pilgrimage for locals and tourists alike. We spy flameless votives and weathered rosaries. As a nod to the islands ‘Vodou’ practices, the result of African slaves combining their spiritual practices with the beliefs of their captors, we also spy the odd pin-stuck doll, and an unfortunate chicken who gave it’s life, countering an evil spell or two.
Sitting on the edge of the harbor of Pointe-à-Pitre, and the former Darboussier sugar factory, the Memorial ACTe is perhaps one of the most comprehensive and engaging museums completely dedicated the global, collective memory of slavery and adult trafficking. It is a must-visit. 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. 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.
Marie-Galante: Beauty but an Hour Away
Guadeloupe, like many other Caribbean islands, is dotted with rum distilleries and sugar plantations, and we’d be remiss if we left without a taste of its surprisingly easy-to-drink and readily available specialty. We ferry 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 each of Guadeloupe’s nine distilleries and at every bar we find Ti’ Punch, a rum-based specialty of the French Antilles. We spend a tasty morning at La Rhumerie Bielle tasting Rhum Blancs, Vielle et des Liquers and while we can indulge in pina coladas and mojitos galore, it’s the Ti’ Punch that the locals sip. To appreciate this drink, we need a very smooth rum—it’s the only ingredient besides cane sugar, lime juice and a spoon. However, our guide Thierry of Prestige Service insists that true Guadeloupians never add sugar to their Ti’Punch! Be warned: 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 enjoy the warmth and smiles of the people of Guadeloupe.