Destination Guide : Guadeloupe French leave in the Caribbean
Why go on holiday to Guadeloupe?
It's less well known than neighbouring Antigua and more likely to be a stop on Caribbean cruise itineraries but Guadeloupe is a holiday destination in its own right.
Located in the French Caribbean, Guadeloupe boasts perfect white sand beaches, beautiful national parks teeming with waterfalls and rainforest and idyllic islands. This means it has huge appeal, from sun-worshippers and nature lovers to those who enjoy sports and keeping active.
How much does it cost?
Prices on Guadeloupe vary depending on when you go but as a rough guide, a two-week break which includes flights and accommodation starts from around £1,200 in low season.
You can lower your costs by staying in family-run gites.
When should I go?
Top temperatures on Guadeloupe hover around 31C/88F. February-April are the driest months and July-November are the wettest.
What should I do when I'm there?
Guadeloupe is a butterfly-shaped island with the eastern Grande-Terre offering classic beach resorts and the western Basse-Terre dominated by parks and rainforest.
Pointe-a-Pitre will be your first arrival point within the country. Take time to soak up the Guadeloupe atmosphere of this bustling town. Place de la Victoire in the centre has a French provincial atmosphere due to the island's colonial legacy, with cafes and an open-air market.
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It all comes naturally
So where are the best beaches?
Reef-protected waters make the southern coast of Grande-Terre the prime spot for beach lovers, particularly Gosier, Sainte-Anne and Saint-Francoise. Anse Tarare is popular for nudists, while the wave action at l'Autre Bord lures surfers.
In the north of Grande-Terre, expect near-empty beaches, high sea cliffs, and the picturesque fishing village of Port Louis featuring brightly coloured Guadeloupe wooden houses.
So what about Basse-Terre?
The best beaches here are strung along the north-west coast. Ferry and Grande Anse are quiet, calm and clean, whereas the sea becomes rougher further north towards Deshaies. Black-sand beaches fringe the south coast.
The real reason to explore this part of Guadeloupe is the 74,000-acre national park dominated by Soufriere volcano, with the 350ft high Carbet Falls and various nature trails suitable for novice and adventurous hikers.
What other activities are there?
Reserve Cousteau, named after the famous underwater marine biologist, is situated at Pigeon Island off the west coast of Basse-Terre and is a must for divers. As a protected marine park in Guadeloupe, it offers tons of tropical fish, sponges, sea fans and coral. Snorkelling and glass-bottom boat tours are also available.
Windsurfing is popular on the south coast of Grand-Terre and on the island of Terre-de-Haut. Other water sports, sailing, deep sea fishing, horse riding, golf and tennis and canyoning can also be arranged.
Tell me more about the satellite islands
Take a day trip from Gosier to Ilet du Gosier, a tiny undeveloped island with turquoise waters and white sand beaches, popular with swimmers, sunbathers and picnickers.
Lying six miles off the coast is also Terre-de-Haut, an unhurried place with a Mediterranean flavour. The island has fine beaches, good restaurants, a fort with a botanical garden and reasonably priced accommodation. You can explore by renting motorbikes. Beware: it does get busy at weekends.
Served by a regular inter-island ferry is neighbouring Terre-de-Bas featuring hilly streets, a small fishing harbour and a quaint church.
If you want to really get off the beaten track, hop over to Marie-Galante which is great for uncrowded beaches and country scenery but where few residents speak English.
Alternatively, there is desert-like La Desirade but, apart from hiring scooters on the isle, there is little of interest.
Culture and fine cuisine
Guadeloupe was settled and claimed for France by colonists in the 17th century. Today, Guadeloupe is an overseas French department. The most prominent legacy of its past is Fort Fleur-d'Epee, an 18th-century hilltop garrison near Pointe-a-Pitre.
Also in the town are museums dedicated to slavery abolitionist Victor Schoelcher and poet Saint-John Perse; the latter offers a glimpse of a period Creole home.
Amerindian rock carvings and pottery are displayed at the Edgar Clerc Archaeological Museum near La Moule. The town itself has a smattering of historic buildings and a neoclassical church.
What is the food and drink like?
There are a huge number of restaurants, serving everything from French to Vietnamese and Lebanese cuisine.
If you like seafood, you'll can have everything from crayfish, to octopus and red snapper. Some typical island dishes include spicy stuffed land crabs, curried goat, rice and beans and breadfruit gratin. Blaff, a Creole preparation, is seafood poached in a spicy broth.
There are lots of excellent local rums, and concoctions featuring fruit are popular and commonly served in bars and restaurants. "Ti-punch" combining white rum, cane sugar and fresh lime, or locally brewed Corsaire beer go down well too. French wine is another option.
Gosier is probably best for bars, clubs and discos on Guadeloupe and there is also a casino where smart dress is compulsory.
What should I buy?
Guadeloupe Island handicrafts include straw dolls, hats and primitive African-style wood carvings. Locally grown coffee and spices are also worth buying.
What is there for children to do?
If they like the beach, they'll have plenty of fun although beware rough seas. If you want to escape the coast, take them to Bas du Fort marina and the aquarium, harbouring 60 species of tropical fish, turtles and sharks. Plenty of activities will also be offered by resort hotels.
French Government Tourist Office, of Guadeloupe 178 Piccadilly, London W1V OAL. Tel. 09068 244123 (60p per minute).
UK Office 0871-4741-577 (Calls are at the UK National rate) GAMA SERVICES Spanish Retreats Ltd, West Way, Wick, Littlehampton, West Sussex, BN17 7NA Tel/Fax (00) 34 96 679 0844 or 679-779-122Oasis 90, Urb Marina, San Fulgencio, 03177, Alicante, Spain
Guadeloupe French leave in the Caribbean Today, Guadeloupe is an overseas French department
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