French Island Escape, Guadeloupe
There is nothing I like better than a white sandy beach in the Caribbean. Add to that French culture and food and you’ve got yourself paradise. Deciding last minute to take our Christmas holidays somewhere warm, I booked a 9-night sojourn to the French Island escape, Guadeloupe this December thanks to Norweigan Air’s new direct flight from NYC.
A stay in Guadeloupe for the holiday was less expensive than a trip anywhere else warm including, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Brazil or any island I could find on a map. I received a good list of restaurant suggestions from the tourism office and we boarded our flight on December 21st.
I had found what looked like a nice place on VRBO, which was fairly central. It was big enough and had a nice pool and we made it work, but it wasn’t clean and was in desperate need of a complete overhaul. Where you stay affects your view of the island dramatically so this aspect of our trip was quite unfortunate.
Guadeloupe is a large island shaped like a butterfly and is surrounded by a number of smaller islands, which makes it an ideal place to sail. Two of the most popular islands to visit south of the mainland are Marie Gallante and Terre Haute part of the Ile des Santes grouping.
We ventured to Terre Haute during our stay and found gingerbread houses painted bright colors and a lovely large beach, although not the one that was hyped. The trip over via ferry was much more complex that it needed to be, a note when booking saying you needed to bring your passports would have been OH so helpful!
There are few luxury hotels on the island; one exception is La Toubana. La Toubana rests regally between St. Anne and St. Francois high in the hills on the south side of Grand-Terre which is on the eastern side of the butterfly. It has what I believe is the most arrestingly beautiful infinity pool I’ve possibly ever seen. The infinity pool to end all infinity pools.
Although we were not staying there we booked lunch and arrived at 11am to hang out at their gorgeous pool reading, relaxing and plunging in when necessary. We enjoyed (for Guadeloupe) a fairly lovely lunch with a good French rosé and napped by their charming man-made cove beach just across from the packed family madness of Club Med, which was a safe distance away.
While its not going to compete with any of the super-lux bohemian chic hotels on St. Barth’s for Gwada (the local Patois nickname for the island) this boutique hotel is a real find.
Dinners out on Guadeloupe were hit or miss. We had a delicious meal at the touristy marina in the main town of Point-au-Pitre, at a place called Cote Jardin. When you drive into the Marina you’ll want to drive right out, it shouts tourist trap in bold letters, but around the corner is this little gem of a resto with sublimely delicious French food which is being plated and delivered to the table via superior service. Its not inexpensive but each bite is worth the extra euros. We tried the langoustines, found fresh in the waters of Guadeloupe and much larger than langoustines you get in France and they were absolutely superb. Barely grilled, terribly fresh and served with a miner-ally Sancerre, my mouth was in heaven.
The owner treated us to a spectacular local rum tasting after dinner, the kind of sipping rum that rivals cognac and makes you respect the local rum makers for their finesse. Aaah.
We had several other good meals, and on the other hand a lot of over cooked fish and seafood but on our last night we lucked out and enjoyed a pleasing Vietnamese meal at Changs in the village of Gosier. Situated in someone’s home in the hills, a more unlikely place you can’t imagine. We were over the moon when the Vietnamese was not only good for Gwada it was good for Paris or NYC.
What the island has in spades is natural beauty. There are loads of exquisite beaches, each with a totally different feel. I think we liked Deshaies on the Northwestern corner of Basse-Terre best, it was truly idyllic and we had our best lunch there at Boboji’s, which has the perfect beach hut atmosphere. A utopian day can be had if you end your beach jaunt at the Jardin Botanique which is not far from Deshaies, its one of the highlights of the island with an absolutely breathtaking view and ravishing tropical flora and fauna.
We also adored Anse de Souffleur beach on the northern side of the island with nothing but little trucks supplying Bokits for lunch, the national dish of Guadaloupe which is basically a sandwich made with a variety of ingredients (chicken, tuna, ham, turkey or vegetables) placed inside a deep fried pastry.
If you are into nature, Guadeloupe is ideal for you. There are 5 or 6 geothermal bath locations throughout the island. We checked out one in the town of Bouilliante, which is on the western side of Grand-Terre also home to the volcano, La Grand Soufrière but I guess that makes sense. The name Bouilliante literally means boiling. It’s a very odd and exciting feeling to be bathing in the Caribbean sea while its 110 degrees at least in one particular spot where the water drains out. I deemed this a wonderful thing to do close to sunset.
There are tons of hikes to experience and waterfalls to dive into when one gets a bit clammy. This is a jungle of an island with rain forests, zip-lining, horseback riding, surfing, kite-boarding and an underwater marine preserve started and championed by none other than Jaques Cousteau.
I snorkeled the preserve and my kids and hubby went on a scuba dive and it was probably the best coral reef I’ve seen in years. We also took a wonderful 2+ hour trip via kayak through the island’s extensive mangroves with a guide that was enchanting.
Guadeloupe is a paradox. It has huge super malls and escargot and duck flown in from France weekly. It is at once civilized and wild, poor and rich. It has movie theatres and completely wild places free of man or beast.
If you like luxury resorts and manicured vistas, Guadeloupe is not for you. If however you are on a budget and you like a bit of adventure plus you can speak some French (navigating with no French is not recommending) check out Gwada. If I were to do it again, I’d concentrate on the Basse-Terre side, the larger wilder Volcanic part of the island which boasts beautiful beaches, waterfalls and acres of sugar cane and I’d hike, snorkel, zip-line and beach it everyday.
I’d stay in an eco-lodge with a kitchenette and try to forgo my foodie-snob persona for the week. Or I’d charter a sailboat with a captain and venture throughout all the tiny to large sub-islands that surround Guadeloupe and soak up the sun and the clear blue surroundings.
Les Heures Saines Diving (can take absolute beginners and snorkelers too)