Usually when people think of the French Caribbean or Les Antilles as they are known in French, they are referring to St. Barths or St. Martin. But those two islands make up only half of the French overseas territories. The other half is represented by the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe (and French Guyana in South America). Up until recently, one would have to take several (expensive) flights to get to these islands and with the popularity of St. Barths and St. Martin, both Martinique and Guadeloupe got overlooked by Americans. Furthermore, most people I talked to had never even heard of them. But thanks to Norwegian Air's cheap, direct flights from Boston, we Americans are now able to discover this other part of the (beautiful) French Caribbean. Guadeloupe is a butterfly-shaped island (technically two islands joined by a bridge) located just south of Antigua. The left or west "wing" known as Basseterre is made up of lush, tropical mountains, rainforests, golden and black-sanded beaches and an active volcano. Conversely, the right or east "wing" known as Grande Terre is more flat and where you will find the white-sanded beaches you associate with the Caribbean. It is also where you will find the island's resorts (and tourists, subsequently) which are primarily located in Le Gosier and Sainte Anne. Located in the middle of the butterfly is where you'll find the island's capital of Pointe-à-Pitre and the international airport where you will land in just over 4 hours (from Boston).
Our group consisting of 3 couples was in search of the white sandy beaches but not really the tourists so we ended up staying on Grande Terre but away from the hotels and resorts in a town called Le Moule. We wanted to have as much of a local experience as possible so we decided to rent a private villa. Yes, we had to procure our own food, but going to the grocery store or the local market was a super fun way to experience local life. Plus, our kitchen was so nice it was practically begging us to use it! And everyone we interacted with was so so so nice and welcoming which made our stay that much more enjoyable.
Finding a villa to rent was a little difficult at times due to a language barrier but I ended up finding a great rental agency, Villa Prestige Antilles, through a property I inquired about on HomeAway. Julie from Villa Prestige Antilles was wonderful to work with and she knew English which was really helpful. We were all blown away by the villa she recommended for us (actually not the one I originally found) and overall could not have been more happy with the place and our week stay.
Belle des Alizés was a 3-bed 3-bath villa with an amazing patio and infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The view was absolutely breathtaking and the highlight of this property. All the amenities were super modern, clean and looked as if they had barely been used. The kitchen came fully equipped and we had a brand-new grill on the patio which we got lots of good use out of. The bedrooms were well air-conditioned and two of the bedrooms had en-suite bathrooms with walk-in showers and rainfall shower heads. It was definitely one of the nicest homes we've ever stayed in with a view we could never get sick of.
The villa, despite being away from the tourist towns, was centrally located in a quiet neighborhood, about a 5-minute walk to the beach, a 2-minute drive to a grocery store and a 5-minute drive into the town of Le Moule. We didn't spend a lot of time in town, other than the daily visits to the produce stand (fresh banana daquiris anyone?) and the boulangerie for fresh baguettes. I mean, what's a trip to France without the baguettes? There were a few nights that we decided to venture out for dinner and drinks but we decided to go to the nearby town of Saint François which had a cute marina and lots of delicious options. It was definitely more touristy than Le Moule but still felt authentic (more on that later).
Sound amazing? It was and it is. But before you book your plane ticket, there are a few things you should know about Guadeloupe that makes it different from other Caribbean destinations:
- Most tourists are from France or French Canada and there are hardly ANY Americans. I think this is because, prior to Norwegian Air's service, it was tough to get to from the States and generally expensive. Which brings me to....
- Guadeloupe is technically part of France so people speak French, the local currency is the Euro and there is definitely a European vibe. Do not expect a lot of English being spoken however, unlike Paris where people are rude to English-speakers, the locals (and French tourists alike) are so friendly and really do make an effort to communicate through their broken English and our broken French.
- There are very few resorts or mega-hotels and none of them are the chains that we Americans are used to. No Westin, no Marriott, but there is a Club Med if you're really hell-bent on staying at a resort. We visited Club Med to check out the facilities and while the beach was very nice, the hotel otherwise was not very impressive. Private villa rental is the way to go on this island.
- A car is a must for getting around, even if you're staying at a resort or at a place in town. But be warned that the roads are somewhat like those you'll find in Europe--narrow, windy and equipped with hidden speed traps. But overall you will be happy you rented one.
The above may deter some but honestly these are the things that made Guadeloupe great and truly unique. Personally, I loved the European vibe and it was super rewarding to exchange some words in French (and actually understand them). And being in a place that is technically part of France meant we ate and drank well too--the Carrefour was stocked full of French cheeses, fois gras, the most delectable butter imaginable, great wine and other yummy French treats (like my fav Krema Régal'ad chewy fruity candies). The pharmacy carried the good sunscreen and skin care products too! For us, it was a win-win.
Overall, Guadeloupe is such a great and relaxing island that you could easily spend an entire week just floating in your infinity pool sipping some French bubbly but there's also lots of good exploring if you do decide to venture out there. Stay tuned for my next post, which will feature a couple of recommendations to do just that. In the meantime, enjoy my pictures :)