Le Moule

Guadeloupe: the other French Caribbean (Part 2)

In my previous post I covered the basics of Guadeloupe or 'Gwada' as the locals refer--how to get there, where to stay, etc.--but this post is about venturing out of your villa. The main island (or two) of Guadeloupe is really big, plus there are several smaller islands off the coast, so you can easily spend a week without seeing most of what the butterfly-shaped island has to offer. Here is a good list to get you started:

 

SEE/DO

Saint François - Located on the Southeastern part of the island is this charming seaside town and marina. It is a popular spot to vacation due to the casino, golf course and white-sanded beaches. And the town itself has a lot of yummy restaurants and bars, some of which offer fantastic ocean views. You can also catch a ferry for the day to nearby islands of La Desirade and Terre-de-Bas.

Cocktails with a view in Saint Francois
Cocktails with a view in Saint Francois
the Gwada gwoup
the Gwada gwoup

La Desirade - About a 45-minute scenic ferry ride from Saint François, this island is worth the choppy seas sometimes encountered on the journey. There is only 1 road on the entire island, about 3km long, on which you will encounter beach after beach, and it is hardly crowded which means you will have a quiet and enjoyable day relaxing on the sand. Rent a scooter and stop at La Plage du Souffleur, the island's prettiest beach, for some swimming and sunning but beware of the spiny sea urchins! Just when you're getting hungry and thirsty, the beach restaurant La Roulotte opens up offering fresh food fared from the sea and chilled rosé from Provence. Grab a spot under a palm tree and let the afternoon slip away.

La Souffleur Plage…simply gorgeous

La Souffleur Plage…simply gorgeous

Just us and the goats on La Desirade
Just us and the goats on La Desirade

Pointe des Chateaux - As the name might suggest, this is the Southeastern-most point of Guadeloupe marked by unique rock formations. Hike the trail around the peninsula and take in the magnificent views and crashing waves around you. When you reach the cross you know you've reached the very top.

The cross at Pointe des Chateaux
The cross at Pointe des Chateaux

Not listed above but deserving of an honorable mention is Plage de la Caravelle at Club Med. This beach is beautiful and loaded with amenities, but comes with a steep sticker price. For 80 euro pp, you get full access to the resort including food and drink (Club Med is an all-inclusive property). So if you're looking for waiters to bring you cold watermelon as you bask in the sun, or you're looking to partake in every watersport imaginable, this is the place and thing to do. To make it worthwhile, get there as early as possible so you can really take advantage of the free food and drink. In my opinion, there are many places just as pretty in their own way that are free (and less touristy!) but to each their own.

Sailboats are just one of the activities at La Plage Caravelle

Sailboats are just one of the activities at La Plage Caravelle

EAT/DRINK

Au Bon Poulet - At first glance this shack on the outskirts of Le Moule doesn't look like much, but the smell wafting from the large grill outside and its reputation for amazing chicken draws the crowd. I recommend getting it to-go  (with a side of frites that come in a paper bag) and bringing it back to the villa for a delicious feast. Be prepared to wait in line. (Rte. N5, Le Moule)

Les Frères de la Côte - An unassuming but delightful restaurant in Saint François with good food and great service. We showed up unannounced, no reservation on a busy night, and the staff set up a table for us outside. Not to mention, our cheerful waitress went out of her way to make sure we understood the French menu. The fresh-grilled fish was tasty but it is for the wonderful service (and the herbal, medicinal digestifs on the house) that I recommend this place. (Saint François)

L'O - For a more upscale yet refined, oceanfront dining experience in Saint François this is the place to go. The prix-fixe menu is filled with good variety (and value) and leaves you far from hungry. Get the tuna tartare as an entreé (in French that is your appetizer, don't be fooled!), you won't regret it. Reservations recommended. (12 Rue de la Republique, Saint François)

Tuna tartare artwork at L'O
Tuna tartare artwork at L'O

I.Pâtes - A small, charming duel restaurant-gourmet shop in Saint François offering imported Italian meats, cheeses and handmade pastas and desserts. Great for take way, either lunch or dinner, and reservations recommended for dine-in. A unique spot on a French island. (5, rue de la Republique, Saint François)

Accras - You can't spend a week on this island without sampling some of the local fare like accras, or salt cod fritters. These little fried balls of fish make a perfect snack and can be found just about everywhere, but they are best from a small streetside shack.

Ti Punch - Incase you were wondering, the drink of the island is ti punch. It is an espresso-sized beverage that is quite potent. Locally-made white rum, sugar cane, and lime juice is all that makes up this cocktail. Proceed with caution.

I should mention that most, if not all, of the above recommendations are located east on the island of Grand Terre but there is a whole other butterfly wing that we can't forget about. Make it a priority to drive over to the other side of the island to experience the golden or black sanded beaches and the lush tropical rainforest that Basseterre boasts. It seems like a completely different island based on the landscape. Specifically, I'd recommend the town of Deshaies in the north for its nice beaches and quaint village feel. I can't say I've been, but I caught a sneak preview via the BBC show "Death in Paradise" which is filmed there. It was actually this show that planted the seed in my head to visit Guadeloupe!

Anyway, it's easy to stay busy on this island or relax at your private villa and have an amazing vacation. Whichever path you choose, you can't really go wrong (we are already scheming our return). And if not, just know that there is always a good baguette, cheese and bottle of wine to fall back on. Bon vacances!

Pretty island palms
Pretty island palms

Guadeloupe: The other French Caribbean (Part I)

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:

  1. 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....
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 :)

The view from our pool
The view from our pool
The patio/terrace of the villa with a lovely infinity edge pool

The patio/terrace of the villa with a lovely infinity edge pool

Modern living room inside the villa
Modern living room inside the villa
Fully equipped kitchen with a bar that leads to the terrace
Fully equipped kitchen with a bar that leads to the terrace
Master bathroom with walk-in shower and rainfall shower head

Master bathroom with walk-in shower and rainfall shower head

Floating all day is hard work

Floating all day is hard work

View of the beach from the villa

View of the beach from the villa

Bringing pool floats with us was the smartest decision made all week!

Bringing pool floats with us was the smartest decision made all week!

The silver lining of the rain shower....a rainbow!

The silver lining of the rain shower....a rainbow!