local living

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!

Ireland Day 2: Cork & Kinsale

River Lee, Cork City Ireland
River Lee, Cork City Ireland

I feel like Rick Steves saying this, but thanks for joining! For day 2 of the Ireland adventure, we're headed south to County Cork. Cork city is just shy of about 3 hours from Galway (which, incase you missed it, I covered with County Clare in my last post). It was definitely the largest distance we had to cover on our trip so we did it as efficiently as possible and took the major highways. We chose to see the city of Cork and the little seaside town of Kinsale, which I HIGHLY recommend. Here are the highlights:

CORK

Located on an island in the River Lee, the city of Cork is a lively college town with a youthful vibe. Strolling the major roads I could have sworn I was in an English city by glancing at the shops and buildings (a mini London perhaps), but once I tucked away down some smaller streets and alleys I felt back in Ireland again. The city was decorated for Christmas which made for a festive vibe. It was fun to explore and was a nice city but was not my favorite stop just because the culture didn't feel as rich as other places we visited and I tend to enjoy the smaller towns more than the bigger cities. But to be fair, we did not spend a lot of time here.

SEE/DO

English Market - A large, enclosed market loaded with stalls selling everything from the local catch of the day to fresh produce to baked goods. I'm a sucker for a good food market because you get a taste for local culture so naturally I loved strolling this place. (Princes St)

Fish at English Market Cork
Fish at English Market Cork

Stretch Your Legs - Cork is a wonderful city for walking whether it's along the river banks or down the pedestrian-only streets. In particular, the Paul Street/Emmett Place area, Oliver Plunkett Street and surrounding side streets give you a good feel for the city and are loaded with pubs, shops and restaurants.

Jessica's shop Cork City Ireland
Jessica's shop Cork City Ireland
Alley in Cork City Ireland
Alley in Cork City Ireland

Jameson Distillery - Technically in nearby Midleton, this is mecca for whiskey fans. Take a tour with a tasting at the end or skip the tour altogether and opt for the premium whiskey tasting in which you get to sample some rare reserves. (Old Distillery Walk, Midleton)

Blarney Castle - Located about 15 minutes outside of Cork city, this is the home of the famous Blarney Stone. We decided to skip this because Ireland is full of castles that we were going to see and I really didn't care to kiss a stone that thousands of others laid their lips on! (Blarney)

EAT/DRINK

Farmgate Cafe - Located upstairs in the English Market, this delightful eatery serves up fresh, local food sourced from the market below. Choose a seat along the balcony counter for great people watching. (The English Market, Princes St)

Franciscan Well Brewery & Brewpub - A craft beer delight, this place brews its own beer and has a beer garden for when the weather is nice. (14 North Mall)

STAY

Hayfield Manor - Located about a mile from the city center and tucked away down a residential street, this lovely 5-star boutique hotel is worth staying slightly outside the city for. It was like we were pulling up to an old mansion in the country. The Christmas decorations and fireplace in the lobby were lovely. Rates from 150eur/nt. (Perrott Ave)

Hayfield Manor Cork City Ireland
Hayfield Manor Cork City Ireland

Imperial Hotel - This 4-star hotel is a good option if you prefer to stay in the city center. Rates from 100eur/nt. (South Mall)

KINSALE

Located on the coast about 30 minutes south of Cork, is the adorable, charming, little seaside town of Kinsale. The buildings are so colorful and the streets super quaint. We enjoyed how quiet it was when we were there but in the summer it can get pretty packed with tourists, but I don't blame everyone because this town is not to be missed.

SEE/DO

Main Street - The entire town is walkable in 15 minutes or less but be sure to stroll this narrow street which is loaded with cute shops, pubs, and restaurants.

Kinsale Ireland Main Street
Kinsale Ireland Main Street
Kinsale Pub Ireland
Kinsale Pub Ireland
Colorful Kinsale Ireland
Colorful Kinsale Ireland

Market Square - Marked by a museum with an anchor leaning up against its building is this tiny little square full of charm, color and cuteness.

The Kinsale Courthouse and Museum
The Kinsale Courthouse and Museum

EAT/DRINK

Fishy Fishy - Quality seafood restaurant serving up delicious local fare in an upscale setting by the waterfront. The oysters from nearby Oysterhaven were some of the best we've ever tasted and perhaps the oyster world's best kept secret. This is one of the most well-known and highest-regarded restaurants in all of Ireland. Reservations required. (Crowley's Quay)

The Folk House Bar - Perhaps one of my favorite watering holes we visited on the entire trip, this pub had an impressive list of whiskey and craft brews and had a comfy leather couch by the cozy, warm fire. It was more than easy to pass the time here! Also a good spot for live music. Tip: Try anything by Blacks of Kinsale for a taste of what's local. And delicious.(Guardwell)

Folk House Bar Kinsale Ireland
Folk House Bar Kinsale Ireland

So, to summarize. Kinsale-- get there, you'll love it. It's hard not to. Next time I'd like to stay overnight there. Cork-- a college town but good to experience if you're in this part of Ireland. Next up: day 3 in County Kerry, including some beautiful landscapes in the Beara Peninsula, loads of nature in the Killarney National Park & pub crawling the town of Killarney. Stay tuned and in the words of Rick Steves, "keep on traveling."