The French Caribbean overseas islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique became easily accessible from Baltimore, Boston and New York with the inauguration of direct flights by Norwegian Air in December. One of Europe’s best budget and most environmentally friendly fleet, Norwegian’s new Boeing 737-800s carries 186 passengers safely to the two islands. In April 2016 Norwegian Air added Sunday flights to its existing thrice-weekly service.
The Guadeloupe archipelago includes two major islands joined by a bridge, La Basse-Terre and La Grande-Terre, and three smaller islands of Les Saintes, Marie-Galante and La Désirade. Most resorts are situated along the stunning, white sand beaches on the southern coast of La Grande-Terre. About 50% of the accommodations on this island are high-end rentals and B&Bs.
Closest to the Pointe-à-Pitre Airport in Le Gosier is the Creole Beach Hotel. Built in 1925 around a tropical garden, the rooms have been upgraded; some have been remodeled recently. Situated near the beach, this comfortable 276-room hotel offers myriad activities arranged by the resort’s concierge.
Formerly a Sofitel property, Gosier at the Auberge de la Vielle Tour, a privately owned boutique hotel built in 1957, is located around a 17th century windmill. The hotel has 103 rooms, each with a sea view, and is conveniently located on the beach and near the market and bus station.
There’s only one word for La Toubana Hotel & Spa: Fantastique! With kitchenettes and wide balconies or terraces, full ocean views and gardens that surround each of the 32 bungalows and 12 suites, the resort offers your clients the best in island luxury.
Although the islands are mountainous, the roads are good. Taxis and English-speaking guides are available (contact firstname.lastname@example.org). Public buses are inexpensive and stop for passengers (or for a Guadeloupian who needs assistance with his car). Still, a car is more convenient to explore Guadeloupe.
In the town of Sainte-Anne open-air restaurants and the public beach are a block away from a delightful, aromatic market. I found some spices and creative Guadeloupian products at booths. At “L’Art des Punchs”Clair brews rums of every flavor and for any desire.
Crossing the bridge from La Grande-Terre to La Basse-Terre your clients will arrive at the signature building of Pointe-à-Pitre, the remarkable Memorial ACTe, one of the world’s largest museums. Inaugurated in June 2015, Memorial ACTe was built to connect Guadeloupians to all who suffered from slavery and to help them move forward together. A part of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project, the museum combines the history of slavery with contemporary art themes of African life.
In Pointe-a-Pitre fast-food restaurants and clothing stores abound, an open-air market with fruit, vegetables and handmade products takes up the town’s center and the only bank on the island that changes US dollars into euros maintains old-fashion banker’s hours. Still, ATM machines are available in major centers.
To the northwest of the island in Deshaies every tropical flower and tree is on display and in full bloom at the Botanical Gardens. I walked among extraordinary plant species, skirt around waterfalls and a Koi pond and entered an enclosure of lorikeets. These colorful aves will perch on heads, shoulders and hands to pose for photos in exchange for tasty morsels of birdseed dispensed for a euro from a vending machine.
Nestled among trees overlooking the protected wilderness of Morne Bois d’Inde to the east of Deshaies are the colorfully painted cabins of Tendacayou Ecolodge & Spa, where guests can stay in a peaceful, all-natural environment. A cantilevered spa deck soars above treetops and offers a stunning view of the sea. Here, I enjoyed a pool of river water, waterfalls, a Jacuzzi and a Zen garden for meditation.
Toward the middle of the island, your clients will want to stop at La Maison du Cacao to learn about the origin of chocolate and to taste or purchase the outstanding chocolates made here.
For scuba divers (or for those who want to see what’s below the water’s surface), the Cousteau Underwater Reserve is off Malendure beach in the Pigeon area of Bouillante. There are nearly 30 dive sites in the calm, incredibly clear waters of Guadeloupe, the most popular being the Coral Garden where a statue of Jacques Cousteau the famed underwater explorer was sunk in 2004. A good dive day is promised to all who touch his head. (Visit www.atlantisformation-guadeloupe.com/en.)
High in the mountainous south, winding roads lead to the base of La Soufriére Volcano, where trekkers can follow a path to the summit. On clear days the view is spectacular, but most often the summit is clouded over with mist. Coming down from the trek, a relaxing swim in the natural, warm-water mineral pool is warranted.
Ferries leave for Les Saintes from Pointe-à-Pitre or Trois Rivières, and are the most popular, safe way for visitors, locals and an occasional goat to travel to the islands. Cars and colorful two- to four-passenger electric car rentals are available at the port.
While in Les Saintes I visited the charming boutique hotel, le Petit Saintes , which is owned by an American and his French wife. The hotel boasts stunning views, a swimming pool, two suites, three bungalows and five rooms all air-conditioned and furnished eclectically with antiques.
Visitors in search of contemporary quarters can climb a few flights of stairs at Hotel Bois Jolí to their generous accommodations, which overlook the islands. Two rooms (of the 30) on the first floor are handicapped equipped. Guests can choose the snack bar, beach or the pool in front of the resort.
Many of the districts on the island are manicured and formal and the island’s inhabitants are accustomed to tourists, speak French, English and a Patois and tolerate tourists cheerfully and with dignity. Guadeloupe does indeed “sound good” to anyone wondering where to go next.
Note: Insure that transportation or a rented car is waiting for your clients at the airport. After-hour taxis charge a steep evening rate.