The fourth post in my series on far-flung France is about Guadeloupe. My guest writer today is Laura K. Lawless, an American Francophile who has combined her love of heat and the tropics with her love of France by moving to live permanently on an island in the Caribbean, in France. Here she tells us about moving to the French department of Guadeloupe, the Caribbean butterfly.
Guest post by Laura K. Lawless at LawlessFrench.com
I fell in love with France during my first trip at 15, and visited a half dozen times before my dream of living there finally came true in 2008. My husband and I moved first to Hyères (Var), mainly because we had a good friend there. After 2½ years, we were tired of the Mistral and cold more often than not, so we decided to live in Menton (Alpes-Maritimes). We were there for three years, but it turned out that even Menton’s famed microclimate wasn’t enough to overcome my frileuse tendencies, and so we settled in Guadeloupe.
We’d first visited the Caribbean in December 2011, when we came into a bit of money and decided to spend a month there: a fabulous week-long catamaran cruise and 12 days each in Martinique and Guadeloupe. We stayed in a total of four rentals, one on each side of each island, so that we could fully explore the two French départements and find the very best spot – or at least that was my plan. My husband didn’t know yet that I was seriously thinking about moving, but he was happy to visit, driving all over the place and enjoying the sights.
During our exploration, we decided that our favorite place in all of Martinique and Guadeloupe was the western coast of the latter, along Jacques Cousteau’s Underwater Reserve. The main access point is the tourist village of Malendure, which includes a lovely stretch of beach and a view of the Îlets de Pigeon. Visitors can tour the marine park in a glass-bottom boat, explore the islets, and enjoy any number of water sports: swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, paddleboarding, kayaking… everything you need is available to rent and there are several restaurants as well as ample lodging in the area. Or, if you stay somewhere else, you can just drive over for the day. Distances are very reasonable; from the easternmost point of the mainland (Pointe des Châteaux, home to spectacular views and a gorgeous beach) to Malendure is 90 kilometers and takes about two hours, depending on traffic.
Guadeloupe is an archipelago. The main part, nicknamed le Papillon (Butterfly), is two islands connected by bridges. The mountainous west wing is, ironically, called Basse Terre (Low Land) and was created by la Soufrière, a still-active volcano. Basse Terre is home to fantastic mountain hiking trails, rainforests, waterfalls, and the capital city, also called Basse Terre. The east wing of the butterfly, called Grande Terre (High Land), includes the largest city, Pointe-à-Pitre, and is the more touristed part of Guadeloupe, thanks to white sand beaches, resorts, and cute seaside towns. The archipelago also includes the smaller islands of La Désirade to the east, Marie-Galante to the southeast, and Les Saintes to the south.
We moved in October 2013 and concentrated our real estate search on the 42-kilometer stretch of coast to the north and south of Malendure, from Deshaies to Vieux Habitants. Eight months later, we completed our purchase of a piece of land in Bouillante (Boiling), named for the natural hot baths in the area. We are currently building a villa for ourselves, and when that’s finished we’ll add three vacation rentals.
Grande Terre towns like Sainte-Anne and Saint-François are full of tourists—I’ve heard the latter referred to as the Cannes of Guadeloupe—while the main draws in Basse Terre are just Malendure and, to some extent, the town of Deshaies, where the BBC series Death in Paradise is filmed. Elsewhere in Basse Terre, life is very peaceful, a place to enjoy tropical weather, warm water, and glorious sunsets.
Laura K. Lawless is a writer and virtual French teacher at LawlessFrench.com. After living in the south of France for 5 years and visiting 6 corners of the Hexagon, Laura moved to Guadeloupe in 2013. You can find her through her website and Twitter. All photos are provided by Laura.
If you enjoyed reading this you’ll probably like the other posts in the series on French DOM-TOMs about Martinique, Mayotte, Réunion, St Martin, French Guyana, French Polynesia and another one on Guadeloupe.
*** I am looking for bloggers who have visited or lived in any of the French DOM-TOMS and who would like to contribute to this series. Please leave a comment below or get in touch through the contact page ***
Great article! I just got back from Guadeloupe and really enjoyed it as well!
Thanks for sharing your experience and giving a very detailed description of the region. I noticed many are interested in visiting for themselves and there’s a great travel show that’s been on an exploration of the French-Caribbean. Raw Travel TV’s episode on their adventures in Guadeloupe explores waterfalls, rainforest and beaches of Guadeloupe’s western region. I think this might help inspire others on their journey to the French-Caribbean and it might give those who currently live in the region some activities to do.
Thank you for interesting blog about Guadeloupe. I am considering trip to Guadeloupe between 15 th November – December. I’ve checked out whether forecasts from previous years and it appear that for this time is rainy. Could you be so kind and shortly describe me weather conditions at November? It occurs light rain or rainstorm everyday?
You definitely do not want to go if it has rained within the last couple of days. It’s not only muddy but very cold – my husband and friend did it once and they were just miserable.
I’m not much of a hiker, so I’ve only gone it once: Pas du Roy, Souffrière trip. It was lovely.
I’m not sure what you mean by “someone or somewhere where we can go to” – for what? Have you been to the Préfecture to apply for your cartes de séjour? I’m happy to answer the questions I can.
I looked into those villas myself for a friend, but all I can tell you is that they’re very popular, so be sure to book well in advance.
Learning French is a very good idea. They’re starting to realize the value of English here, but it will take a while before it’s widely spoken.
Bon voyage !
There are 4 of us about to arrive for 12 days in Basse Terre. Very much looking forward to it after all my research. Of course, there is so much more to know. What do,you know about hiking there. Have read quite a bit and there seems to be a variety of choices but I don’t want to take on more than we should. We are of various abilities but all love hiking the outdoors. The Carbet Falls hikes sound beautiful but perhaps one, to the second falls is easier, especially when there has been rain. Anyway, any suggestions for 1-2 hour hikes much appreciated.
Hope you don’t mind if I have further questions.
My husband and I have traveled our whole lives and France and the French have always been my favorite. We also loved exploring the Caribbean, especially St. Barts. He is in heaven now, but I continue the passion we had for exploration. I will be on Guadeloupe in Feb 2018 and plan to stay at Blue Haven Villas in Bouilliante. Do you know anything about these rentals? https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p6680685
I will be trying to learn some French before I come. My young niece and her new husband are coming with me. We are all very excited to come. It looks beautiful. Thank you for writing your blog, I am enjoying it very much.
It’s a very nice description you’ve made 🙂 my family and I have just (as in a week ago) relocated to guadeloupe. So we have so many questions on where’s and what’s 🙂 do you know someone or somewhere where we can go to?
I hope the island has lived up to your expectations
The roads are fairly good; however, drivers can be a bit crazy. I hate driving and personally would never venture out on a bike here – but I’m not a big cyclist either, so take that fwiw.
I’ve never experienced any sort of rudeness. Guadeloupéens are lovely people, and life in general in quite cheerful, despite high unemployment. I think you’re right – those reviewers probably didn’t even attempt to speak French.
We’re still building our villa, but I can recommend two lovely places with friendly owners:
If you visit, drop me a line and we can grab a coffee. 🙂
I’ve been researching Guadeloupe for a winter get-a-way next February and loved your blog. My husband and I are avid cyclists and we’ve heard a lot of positive comments on cycling the two islands (good road conditions/avid local sport). But my husband also wants to scuba dive and relax on the beach ect. – so Guadeloupe sounded perfect. The only thing that worries me is the language barrier – I can communicate on a ‘tourist’ level and do pick up the language quickly as I lived in Montreal in my younger years. Trip Advisor contains a lot of negative comments on the attitude of staff (sometimes locals) at local hotels and tourist areas…is this really true? Or maybe these tourists are being a little stubborn and not attempting to communicate in the local language first?
Another question…have you opened up your vacation rentals yet? I’d love to get some info on where they are and what you have to offer. Thanks. Kathy
It’s fantastic! Warm water, warm weather, possibly some rain. But it’s a great time of year to visit. There are, however, a lot of tourists at that time. The sea is warm year round, so really there’s no bad time to visit. 🙂
I spend 2 hours reading about Guadeloupe and I can’t take a breath. The Island got me completely Ã¯ÂÅ I am just wondering whether it is worth to visit the Island during the Christmas as regards the weather. Maybe a stupid question but how it is with swimming in the see in December and January?
The snorkeling in Grande Terre is indeed very good, but it is also great in Malendure (about an hour south of Deshaies), off the coast of Sainte Rose (about 30 minutes north of Deshaies), and in les Saintes (Terre de Haut, so about 90 drive then ferry). The best, however, is at Petite Terre, which is a set of two tiny islands southeast of Saint François – you can take a daytrip, which I *highly* recommend.
Guadeloupe is small enough that, unless you’re really only interested in visiting one part the whole time, it doesn’t really matter where you stay. Deshaies to Saint François is about 90 minutes, which is certainly doable once or twice.
Since you want to go to various places all over the island, IMO, the more important consideration is the type of area you want to stay in. Deshaies is a small, charming, fairly traditional town, though there are growing numbers of tourists due to the BBC series “Death in Paradise.” Saint François is a extremely touristed and “resorty.” I’ve heard it called the Cannes of Guadeloupe.
I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.
Hi Michael I’ve alerted Laura to your question, I hope she can help you. It’s great you came to Laura’s post, would you mind telling me which blog sent you here? I’d love to know, thanks!
I just been redirected to this post from another blog and I am happy to find it since we are going to Guadeloupe in the middle of June. We just bought flight tickets and now looking for some accommodation, Airbnb seems to be fair enough, but can’t decide which part of Guadeloupe choose.
I am amazed by the volcano and treks and beaches around Deshaies, but I read somewhere it is not so good for snorkeling as it is the very east part of Grande Terre starting St. Francois and heading more east. Can you make some hint on this, please and help us to decide? We will stay there 10 days, from which two will be definitely dedicated to treks to volcano and jungle, also we want to visit chocolate and cocoa museum and maybe one day trip to Terre de Haut. Now I am starting to realize 10 days are not enough but what we can do =D.
Thank you in advance, wish you a beautiful day,
Michael / email@example.com
What a wonderful story! I can totally understand why Laura decided to move… I would probably do the same too. Living in an warm island, near the ocean and in a wonderful place for diving, I wouldn’t thing twice 😀
Thank you for joining #MondayEscapes
It certainly looks like a caribbean butterfly to me! I can see why Laura wanted to move to Guadeloupe. I do, too! Kidding aside, what a great series. It’s always interesting to read what drives individuals to move abroad and live a new life. I wish I was so brave! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes
Believe it or not I met a dog on Saturday who was born on Guadeloupe but now lives in Normandy … you’ll have to wait a while before I blog about her and her story though 😉 #MondayEscapes
Yes! I’m also interested in the blog and anything else that has to do with French or France…Thank you.
There are plenty of lovely beaches in France a bit closer than these ones, to start you off with! We have plenty around Lou Messugo for a start!!
I agree Kara!
You’ll have to go on a Francophone cruise around “les Antilles” and then you’ll get to visit Guadeloupe Erica!
Guadeloupe is really not on the Anglo map, it’s very well known for Frenchies however.
Laura certainly makes it sound lovely I agree. 🙂
I’m pleased you’re enjoying it Corinne, I’ve got 5 more in the pipeline so it’s not over yet. Wouldn’t it be fun to do a “world tour” without leaving France? Nth Atlantic (off Canada), Caribbean, Sth America, South Pacific, Indian Ocean and back to Europe, no passport needed, spending €…I want to do this trip!!
I love finding out about new places and this is a great write up!
Phoebe, I’m loving this series. I have never been to any of the outlying French areas…and now I’m starting a list! Guadaloupe sounds amazing!
Wow what a stunning looking place, I haven’t been lucky enough to see much of France.
Wow I absolutely love the look of Guadeloupe – I really hadn’t heard much of it before and this just sounds so fascinating and beautiful too.
Wow what an exciting life , I love the beaches and all the beautiful places you have visited.
Oh how wonderful, Guadeloupe sounds like such an amazing place to visit. We’ve been to the Caribbean before but not here. Would love to go 🙂
oh wow look at those views if only i could wake to see them each day
Looks so lovely! Would love to be there
Sounds and looks amazing. I’ve been on a Caribbean cruise, but sadly we didn’t visit Guadelope. One for another group.
What a beautiful place – and that sunset – stunning!! Really interesting read.
White sandy beaches, clear blue seas and stunning skies – what’s not to love
What a beautiful piece of paradise!
The beach and the sea look beyond beautiful, what amazing surroundings x
wow this looks amazing, i love the crystal clear sea – paradise! x
This made for fascinating reading. Such beautiful photos too!
Lovely post – great story behind Lauras decision to stay in that destination also.
I would love to see more of France.
Wow what a beautiful place, your photos are gorgeous! xx
How utterly gorgeous. I would love to live in France but my French is very poor. Seeing and reading this has also made me realize that I haven’t actually ever been to a beach in France either!
What great photos, it looks so romantic. One day I would love to go. Lovely post thank you for sharing with us.
It looks dreamy! Oh to be sat on that beach with a cocktail right now 😉
What a charming island. I could be very happy spending some time on that beach!
What a beautiful spot you found to remind you of a favourite travel destination.
Gorgeous photos and what a nice story. I want to visit even more than I had before.
The cruise industry is picking up, as is tourist advertising geared toward Americans. Right now, the vast majority of tourists are French and British.
I hope you can visit some day, and I hope to visit Puerto Rico too. We looked into it this past spring, but the flights were outrageously expensive. 🙁
Thanks! Nowhere near as good as the real thing, though. 🙂
Bonjour Richard – Obviously I can’t speak for Guadeloupéens with any authority, but I can tell you that though unemployment is very high, the people are friendly and welcoming and the 2003 referendum on autonomy was rejected by 73% of voters. (A similar referendum held in Martinique in 2010 was rejected by 79% of voters.) So while life is far from perfect, from my perspective, the people seem fairly content.
Laura K. Lawless
Bonjour Clara – Saint Lucia is quite a bit smaller: 238 sq miles vs 629. In addition, we found that the roads in in SL are so bad (slow) that we spent most of our week there in the area around our lodging in the north. One drive to the south was enough, even though there were several other things we wanted to see and do down there. Other than our trip to SL, my husband and I haven’t left Guadeloupe in 18 months and we feel just fine.
Laura K. Lawless
I have always been intrigued by Guadaloupe (and by Martinique too). Even in the Caribbean (I am from Puerto Rico) they are a mystery. As you know, not that many cruises stops on those islands (I guess that is good). So, when growing up, I used to hear about St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Dominica and Aruba but not a lot about the French Islands. Hope I can visit one day.
That sunset looks very familiar from our time in St Lucia! I think island life really suits some more than others. I found St Lucia just that bit too small for me. I’m not sure how much larger Guedelope is but we really needed to get off the island fairly regularly in order to stay sane!
It certainly sounds lovely – for some. But what do the real Guadeloupers (mainly Afro-Caribbean and, I would guess, rather less well off than Laura) think? Are they content? Or would some or most of them prefer to be citizens of an independent state, like say Barbados or Jamaica or Aruba?