Martinique & Guadeloupe – This is France!!
Visiting the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe gave me a taste for their blend of the familiar and the fantastic, as well as for rum punch!
As overseas departments and regions of France, the islands are officially just as French as Normandy or Provence. The official language is French (English isn’t hugely widespread), the Euro is currency and you’re never far from a Decathlon or Carrefour – but the place, the people and the atmosphere is warm and welcomingly Caribbean.
It’s hot all year round, with temperatures hovering around 30C. Driest from January through to May and with the chance of storms towards autumn. When we visited in July, sea breezes were welcome but meant it was deceptively hot, and skin can burn quickly even under partly cloudy skies … as I found out to my cost!
Highlights for a holiday in Martinique or Guadeloupe
- Fantastic climate, landscape, beaches and sea
- Familiarity and ease from French influences and infrastructure
- A warm friendly welcome
- An authentic feel – these islands have a real local life beyond tourism
- Largely undiscovered by British holidaymakers, perhaps preserving the lack of showiness.
- Very reasonable costs – set up for locals and French visitors (not known to be the biggest spenders)
- Experiencing Cajun and Creole cuisine, including Gumbo and Accras pretty much everywhere … and you will develop a taste for rum punch! Lots of French and international food available too
- Great options for shorter UK school holidays – February half-term, Easter, Whitsun week, as well as the major holidays
- Easy to travel between both islands, with regular local 40 minute shuttle flights at no real cost if bundled in to your total flight ticket. Other islands including Saint Lucia and Antigua also within reach
- We only had 6 nights in total across both islands. A week on each would be perfect – or perhaps longer on larger Guadeloupe – allowing plenty of time for exploring and relaxing
Martinique feels quite rustic, earthy and undeveloped. A picturesque hilly interior with a fringe of varied and beautiful beaches and coastline.
The Sainte Luce Holiday Village is an easy 25 minute drive from airport and Fort de France, passing the pineapple sellers on the N5. It has a warm and laid back character, a great pool area and direct access to a lovely beach. Oh and the crabs are fascinating at night time down near the beach!
The southern tip of island has amazing beaches such as the fabulous Grande Anse des Salines, with a restaurant there for the evening, or stopping off points in Sainte Anne on the way back including the Creola Beach restaurant. Or you could join the locals who eat out at the weekend in the rudimentary street restaurants in Sainte Luce.
A holiday in Martinique wouldn’t be complete without exploring the mountainous interior, which is in easy reach. Only 20 minutes north of airport, we drove up to the beautiful Jardin de Balata botanical gardens and onward to the central peaks and Mount Pelée, before dropping down to the West coast and watching the sunset at the beach bars at Le Carbet.
With more time we would have explored Fort-de-France, the east coast and had a go at climbing Martinique’s volcanic peak, Mount Pelée.
Guadeloupe has the feel of a bigger, more modern island, than Martinique, though still un-developed and stunningly beautiful. The island is most lively at Carnival in February – apparently weeks on end of partying and processions!
The Sainte Anne Holiday Village and Premium Residence Les Tamarins are a 40 minute drive on easy roads down from the airport and along the coast to the East of the flatter half of the island, known as Grand Terre.
We stayed in the Les Tamarins complex, just a short walk from the Holiday Village. It has a fantastic private beach and beautiful swimming pool. A really relaxing and private feeling environment. The Le Balou restaurant overlooking the beach quickly became our haunt it has a perfect menu – really fresh and great value French / Caribbean fusion – and a perfect low-key welcome from the young French couple running it. Afternoon ice creams or evening cocktails in their hammock chairs were sheer bliss!
The Sainte Anne Holiday Village is the centre for more restaurants and bars, the shop, evening entertainment and on-site and island-wide activities. Island info and excursions are managed from a well-resourced desk in the reception area (Natalie is really helpful, with perfect English). We also tried out the watersports services, with a jet-ski taster, which was great.
The coast along the South and East of Grand Terre has many fantastic beaches. The towns of St Anne and St Francois also feature shops, access to beaches, launch points for boat trips to Marie Galante and a golf course in a perfect setting at St Francois.
Exploring the highlands of Basse Terre to the West gave a very different experience. A drive up through the forests, broken by a dip in the tropical Ecrivisse waterfall, before dipping down to Plage de Malendure on the West coast – the launch point for the glass-bottomed boat and other means of getting over to the Ilet Pigeon to snorkel and explore the Cousteau Reserve.
A half-day canoe safari through the islets and mangroves just off Vieux Bourg on the North-West of Grand Terre was also brilliant, with jumping crabs and sea cucumber handling thrown in.
Top of my list for a longer Guadeloupe holiday would be a catamaran day trip to the smaller islands of Les Saintes or Marie-Galante. I’d also love to snorkel at the Cousteau reserve and explore more of the South of Basse Terre and the volcanic peak of La Grande Soufriere, as well as the wilder Atlantic coast of Grand Terre. Oh, and spend more time spinning in those hammock chairs!
Travelling to Martinique and Guadeloupe
As the UK is short on direct flights to Martinique or Guadeloupe, the choice is either to fly out of London and take a local shuttle from Saint Lucia or Barbados, or to use Air France’s direct services from Paris. Either way, it’s well worth it and even with flights included, it’s possible to have great value holidays to Guadeloupe and Martinique. As we were starting out in Manchester, transferring in Paris was just as quick and easy, and actually cheaper. Flights leave from Orly on the south of the city, but if you come into Charles de Gaulle on Air France (or a partner), you can use the Air France door to door coach shuttle free of charge. If you decide to travel that way, we can provide step by step instructions to follow.
(*Update – from 2021 Air France has introduced direct routes from Charles de Gaulle to Guadeloupe and Martinique, making travel there quicker and simpler. Again prices from London or Manchester are hardly more than the flights from Paris to the Caribbean alone)
But on the way back this route really came into its own, giving us a fantastic bonus day in central Paris. By 9am we were sat at a pavement café in glorious sunshine, looking across at Notre Dame Cathedral, after stopping off on the RER B line which directly links Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports. Yes, it takes a bit more organisation (you’ll probably want to drop your bags at the Gare du Nord rather than carrying them with you, especially as large bags aren’t allowed into many tourist sites), but it was fantastic to have a bonus day in the beautiful city for only the extra cost of an RER ticket. Certainly better than landing back at a UK airport direct from the Caribbean!