French Antilles

Shutterstock/31987795/Stefan KuiperThe French Caribbean Islands form two Départements d'Outremer: one comprises Martinique, and the other Guadeloupe with its offshore group, Marie-Galante, Les Saintes and la Désirade. Two more distant islands, Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthélemy, which are administratively part of Guadeloupe, are included in the Leeward Islands chapter . Geographically, Guadeloupe and Martinique form the northern group of the Windward Islands, with the former British island of Dominica in between them; there are good ferry links for island hopping. The two main islands are large and both have mountains, volcanoes and forests where you can find rushing streams, waterfalls and pools for bathing in. The best beaches, however, are in the more arid parts, which are flatter, and these have become holiday resorts, popular principally with the French. The smaller islands are fairly hilly but dry, particularly those in the Leewards. Some beautiful French colonial architecture remains, sometimes with iron balconies and intricate fretwork, but many modern buildings are concrete blocks and lack charm.

Visitors are often surprised by how French the islands are. The inhabitants are French citizens, the currency is the euro and the people eat croissants and baguettes. However, the African connection is strong too, dating back to slavery on the plantations. Most people speak Créole as well as French, there are African rhythms and instruments in the music and African influences in art and literature. Créole cuisine uses West Indian ingredients, many of which were introduced to feed the African slaves, but with a French flair which distinguishes it from its neighbours. Even the rum is different, made from the juice of the sugar cane instead of the molasses as elsewhere in the Caribbean, but it packs the same punch.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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