Essentials

Eating and drinking

Restaurants divide fairly neatly into French cuisine or more moderate Créole. There is often a
plat du jour
as there would be in France and very reasonable two- or three-course
menu touristique
meals. Children may find Créole food rather spicy.

A delightful blend of French, African, and Indian influences is found in Créole dishes, the cuisine is quite distinctive. Basic traditional French and African recipes using local ingredients; seafood, tropical fruits and vegetables are combined with exotic seasonings to give rich colour and flavour. These local specialities are not to be missed: Ti-boudin, a well seasoned sausage; blaff is red snapper or other fish, possibly sea urchins (chadrons) cooked with local spices and onions, somewhere between a soup and a stew; ragout, a spicy stew often made with squid (chatrous), or conch (lambis), or with meat; colombo, a recipe introduced by Hindu immigrants in the 19th century, is a thick curry; poulet au coco, chicken prepared with coconut; chunks of steakfish seasoned and grilled; morue (salt cod) made into sauces and accras (hot fishy fritters from Africa) or chiquetaille (grilled), or used in feroce d'avocat, a pulp of avocados, peppers and manioc flour; langouste (lobster), crabe (crab), écrevisses, ouassous, z'habitants (crayfish), gambas (prawns) and vivaneau (snapper) are often fricasseed, grilled or barbecued with hot pepper sauce. A good starter is crabe farci (stuffed land crab). Main dishes are usually accompanied by white rice, breadfruit, yams or patate douce (sweet potatoes) with plantains and red beans or lentils. Christophine (Créole: chayotte) au gratin; a large knobbly vegetable grilled with grated cheese and breadcrumbs, or fresh crudités are delicious, lighter side dishes. Fresh fruit often ends the meal; pineapples, papayas, soursops and bananas can be found all year round and mangoes, guavas and sugar apples in season. Ice cream (glace) is also a favourite dessert, particularly guava or soursop (corossol).

Tap water is drinkable. As in other Caribbean islands the main alcoholic drink is rum. It is nearly all made from the juice of the cane,
rhum agricole
, unlike elsewhere in the Caribbean where it is made from molasses.
Ti punch
is rum mixed with a little cane syrup or sugar syrup and a slice of lime and is a popular drink at any time of the day.
Shrub
is a delicious Christmas liqueur made from macerated rum and orange peel.
Planteur
is a rum and fruit juice punch. Martiniquan rum has a distinctive flavour and is famous for its strength, but rum from Guadeloupe and Marie Galante has been equally praised. There is a huge choice of Martiniquan rum, recommended brands being Trois Rivières, Mauny, St James and St Clément. On Guadeloupe try Damoiseau and especially on Marie Galante, Père Labat. French wines are everywhere and are not expensive in supermarkets or even small village shops. A good local beer is
Lorraine
, a clean-tasting beer which claims to be 'brewed for the tropics'. Locally-brewed Guinness, at 7% alcohol by volume, stronger than its Irish counterpart, is thick and rich.
Malta
, a non-alcoholic beverage similar to malt beer, is produced by most breweries and said to be full of minerals and vitamins. Thirst quenching non-alcoholic drinks to look out for are the fresh fruit juices served in most snack bars and cafés. Guava, soursop, passion fruit and sugar cane juice are commonly seen.


Festivals and events

Pre-Lenten Carnival is a feature in both Guadeloupe and Martinique. It's less touristy than most, and ends with impressive Ash Wednesday ceremonies (especially in Martinique), when the population dresses in black and white, and processions take place that combine the seriousness of the first day of the Christian Lent with the funeral of the Carnival King (Vaval).

Language

The cultural, social and educational systems of France are used and the official language is French. Créole is widely spoken on Guadeloupe and Martinique; it has West African grammatical structures and uses a mainly French-derived vocabulary. It is the everyday language of most Guadeloupean and Martiniquan people and can be heard on the radio; some stations use it almost exclusively. English is not widely spoken.


Money

There are money-changing offices in the big hotels and at airports. The euro is the legal tender although US$ are accepted except in post offices and on buses. There is no limit to travellers' cheques and letters of credit being imported, but a declaration of foreign bank notes in excess of
E
533.60 must be made.


Sport and activities

The spectacles of cockfighting and mongoose versus snake are popular throughout the French Islands. Betting shops are full of atmosphere (they are usually attached to a bar). Horse racing is held on Martinique, but not Guadeloupe, but on both islands gambling on all types of mainland France track events is very keen.


Visas and immigration

The regulations are the same as for France. In most cases the only document required for entry is a
passport
, the exceptions being citizens of Australia, South Africa, Bolivia, Dominica, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Turkey, when a
visa
is required. St Lucians are allowed to enter without visas for visits of up to 15 days. Any non-EU citizen staying longer than three months needs an extended visa. An onward ticket is necessary but not always asked for. EU citizens need not fill in a landing card. They are entitled to use local medical services on production of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), obtainable in their home country (eg UK Post Office).

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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