GUADELOUPE- Butterfly in the Caribe

The sea of sugarcane flows to the backdrop of the majestic ridge of mountains on the wing of Basse Terre, but it is the eastern wing of Grande Terre and the blue green ocean waters that draw me to this french beauty. Back from assignment for a new update, I can remark that I have not been disapointed.

This wonderful treasure in the heart of the caribbean, provides the the ideal spot to explore a culture rich in excitement, geography lush with flora and a sea teeming with fauna and nurishment for the body and soul. The beaches are fantastic also!

The journey must start with a snappy auto by Renault, Puegeot or Altos, more on that later. A quick transfer at the international airport: Raziet, is very possible. The french customs seem a breeze in this clean open modern airport. The major routes throughout the parts of the country are well labled and provide an easily navigated infrastructure. I just love the quality of well laid blacktop anywhere in the caribbean, and this is the best. Please note: 15 speed racing bicycles love these highways and you will notice racers keeping a good pace alongside! Keep a look out. Aside from the larger trucks, many involved with building supplies or sugarcane ( again, stay tuned), the traffic flows fast. In 40 minutes the signs of Saint Francois, in the south east of Grand Terre, the right wing of the "butterfly", begin to appear.

When you begin to smell the salt in the air, you are there. The town of St. Francois is really one of the best ports in the country and provides refuge for many fishing boats and sailing vessels. The marina adds color and activity during the day. At night this marina blossoms under the stars with music, gormet foods and drink, and is made for strolling. Several hotels line the marina and more are located 300 meters east, along the sea. Each restaurant is unique from the next along the main avenue or within the marina area. Merchandise is offered from the many shops and include Paris fashion to beach attire. Local handcrafts fill in the gaps. This is a pretty laid back town routed in tremendous history. That history is the sea and sugarcane.
I had chosen an old favorite for my hotel. Le Meridien- St Francois had been built back in the late 1970's and was one of the first large (280 rooms)accomidations in the country. I like this location for two reasons: one, the ability to walk thoughout the marina area and Rue de la Republic, next to the sea. The second reason is simple: modern comforts with a small private beach, including water sports. Each evening the hotel brings the guest a different The second Meridien Hotel in the town has been sold and currently under renovation and expected to open in the fall of 2007. form of entertainment outdoors around the swimming pool area. I found the Antillean dummers very exciting with rhythms from the earliest peoples and the roots of Africa. This large hotel is nolonger in business. Plans for the edifice are still up in the air. The CocoTel is next door and will stand in. While the town of St. Francois offers numerous pleasures in dining, the hotel provides theme buffet dinners for those inclined to stay close to home at night.

The subject of food is a highlight for this region of the caribbean. The food envokes a blend of new world and europe, fusion of exotic spices and culinary sauces of cream, flamboyant presentations and village fare; all offered with impeccable service. My favorites dishes included the freshest seasonal harbor front catch of fish. March through May brings in the dorade, also known as, mahimahi. This wonderful deepsea catch glissens in the hands of the fishermen at the wharves in the morning and is bought by the chefs at dockside. Filleted and carved, the dorade is presented numerous ways at each seaside restaurant.

Cote de Cour on Rue de la Republic and Les Freres des la Cote, also located on that seaside street, each have about ten tables in a charming space. Creative combinations of three or four courses make an enjoyable experience. I like capping off a dinner with a snifter of vieux rhum: the golden labors of Guadeloupe. I will share more on this subject.

The perfect blend of temperature and volcanic ash and clay build the red soil into a fortified powerhouse for sugarcane. Throughout Guadeloupe this nature resource lines the roads and waving fields go on for miles. Mills made of stone dot these country fields and hills. Some are crumbled and overgrown with vines. Some are restored from ancient times and some are incorporated into residences, modest or opulant. The mill reminds the traveller of the roots of this land. The trade of sugar and the production of rum built the economy and continue today. On the road from St. Francios to Le Moule, toward the interior of Grand Terre, sugar fields prevail. This road leads to the sugar plantation. The rum distillery Bellevue (Rum Damoiseau)is at route D 101. You can visit, and there is tasting and sales at the Cabane Rhum.

Damoiseau Rum is one of the oldest and one of the best sampled on the island. The small rum shops promote their countries' labors very well. These small stores have little but rum and Damoiseau prevails. The rum plantation is an intriguing tour. Visitor may walk unguides throughout the stages of the process. I aquired, skinned and chewed on the husk of the cane during my walk. Different aged casks produced various flavors and strengths. I really prefer the golden Vieux (old) Rhum, aged greater than eight years. The white "overproof", at 50%, rum, is strong and a great mixer for the best island cocktails. It is too strong to sip. The costs are very reasonable for these fine rums. The gift shop allows for you to sample before you buy. Be careful! The grounds to the plantation and factory are nicely manicured for the visitors to relax and picnic or visit a restored stone sugar mill. When I visit factories, rum shops or question local barmen, I always come away with a special concoction that tastes great.

The Ultra Light Company flies out of this little seside town. The cost is about 60 Euros for one passenger and the pilot. It appears a secure operation, though these are little aircraft.
Guadaloupe Ultra Light Company- St. Francois Airport for Information

EDITORS NOTE: The country is in a recession, Labor unrest is an issue currently, Strikes have prevailed, Local crime is an issue with the economics, French believe the issues are less than grave, and tourism is down. Many blogs are silent on the situation.