Grande-Terre Island

Overview

Introduction

Though more built up and less beautiful than Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre has lots of nice beaches and good conditions for watersports. The hub of the island is Pointe-a-Pitre, the capital, which is a cultural center and thriving tourist attraction. Its stately colonial houses, historic buildings, markets, restaurants and shops—to say nothing of the colorful port area—offer plenty for visitors to explore. Heading the list of Pointe-a-Pitre's attractions are Place de la Victoire, bordered with gracious mansions; the Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul; and Le Vieux Port, where you'll find L'Usine Darboussier (the old sugar refinery), the Halle aux Poissons (the fish market) and the birthplace of poet Saint-John Perse on Rue Achille Rene Boisneuf.

To see most of the island's sights in a day's drive, take the eastern road out of Pointe-a-Pitre. Just down the coast are the towns of Gosier and Bas du Fort, and the shoreline through this area is where most of Grande-Terre's hotels are located. Many of the beaches there are man-made. Gosier is good for nightlife: It has lots of restaurants, several nightclubs and a casino. (Beware of motorbikes in this area: Some riders may be purse snatchers.) The uninhabited Islet Gosier is offshore, with beaches that are tailor-made for a romantic picnic. There are no services on the island, so bring your own food and drink. (A ferry provides transportation.)

Ste. Anne, the most unspoiled of all Guadeloupe's villages, is 25-30 minutes east of Pointe-a-Pitre. It has a long, white-sand public beach with a seaside promenade. An artisans collective sells the best wares on the island, ranging from foodstuffs to furnishings. Beyond Ste. Anne are a number of white-sand beaches—some of the best on the island. St. Francois is a fishing town that, until the 1980s, could have been described as quaint. Now, however, it's a full-blown resort with eight properties, a golf course, a 140-slip marina, a casino and a good mix of restaurants and shops.

Just outside of town, take the road east to Pointe des Chateaux, the most easterly spot on Grande-Terre. From the overlook, above where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet, there's an impressive spectacle of crashing waves on sculpted black rocks and jagged cliffs. The cross erected on top of a huge rock is the only sign of human handiwork. (Paths lead to the point where the land falls off abruptly to the Atlantic.) The island you see in the distance is La Desirade. There are several nice beaches in the area (clothing is optional at Tarare Beach). Afterward, return to the main road (N5), and head north to Zevallos, a colonial sugar-plantation mansion.

Le Moule is the former capital. It has a small oceanfront fort and the Damoiseau rum distillery (which offers a tour and samples), but it's now famous for the international surfing championship that's held every year. Also there is the Musee Edgar Clerc, a large museum of pre-Columbian artifacts that is architecturally as well as archaeologically interesting.

If you've ever wondered what it's like to stand before the gate of hell, head north and stop just outside Porte d'Enfer. Despite the ominous name, Porte d'Enfer has a nice beach in a sheltered cove, which makes it safe for swimming as long as you stay near the shore. (The town was the home of the mysterious Madame Coco, who was last seen walking nimbly across the waves, carrying an umbrella—or so the legends say.) Nearby is La Pointe de la Grande Vigie, where spectacular cliffs rising out of the ocean provide a great view of offshore islands.

On the western side of the island is the agricultural town of Port Louis. Continue your drive to the center of the island and stop at Morne-a-l'Eau to see its amphitheater-shaped cemetery. From there drive south past the airport and return to Pointe-a-Pitre.

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