Iles les Saintes

Overview

Introduction

Les Saintes, a 6-sq-mi/15-sq-km archipelago of eight small islands in Guadeloupe, has a population of 3,350, most of whom are the blond-haired, blue-eyed descendants of immigrants who arrived from Brittany 300 years ago.

The islands appeal particularly to pleasure-craft sailors and tourists who want isolation. In recent years, they have become more popular, but they are still quite a world apart from the rest of Guadeloupe.

The two main islands in the Les Saintes archipelago are Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas. There are good overnight accommodations on Terre-de-Haut and one hotel on Terre-de-Bas, but most visitors see the Les Saintes islands on day trips or on shore excursions from cruise ships.

On Terre-de-Haut, the winding, flower-bedecked lanes of the village of Bourg are ideal for strolling. The island's population is concentrated in Bourg, in Le Mouillage in the north (pretty gingerbread-trimmed houses) and in Fond du Cure, the fishing village in the south. In Fond du Cure, stop at the small outdoor market by the sea, and a bit farther west along the beach or at Anse Mire, look for the fishermen hauling in their rose- and blue-colored nets. The older men still wear distinctive inverted-saucer-shaped straw or bamboo hats called salakos (of unknown origin, but probably of Asian inspiration).

Fort Napoleon was constructed in 1867 on the northeastern end of the island but never had to defend itself. Restored by volunteers, it was opened to the public in 1982. In addition to a maritime museum, it has a display of contemporary art, a botanical garden and wonderful panoramas. When your guide at Fort Napoleon points into the bush, exclaiming "Victor Hugo!" "Voltaire!" or "Verlaine!" look for iguanas—they're all named after French literary figures. The view across the bay from the fort includes the ruins of Fort Josephine, named for Napoleon's wife.

A walk to the top of Le Chameau, the highest point on the island (1,014 ft/309 m), is about an hour's hike (only about seven minutes by scooter), but the view is spectacular. All of Terre-de-Haut and the seven other islands of the archipelago are visible, and on a clear day you might catch a glimpse of La Soufriere, Guadeloupe's volcano.

Le Cimetiere Rose, the ancient sailors' cemetery near Grande Anse beach, is the pride of the Saintois. The white tombs are decorated with black-and-white tiles and polished conch shells. On All Saints' Day, they are lit with hundreds of candles.

Terre-de-Bas can be reached by ferry from Trois-Rivieres, Pointe-a-Pitre and Terre-de-Haut. It's a very quiet island where the people primarily rely on fishing for their livelihood. Ferry passengers are dropped off at Grande Baie. From there, it's only a short way to the beach at Grande Anse. Most of the island's bars and restaurants are found in that area.

The principal settlement is at Petite Anse, on the other side of the island, but it's possible to walk there from Grande Anse or to take a bus when you get off the ferry at Grande Baie. Petite Anse has a harbor that's used by fishing boats, and there's a church that can be toured.

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