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Go Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe, France

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The butterfly-shaped island of Guadeloupe is both typically French and typically Caribbean. It's actually two geologically separate islands that have been forced together - so it offers the tourist a two-for-one package of contrasting environments.

Basse-Terre – the part of the island where your cruise ship will dock - is dominated by the Soufriere volcano and some rich tracts of rainforest that are home to a host of exotic plants and animals. Grande-Terre is a very different place typified by gnarled labyrinths of mangroves and swathes of palm trees that fringe the white coral beaches. The south coast of Grande-Terre offers perfect beaches for sunbathing, swimming or just being lulled to sleep by the sound of waves on a quilt of soft white sand.

The slopes of Soufriere are blanketed in lush rainforest vegetation whilst lower down the countryside is dominated by fields of sugar cane and banana palms. A common sight is the washerwomen or blanchisseuses as they are known decorating the rocks with a patchwork of colourful laundry whilst they chatter away in Creole. Markets on Guadeloupe are the scene of Caribbean mayhem with all manner of goods housed under corrugated iron roofs. English is quite widely spoken on the island but haggling at the market is very definitely Creole and French only.

Guadeloupe is more laidback, more free-spirited than neighbouring Martinique. At the time of the French Revolution the slogan 'Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood' posed something of a problem for the colonial plantation owners who relied on slave labour. In Guadeloupe, unlike Martinique the Revolution kicked off a reign of terror. The revolutionaries liberated the slaves and took a bloody revenge on their masters, plantation owners were put to death or exiled and their plantations razed to the ground. Whilst the plantation owners managed to stifle rebellion on Martinique, a measure of the success of the revolutionaries on Guadeloupe is that not a single pre-revolutionary estate house survived. However the story doesn't end there: slavery was reintroduced in 1802 and a bitter struggle ensued - many former slaves chose death rather than lose their freedom. When slavery was abolished in the British Caribbean colonies in 1834 slaves set off on rafts from the French Antilles to claim their freedom. Slavery wasn't finally abandoned in the French Antilles until 1848. This unpleasant chapter in the island's history is documented in the Musee Schoelcher, an impressive townhouse in Point a Pitre on Grande-Terre named for the Frenchman charged with responsibility for dismantling slavery in the French colonies. Schoelcher became deputy Governor of Guadeloupe and the museum houses many of his papers as well as collections of anti-slavery pamphlets, some gruesome death masks and some particularly repulsive propaganda drawing comparisons between the islanders and wild beasts.

Watersports are well-catered for on Guadeloupe with some excellent windsurfing to be had on the south coast of Grande-Terre, especially at St Francois. St Francois also has an 18 hole golf course.

The beautiful and often dramatic natural environment is a big attraction of Guadeloupe. The national park includes lakes, hot springs, waterfalls and spectacular rainforest. An extensive network of walking trails - known locally as traces - criss-crosses the park. If you’re cruising, it’s unlikely you’ll have time to explore these – but if you do - and the scenery and wildlife will amply reward your efforts - you should go well-equipped. The birdlife of the forests is eye-catching, but watch out for rarities like the island's giant insect: Hercules beetles are six inches long. For a museum with a difference take a trip to the 'Maison de Volcan' – easily accessible by bus or taxi from the cruise quay - set in a magical tropical garden up in the rainforest. The museum of volcanoes will teach you a lot about Soufriere. The volcano is still quite active and at 4,813 feet its summit is the highest point in the East Caribbean. Energetic hikers can make it in 3 hours from Savane a Mulets.

If you're interested in history you'll soak up the atmosphere of antiquity in Basse-Terre itself. Fort Delgres is perhaps the most impressive of the old defences. It's a fortress with huge embrasures and acres of ramparts - walking along them you can almost feel the cannonballs whizzing over your head! The fort's museum is compact but the exhibits are well-chosen. The Hindu temples dotted over the island are a reminder of the East Indian immigrants who came to work in the sugar plantations as indentured labourers when the freed slaves left to set up their own villages.

Whether you choose to spend your time discovering the rich natural heritage of the island, uncovering its eventful history, sampling the watersports or simply relaxing on the beach you'll take away some great memories of Guadeloupe.

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