Basse Terre is the western of the two major island of Guadeloupe. Staying at the Langley Hotel at Fort Royal on Basse Terre turned out to be a tremendous choice. Once owned by Club Med, the sprawling hotel overlooks stunning, picture postcard views of the blue green Caribbean Sea. The hotel is situated directly alongside a long, sandy yellow golden beach. The beach is shaded by coconut palms and is populated with umbrellas and comfortable beach chairs, next to a large pool. We enjoyed the bed and breakfast rate, which included a daily French-style brunch buffet (e.g., a variety of cheeses and breads, cereals, fresh croissants, etc.). At the base of a tropical forest, the resort adjoined a pleasantly shaded hiking trail with views of Caribbean coves and inlets. We indulged in light meals at the beach bar, where we relaxed to live music several evenings. Two evenings we participated in free yoga classes on the hotel terrace as the sun set with vivid orange and red hues in the sky over the Caribbean Sea.
The interior of Basse Terre is largely a national park, with a rain forest and volcano. On one day, we drove over two hours south of our hotel on the national highway to see the majestic Carbet waterfalls (Les Chutes du Carbet). Two vertical waterfalls are on top of each other, each plunging more than 300 feet of cascading water. The national roads (designated N) along the coasts were good for the most part, with winding turns providing majestic views of mountains on one side of the road and the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The side roads (designated D), like the roads to these waterfalls, were steep and narrow with repeated jaw dropping turns and they were not well paved. The pace on these islands was slow, except when cars passed us on the roads, as we ascended and descended hills.
Near Deshaies, we spent a delightful afternoon wandering through the paths of the botanical gardens (Jardin Botanique), which featured trees and plants from around the world, as well as an aviary with multi-colored tropical birds. There is a small restaurant/snack bar at the top of a man-made waterfall, overlooking the gardens. We enjoyed three scoops of sorbet, with refreshing flavors of coconut and passion fruit.
Further south, near the town of Bouillante, we traveled on a glass bottom boat to the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve. Beneath the boat we viewed an alien world, populated by weird shaped sponges, coral and colorful schools of fish in various sizes and shapes.
North of Fort Royal, near the base of a mountain, we toured a medal winning rum distillery, Le Domaine de Severin. The large property includes a mini-train ride and paths through gardens, a water wheel, rum making equipment, crayfish breeding ponds, a sauces and spice factory and prototypical houses of rum workers. The tour ended with a tasting of strong dark rums and refreshing cool light rums.
As a department of France, the official language spoken in Guadeloupe is French and the signage was exclusively in French. At the museum of cocoa (La Maison du Cacao) near Pointe – Nore, the tropical gardens featured explanations of the history, care and variety of cocoa products with some English signs. We patiently waited for the English language samples tasting and demonstration, which turned out to be presented in rapidly spoken French with a few English words sprinkled in!
The signage throughout Guadeloupe was limited, even for the tourist attractions. Indeed we never found one elusive waterfall despite several attempts on different side roads. Although the staff at the Langley Hotel was fluent in English, outside our resort we had few conversations with anyone in our native language.
There were a few “freaky” moments on this trip. After landing in Ponte a Pitre at night, we drove to the hotel through Sainte Rose during a carnival night. We were taken on a detour through town, stopping to let the locals walk past in very scary masks. On our return from a drive on the national road early one evening, our car was briefly surrounded by a group of rowdy teenagers in masks probably wanting money from us. We floored our small rental car and drove by them, but we were a little shaken up. Based on our drives through side roads into small communities, there clearly was some poverty on Basse Terre in the more remote and rural areas.
Even within the resort, we had to often brake so as to not run over the roster families and dwarf goats on the property. It often surprised us to see animals grazing on the sides of roads where there were no gates.
We spent our last full day (a Friday) in search of the one synagogue in Guadeloupe, Or Samaech. On the eastern large island of Grande Terre, the small shul is largely unmarked on a side road in Gosier. With Fern’s persistent and directions from local police, we came upon a house/compound topped by barbed wire and a security system. After a maintenance worker admitted us into the complex, we met the French and Hebrew speaking rabbi, he directed us upstairs into the lovely sanctuary, filled with ritual objects and memorials to former members of the small Jewish community. The population of the Guadeloupe islands is estimated to be around 425,000 with around 300 Jewish residents.
We were invited to have lunch in the kosher café downstairs. We feasted on a delicious meal of challah bread, fish (bass), salad, roasted potatoes and two scrumptious desserts, a chocolate lava cake and a lemon pie. During lunch we engaged in limited English conversations with the local Jewish residents. We learned that the congregation was Sephardic (i.e., Jews descended originally from Spain and Northern Africa) and held worship services on Friday nights.
Our drives were majestic with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea or Atlantic Ocean on one side of the car and fields of sugar cane or mountain peaks on the other side. The large volcano (La Soufriere) was often visible. At all times at the hotel, we listened to the peaceful crashing of the Caribbean waves coming into the beach. We’ll long remember relaxing while just starring out at the natural beauty of these islands.