Christmas: only a short time ago but now a distant memory. The holidays have ended, the spirit of Christmas has been distinguished along with the tree lights, decorations are hidden for another year. The gruelling return to work means a lost motivation to stick to New Year Resolutions.
Having always spent Christmas the ‘traditional’ way in Northern Ireland, I didn’t feel particularly ‘Christmassy’ here in Guadeloupe. The sleepy island woke up as tourists arrived for Christmas in the Caribbean – I was overjoyed to welcome my family to the island. Guadeloupeans emphasise strong family bonds, especially at Christmas, so it was amazing to join together in my tropical paradise. Dad appointed himself as our tourist guide – it was his second visit, this time in less-serious circumstances. Together we celebrated a very different type of Christmas – abandoning Northern Ireland to experience a mix of French tradition and Caribbean flair.
Guadeloupe is no different when it comes to overindulging on food and drink during the festive period. It is common knowledge the Antilles are the biggest consumers of Champagne across all French departments. If you want turkey, pigs in blankets and Brussels Sprouts, you’ve come to the wrong place. The main meal is Jambon Noel, smoked ham cut into small pieces and accompanied with sauce chien (a spiced onion-based sauce and not made from dogs, normally eaten with fish and bokits). Another favourite delicacy is Boudin, a blood sausage. This is washed down with Ti-Punch, rum with cane sugar and lime, or Planteur, a zesty and strong mix of rum, pineapple juice, guava juice, sugar, cinnamon and fresh fruit. Following French traditions families eat together on Le Réveillon, 24th December.
Coup de coeur:
Basse-Terre – Deshaies
There was something amusing, yet fundamentally wrong, spending Christmas Day on the beach, wearing a Santa Hat. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world celebrating Christmas, but the importance of who surrounds you. We went to Plage de Grande Anse in Deshaies, one of my favourite beaches on the island. Deshaies, a sleepy fishing town in the north-west of Basse-Terre, is the filming location for Death in Paradise – a family-favourite show in our house. We returned to Deshaies on Boxing Day for a Whale Watching excursion. The surroundings for the 4-hour boat journey were postcard perfect; the turquoise Caribbean Sea, expansive mountains visible in the distance with the white rising sun. We met schools of dolphins and spotted six Sperm Whales.
While Chloe and Dad were doing their best Sir Attenborough impressions at the bow, Mum and I had our heads in sick bags, suffering from sea sickness. To discover more of Guadeloupe’s marine life, it is worthwhile visiting l’Aquarium at Pointe-à-Pitre Marina. To recover from our marine excursion, we spent Boxing Day afternoon at the luxurious Langley Resort Fort Royal.
Basse-Terre is filled with hidden walks and waterfalls. From Deshaies, drive south to Pointe-Noire, you’ll come to Saut D’Acomat. Only a 50m descent from the parking area, this is one of the easier waterfall walks and well worth a visit.
The Marina in Saint François is classy and relaxed, lined with boutiques, boats, bars and restaurants; an ideal place to spend an evening of eating and drinking. There is a strong European influence and is a popular area for tourists. From Saint François follow direction of Pointe des Chateaux to arrive at Plage de La Douche, Dramatic and picturesque, the waves hit the rocks and cast sprays of ten metres. This secret cove is quickly becoming a favourite Instagram location.
Located at the extreme east of the island, La Pointe des Chateaux is a dramatic view point and the first place on the island to see the rising sun. With a short climb to a cross you’ll have impressive panoramic views over the smaller islands of Petite Terre, la Desirade and Marie Galante, as well as breath-taking views across Basse-Terre. White sands and green flora, deep blue Atlantic waves crash against jagged cliffs, making this zone of natural beauty even more dramatic.
Plage de Babin, Morne-A-l’Eau, is a very quiet and serene spot, unknown to tourists. Forget white sands, palm trees and turquoise waters. This is a different type of beach and an interesting natural site, even with the odd smell in the air. Torn mangroves line the coastline to the right of the beach and to the left there is a beautiful panoramic view over the north of Basse-Terre. The greyish water is flat and calm, reminding me more of a lake than a beach. It’s not a pleasant place to swim; people enter the water to retrieve mud to rub on their bodies. The mud is said to help rheumatism, arthritis and skin ailments. We cringed at dad who got himself into a group of locals performing a ritual with the mud, it wasn’t our place to be here. Apprehensive and about to leave, a group of Americans jumped into the water to collect handfuls of the dark grey mud. We all started to apply the mud, some more enthusiastic than others. I smelt of sulphur for the rest of the day but my skin felt smoother.
The Christmas holidays weren’t long enough to open my family’s eyes to all of the wonders Guadeloupe has to offer; we barely scratched the surface. While we may not have eaten turkey or sipped mulled wine wearing Christmas jumpers, we traded it for barbecues with some of my pupils and families. As 2019 was drawing to a close, I was met with an overwhelming sense of appreciation for this experience and getting to share snippets of it with Mum, Dad and Chloé.
I welcomed the new year and the new decade singing and dancing on the beach, under starlit palm trees in tropical 25ºC surroundings. The agenda for 2020: CARNAVAL… c’est vraiment la folie.
Bonne année et meilleurs vœux pour 2020