Photo Credit: Leo Moko
Forget Paris And Visit These Gorgeous French Islands
France is often at or near the top of every traveler’s bucket list. The Western European country is world-renowned for its glamorous cities like Paris, the history, art, wine, and of course the mouthwatering French gastronomy. But amid the waves of the Pacific, Indian, and the Atlantic Ocean as well as the Caribbean Sea, are the French islands that form part of the French Overseas Territories or Les Territoires d’Outre-mer.
These are the departments of France abroad that have the sophistication of the mainland mixed with tropical paradise. You can even shop in euros. Their French connection affords them a higher standard of living than many other islands in their respective areas. So if you’re looking for strong food culture, glorious beaches, spectacular views, and a dash of elegance, don’t sleep on these islands.
Martinique is not big on all-inclusive resorts. In fact, there is only one. But that’s even more reason to get out and explore the French island in the southern part of the Caribbean.
You will get a distinctively European feel at times. French brands Carrefour, Renault, and Citroen have a presence in downtown Fort-de-France. The wood and glass Bibliothèque Schoelcher was literally transplanted from Paris to Martinique. And there are enough boulangeries, wine bars, and upscale restaurants reminiscent of the mainland in Les Trois-Îlets.
But there is true island life complete with white sand and crystal clear waters, spicy Creole food, a variety of rums, and consistently beautiful weather.
As a bonus, the island is not overly touristy, so visitors can peruse peacefully and unhurried.
Guadeloupe has something for every visitor profile.
If arts and culture are your jam, head to the largest city Pointe-à-Pitre to visit the home of Saint-John Perse, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960.
Those with a more adventurous spirit will enjoy a hike on Guadeloupe National Park’s 185 miles of trails. Or make your way to Les Chutes du Carbet, a series of waterfalls with three cascades located in the tropical rainforests on the lower slopes of the volcano La Soufrière. The second cascade is the most accessible.
But Guadeloupe is truly a foodie’s paradise. It’s a mix of Creole and French cuisine which strikes just the right balance of flavor.
3. Saint Martin
Saint Martin consists of many unique features.
For one, the Leeward Island in the Caribbean Sea is actually separated into two parts. One side is Dutch and known as Sint Maarten. Then there is the French island Saint Martin, which is a former overseas département of Guadeloupe but is now an overseas collectivity of the French Republic.
The island boasts 37 beaches to suit your taste in aquatic activities: deep-sea diving, surfing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, kitesurfing, or just lazing the day away on the sand.
One of the oddest and most popular attractions is watching planes land at nearby Princess Juliana International Airport on the Dutch side. The proximity of the runway to the beach makes for a terrifying but certainly different activity.
4. La Réunion
La Réunion has been called the jewel of the Indian Ocean. It’s a volcanic island that originated from the Piton des Neiges volcano. To the east of the island is Piton de la Fournaise, considered to be one of the most active on the planet. It is located within Réunion National Park, a World Heritage site. For an out-of-this-world experience, follow a guided crawl through the lava tunnels in the active volcano’s inactive area.
Consider a helicopter tour for a stunning view of the Cirques (small villages) of Cilaos, Mafate, and Salazie as well as the azure blue lagoons.
And if you’re into chasing waterfalls, La Réunion has an impossible number of them cascading down the mountainsides.
Saint Barthélemy, a French-speaking Caribbean island popularly called St. Barts, is a luxury destination that attracts high-end clientele. Despite the high standard of living, tourism attracts an estimated 200,000 visitors every year.
It’s a hit with the water sports crowd with activities like diving, kitesurfing, paragliding, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
The white-sand beaches and tropical coves are practically perfect. New Year’s Eve tends to bring out the wealthy and the celebrities, who descend upon the island in yachts to celebrate.