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How about a French island fling?

Travel

Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe - Those self-help books telling you how to keep calm and take stock would surely approve of this sort of holiday.

We’re sitting in the shade at a cafe in the Place Centrale, where the town hall opposite displays the French Tricolour and a noticeboard devoted to incomprehensible planning applications.

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An elderly lady in a flowery dress has just disappeared into the boulangerie and I am wondering whether she will emerge with one baguette or two.

There are well-thumbed copies of yesterday’s Le Figaro and L’Equipe on the tables. All that’s missing is the whiff of a Gauloises cigarette and we could be in a sleepy French provincial village.

But we are several thousand miles away on the exotic island of Guadeloupe, a proper department of France just like the Pas-de-Calais or the Loire. The locals speak Creole or heavily accented French, while English is rare.

The French have cunningly contrived to keep this extraordinarily beautiful island almost entirely for themselves.

Most of us only know about it thanks to the tropical panoramas depicted in the joint UK-French TV series Death In Paradise, which stars Josephine Jobert as Officer Florence Cassell and Kris Marshall as DI Humphrey Goodman.

It is the setting for the fictional island of Saint Marie.

Guadeloupe is not your average tropical island. For a start, its French administrative structure means pothole-free roads, a relatively low crime rate and — being France — some of the best food in the Caribbean.

However, you might need a crib sheet to work out what you’re eating. For example, matete is a hot crab curry, ouassou is a type of shrimp and blaff is seafood cooked in a spicy soup.

 

 

A photo posted by Mathias Deschamps (@mdchmps) on

 

Guadeloupe is four-and-a-half times the size of the Isle of Wight, so you won’t see it all in one week. The main part is formed of two contrastingly different islands linked by a short bridge.

Our base is on Grande Terre, the much smaller and more populated of the pair. Basse Terre is the wild one with a national park, high mountains, rushing waterfalls, mangrove swamps, coral reefs and the best dive sites in the region.

We are staying at Club Med on pristine Caravelle Beach, where the food and drink is inclusive and the extraordinarily varied range of hot and cold dishes served in open-air restaurants suits the tropical lifestyle, if not the waistline.

Fellow guests include chic Parisian families in designer beachwear, a honeymooning couple from Hong Kong and a small group of 30-somethings from Milan.

Those who have not experienced the Club Med formula and fear it is some kind of French Hi-de-Hi! needn’t worry.

You don’t have to join in all the sport and entertainment. You can simply take advantage of the enormous choice on offer — with everything from sailing to circus skills.

 

 

A photo posted by islanded (@islanded_) on

 

On our first day, I spot a sporty middle-aged Frenchman hanging from a 30ft trapeze. After his second plunge into the safety net, I decide to settle for archery and sailing.

My wife works her way through an energy-sapping menu of Pilates, yoga, aqua aerobics andmassage.

On a Caribbean idyll it’s all too easy to stay put on the beach as the days drift by. So we hire a car — just £34 (about R500) a day, insurance included — and set off to explore. The highlight is the Pointe des Chateaux, the long peninsula that thrusts out into the Atlantic to form the eastern tip of Grande Terre.

On this wild and windy beach with crashing waves and treacherous rocks, my thoughts turn to Guadeloupe’s seafaring history.

Down the centuries, it’s been coveted by the Dutch and the Swedes and occupied by the British before reverting to France. Through it all runs the dark shadow of slavery in the tobacco and sugar plantations.

Memorial Acte in Point-a-Pitre is a fascinating new monument and museum dedicated to the history of slavery and well worth a visit on one of Guadeloupe’s rare rainy days. At Le Colombo, a beachside restaurant outside the port of Saint-Francois, we eat curried vegetables with fresh lobster cooked on an open fire.

Hens cluck around our feet for morsels and we toast our good fortune with chilled rosé de Provence. Magnifique!

 

If You Go...

Club Med (clubmed.co.uk, 020 3811 1507) offers seven nights at Club Med Caravelle Beach, Guadeloupe, at £1 850 for adults and £1 165 for children, from December 5. Children under six stay free. Transfer time from the airport is 20 minutes.

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