Sun-loving Canadians generally flock to Cuba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic for warm-weather getaways, but if you’re looking for a different—but still stunningly gorgeous—beach vacation, don’t overlook the verdant French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Air Canada’s direct flight between Montréal–Trudeau and Pointe-à-Pitre airports is less than five hours long, but you’ll feel a world away from the cold, Canadian winter.
A small archipelago just south of Antigua and Barbuda, Guadaloupe is an overseas department of France where euros are used and French is the official language (you may also hear Antillean Creole spoken). Made up of a pair of connected, butterfly-shaped large islands—Basse-Terre to the west and Grand-Terre to the east—surrounded by a number of smaller islands and outcroppings, it’s an under-the-radar tropical destination that offers more than a dash of European charm.
This idyllic, beachy haven offers a host of natural and cultural attractions within its diverse 1,628 km² landscape—in a single, well-planned day, you could hike up an active volcano, swim in a rainforest waterfall, snorkel at an underwater reserve, and enjoy a gourmet, Creole-inspired beachside meal. Of course, as with most Caribbean destinations, the beautiful beaches are a big draw in Guadeloupe—there are yellow, white and even black-sand beaches along the islands’ shorelines. One of the most beautiful and popular is La Caravelle beach, part of Club Med’s La Caravelle resort but also open to the public.
There’s great snorkeling and scuba diving all around Guadeloupe—the famed Jacques Cousteau underwater reserve surrounding the Pigeon Islands is a good place to start. Also within the sprawling National Park, athletic types can hike through the lush tropical rainforest, climb La Soufrière volcano (don’t miss out on the “Bains Jaunes” natural hot spring bath on your way), and swim in number of waterfalls.
Other musts for any visitor include a trip to the mountainous, 22,000-hectare National Park, a stop at one of the centuries-old coffee plantations, a tour of a working rum distillery (there are several to see, especially on Marie-Galante island), and spice shopping at the colourful, seaside market in the town of Sainte-Anne.
Club Med La Cavarelle, located near Sainte-Anne on the south coast of Grand-Terre island, just completed a 45 million-euro refresh just this month and is a great resort choice for couples and families alike. Following the extensive renovation and expansion, guests can now book colourful, family-friendly suites or secluded rooms at the new, adults-only Zen Oasis space featuring a sleek infinity pool.
The elegant beachfront property offers guests easy access to the beautiful, crescent-shaped white-sand La Caravelle beach and a host of complimentary activities and watersports including trapeze, archery, tennis, windsurfing, kitesurfing and sailing. The beautiful Club Med Spa by Sothys is a must-visit; book a relaxing massage on the water at sunset, or try the spa’s rejuvenating signature Hanakasumi body ritual.
The resort’s gourmet restaurants serve everything from flavourful, French Creole fare to classic, European favourites — the menus feature a broad, extensive rotation of locally-sourced Caribbean staples, fresh seafood and key ingredients imported from France — and you won’t want to miss out on the mixologist-crafted drinks at the cozy, secluded bar above the Allamanda Beach Lounge.