The island of Terre-de-Haut in the tiny Les Saintes archipelago just south of Guadeloupe is a little slice of Francophone heaven in the midst of the Caribbean. But unlike St. Barts, another tiny French Caribbean isle, Terre-de-Haut isn’t so French that it doesn’t also feel as if it’s part of the region. Terre-de-Haut marries its Frenchness and its Caribbeanness in a hybrid that can only imperfectly be described as idyllic.
Terre-de-Haut, you see, gives new meaning to the word “lovely.”
Its one village is quaint, full of tourist shops, bakeries, markets, and restaurants. The buildings are mostly diminutive. There’s a distinctly rural French fishing village feel to the place, which no doubt has something to do with the island’s settlement history. Fishermen from Brittany and Normandy were among the island’s first settlers, and today fishing remains a big part of the local economy. In the late evening, fishermen gather on their porches to mend their nets.
Terre-de-Haut is not a shoestring destination, but it provides very good value. More developed Caribbean islands—we prefer not to name names—offer much less in terms of charm, physical beauty, and grub, yet charge much more for beds and meals. Terre-de-Haut, while not dirt cheap, is a wonderful mid-range option for travelers who want great cuisine and astounding physical beauty, yet balk at the Caribbean’s price index.
Here’s the rub: It’s not easy to get to Terre-de-Haut.
From North America, there are two main routes: air travel via St. Maarten or San Juan to Guadeloupe’s Pointe-à-Pitre, followed by a very pricey plane to Terre-de-Haut or a less expensive ferry ride (€22 roundtrip.) We recommend the latter, of course, and we recommend leaving for Terre-de-Haut from Trois-Rivières, not Pointe-à-Pitre, in order to shorten the journey and limit the risk of terrible sea turbulence.
(Trois-Rivières is also a far more charming spot for an overnight than Pointe-à-Pitre. We recommend a fab little gîte called An Tikaz La, where a rustic double room runs €49 per night. You’ll fall asleep under a mosquito net to the scent of ylang-ylang. Proprietor Mi-Marie, originally from the Jura, will make you feel right at home.)
What to Do
In crude shorthand: 1. Go to the beach. 2. Eat.
First, beach. The beaches on Terre-de-Haut are beautiful. There’s Pain de Sucre, a miniature version of Rio’s Sugar Loaf, a perfect arc of a beach best in the early morning and late afternoon when the day-trippers from Guadeloupe aren’t around and the water is stunningly clear.
The island’s most popular beach, Plage de Pompierre, is studded with coconut trees. It is typically full of people (and goats!) but is so expansive that neither really disturbs. It’s also blessed with a one-woman baguette machine, an entrepreneur at the beach’s entrance who assembles delicious sandwiches. If you’re lucky, she’ll have fish in vinaigrette on hand.
Which brings us to food. Terre-de-Haut is a place to eat well.
At Le Triangle, a reasonable beachfront restaurant, the three-course menu is €17. The fish is fresh and delightfully seasoned, and it comes with a dreamy plantain mash. If you’re polite, your meal will close with a digestif. Up the price chain at La Téranga, Auberge des Petits Saintes, or La Saladerie, one can eat extraordinary meals starting around €40 per person for dinner. The island’s cuisine is hybrid French/Creole, and there are lots of good fresh fish dishes on offer.
Where to Stay
We love Hôtel LôBleu, a stylish, mid-range charmer run well by Maxime Naffah and his friendly staff. Doubles with a view of the village begin at €68 in low season (late May through the end of July; October) and top out at €110 in high season (mid-December through late May).
We’ll repeat our earlier dictum: Terre-de-Haut is not a backpackers’ destination, but it is a good midrange Caribbean holiday destination. Hotels are reasonably priced, with most offering double rooms for €80 in high season and €60 in low season. There are also a handful of gîtes on hand with even cheaper nightly rates. Restaurants are not exactly full of bargains, but nothing is outrageous or dramatically overpriced.