If you have time for only one French island, should it be Martinique or Guadeloupe? The question's a tough one. Martinique is more sophisticated, with more culture, but Guadeloupe has more diversity and calmer leeward bathing beaches. Its Creole cookery is every bit as good as that of the more celebrated Martinique. Columbus discovered Guadeloupe in 1493, 9 years before he found Martinique.
In Guadeloupe, two islands are linked by a drawbridge over the Rivière Salée, a river that weds the calmer Caribbean with the more turbulent Atlantic. Not only that, but you can also visit Guadeloupe's dependencies, the nearby islands of Marie Galante, Iles des Saintes, and La Désirade. The cluster is now being packaged as Les Isles de Guadeloupe.
The island is riddled with sandy beaches and a mountainous, lush interior terrain full of gorgeous scenery. The resorts are not as spectacular or plush as those on two other French islands, St. Martin and St. Barts, but there are some large first-class beachfront properties nonetheless. You can have an even better France-in-the-Tropics experience at small inns where locally prepared food and tranquility prevail.
Lying 320km (198 miles) north of Martinique, Guadeloupe is part of the Lesser Antilles, dividing its land mass between Grande-Terre, the eastern island, full of rolling hills and sugar plantations; and Basse-Terre to the west, a rugged mountainous island dominated by the 1,444m (4,736-ft.) volcano, La Soufrière, which is still alive and dotted with banana plantations. Guadeloupe's mountains are covered with tropical forests, impenetrable in many places.
The French government is helping Guadeloupe to become more economically self-sufficient, although there is no major push among islanders to break away from the mother country. The island exports much of what it produces to France, including sugar, bananas, rum, and pineapple, but the income from these exports falls short of the money spent on imports. Therefore, Guadeloupe remains dependent on France for its survival. Help from France arrives in the form of aid, including health care and education, and Guadeloupéans depend on low-priced imports, including machinery, to keep its economy rolling.