I can’t say that I had heard of Les Saintes before I started my trip research on the French islands of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. Hell, I knew almost nothing about Guadeloupe at all, let alone that there was a secluded archipelago of mini volcanic islands, south of the main islands of Grand Terre and Basse Terre.
But as soon as Les Saintes were on my radar, I knew I wanted to go there. After all, offbeat islands are my favorite kind.
Les Saintes, also known as Îles des Saintes, is made up of nine unspoilt islands in total, two of which are inhabited – Terre de Haut and Terre de Bas. It is a dependency of Guadeloupe which in turn is an Overseas Territory of France. The euro is the official currency and French is the official language. Even the street signs are French – they are made by the same place as the street signs in France!
Les Saintes Bay on Terre de Haut is considered to be one of the most beautiful bays in the world and is best experienced from above – the views over the bay from Fort Napoleon are spectacular.
This small island group is mostly visited by tourists on day-trips from the larger islands of Guadeloupe, but I wanted to stay longer and see what life was like on Les Saintes once the day-trippers had left.
Luckily, despite the four nights we had allocated to Les Saintes being over New Years, we managed to find an affordable studio apartment only five minutes walk from the town of Le Bourg on the the most populous island of Les Saintes – Terre de Haut.
Arriving on Les Saintes
After a mission from Deshaies on Basse Terre involving a hitched ride, two buses, a local walking us down to the port, and a short ferry ride, we finally set foot on Terre Haut, and were instantly charmed.
Le Bourg is distinctly French and very quaint, with small stone buildings housing creperies and bistros lining the pedestrian friendly main street. Gorgeous pale blue water wrapped part of the way around the pretty town, fringed by a white sand beach. Palm trees swayed in the island breeze and small densely vegetated hills backed the town. It somehow managed to be both very French and very Caribbean at the same time, and I loved the mix.
It is this mixture of French charm and tropical Caribbean surrounds that made Les Saintes, and Guadeloupe as a whole, so special.
Les Saintes also had the very relaxed ‘island time’ vibe that can be equal parts relaxing and frustrating.
Our host, who didn’t speak a word of English and who I used google translate to communicate with on email, told us that when we arrived to just ask around for him and someone would tell us where to find him.
Hmmm, an address would be a lot easier but he was adamant.
Of course, once we got there, we couldn’t find anyone that spoke any English, pretty much our biggest issue the whole time we were in Guadeloupe, and my High School French was not doing the job to convey my message. Luckily, our host happened to ride past on his scooter and the guy we were trying to talk to flagged him down.
So we got there in the end, and he even upgraded us to a one bedroom apartment, in a lush garden on a hill above town.
During our four nights in Les Saintes we had grand plans to hire a scooter and explore every inch of the three square mile Terre de Haut, and to hop over to the neighboring island of Terre de Bas. In the end we didn’t do either of these things – the scooters were too expensive and due to a New Years Day hangover and rain, we ended up missing out on Terre de Bas- but we did still explore, spending a lot of time wandering the sweet little town centre of Le Bourg, visiting Fort Napoleon and a few of the island’s beautiful beaches.
The Beaches of Terre de Haut
Probably the most famous beach on Terre de Haut, well the one that all the day-trippers make a beeline for, is Anse du Pain du Sucre – or Sugar Loaf beach. It is named for the peninsula with a small hill on the north-east coast of the island – the secluded beach is at the base of it.
The twenty-minute walk to the beach across Terre de Haut was a beautiful excursion in itself. Walking the hilly island along quiet country roads, past verdant green fields and tall palm trees was incredibly peaceful and too perfect for words. And the views down to town, the harbor and the brilliant blue expanse of ocean was outstanding.
Entering Anse du Pain du Sucre from the steep path down from the road, we were very happy with what we saw – a perfect little bay with a curve of thin white sand and inviting turquoise water that was as clear as glass. Thick greenery surrounded the small beach and if it wasn’t for all the other people, you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled upon a secret spot.
The best time to visit Anse du Pain du Sucre was in the afternoon when the day-trippers were packing up to head back to their tour boats. The strip of beach is thin and can only accommodate a certain amount of people – luckily we managed to find a spot. Toby hung his hammock at the end of the beach above the water and I lay in the turquoise shallows – bliss.
If you are feeling more adventurous than I was, you can also snorkel at Anse du Pain du Sucre – it is one of the best places on Terre de Haut to do so.
Another gorgeous little beach we visited was just north of town that was recommended by our Host’s niece – Anse du Bourg. We arrived just before sunset and the emerald water was very calm and clear. As I lay in the still waters and watched the sun set over the ocean, I felt all my worries melt away.
Grande Anse is one of the largest beaches on Terre de Haut and is located by the small Les Saintes airport. This is not a place for swimming – the dark water is wild and rough – but it is a nice beach to wander along, or to sit and watch the surf pounding the coast. The walk there from town is a pleasure too, past colorful houses and flower filled gardens.
And of course there is the main beach right in Le Bourg which can not be forgotten, as even though it is right by the harbor, the water is still unbelievably glass like. It is the perfect place to swim, between the small wooden fishing boats tied along the sand.
We didn’t make it to Plage de Pompierre which is also meant to be a beautiful beach and one of the most popular on the island.
Exploring Le Bourg
It wouldn’t be a trip to Les Saintes without at least spending an hour or so wandering around Le Bourg, the only real town on the islands.
We spent a lot more than an hour there – heading into the cute town multiple times a day to grab lunch, go to the supermarket, and to just generally sightsee and check out the shops.
It really is just an adorably cute little town, like an idealised version of a French country village from fifty years ago.
A walkable main street is framed by red-roofed buildings with colorful signs hung outside. Intimate bistros with chalk board signs advertising the specials of the day, written in looping cursive French. Bright sarongs and sundresses hung on racks out the front of small boutiques. A beautiful stone church marked the entrance to the main part of town. Older local men hung out in groups in the peaceful main square, shooting the breeze, their laughter carried on the wind.
Creperies, ice cream parlours, boulangeries – the epitome of a french seaside town, but with palm trees and tropical flowers.
Just behind town was a small hill with a cross perched on top. We did the short but steep walk up there and admired the beautiful views over the bay and town centre.
I enjoyed trying the different bistros and sitting at the wharf and just people watching. It was all so idyllic.
Visiting Fort Napoleon
Fort Napoleon sits on a hilltop overlooking town, offering stunning views of Terre de Haut and the surrounding islands, as well as housing a small but interesting museum.
The original fort was destroyed by British forces in 1809 and was replaced by the current Fort Napoleon, which never saw battle. It was used as a penitentiary and is said to be haunted by a French girl, who, after her British lover failed to return to her, threw herself off a cliff. The museum tells more of their story, along with the history of Les Saintes and the fort.
We hiked up there on our last morning and it was a hot and sticky walk following the winding road to the top, but as soon as we began the ascent we were rewarded by fantastic views that kept getting better the higher we rose.
A very conveniently placed juice cart serving all kinds of tropical concoctions was a great break point to catch our breaths before the last short section.
Fort Napoleon was worth the visit for the views alone, and we walked the fort ramparts to take it all in. From the lofty viewpoint we could see the bobbing sailboats in the picturesque curve of Saintes Bay, Le Bourg in all its red-roofed glory, the surrounding islands of Les Saintes rising out of the surrounding sea, and so much green. It was spectacular.
New Years Eve in Les Saintes
As one of the nights we were on Les Saintes was New Years Eve, we sacrificed a day that we could have explored more for a fun night out – not something I like to do these days but something I did all the time in my early 20s. And even though I hate hangovers – and the next day’s was a pretty bad one – I would still say it was worth the sacrifice.
Le Bourg was a really fun place to celebrate New Years.
Even though we couldn’t really communicate with anyone as our French is only basic and barely anyone spoke English, we still managed to have a fun night with just the two of us.
Our night began with pizza in town, followed by drinks at a beach side bar that had been specially set up for the night, then some salsa dancing in a packed bar. From there it all gets a bit blurry but I do remember the countdown on the beach and looking up to see the fireworks light up the night sky, welcoming in a new year.
It was a simple but memorable (for the most part) New Years in a pretty special place.
My Takeaway from Les Saintes
Not everything about our time on Les Saintes was perfect. The wi-fi on the island was more than terrible and I was stressed a lot trying to do work. It was also quite isolating not being able to speak much French, and just trying to communicate simple things was frustrating.
But I am so glad that we went to Les Saintes. It was one of the big highlights of our six weeks in the Caribbean.
Les Saintes have been compared to what St Barts was like years and years ago, an old Caribbean before big name resorts and Americanisation. And it certainly did feel like stepping back to a simpler time.
And despite the language barrier, I loved how French it was. I loved being able to eat all my favorite French foods – especially after the heavy and deep-fried cuisine of Barbados and Dominica – and I loved hearing the language of love all around me.
I hope Les Saintes continues to stay off the radar for years to come. Because that is why it is special.
If you really want an incredible Caribbean experience away from the big resorts – you should definitely consider Les Saintes. You won’t regret it.
Have I convinced you to visit Les Saintes? Does Les Saintes sound like paradise to you?
How to Visit Les Saintes
Getting to Les Saintes
The cheapest and easiest way to get to Les Saintes is via ferry to Terre de Haut from either Trois-Rivières on Basse Terre, which takes 15 minutes, or from Pointe-à-Pitre on Grand Terre, which takes and hour and a half.
If you are traveling from Trois-Rivières, there are a couple of ferry operators that run a regular service and you can just book on arrival at the ferry port. CTM Deher is a main one and you can see their schedule here.
It is best to book your ferry in advance if traveling from Pointe-à-Pitre as they are not as regular, you can do this through Val’ferry. There are also direct ferries from Pointe-à-Pitre to Terre de Bas.
Where to Stay on Les Saintes
There aren’t many places to stay on Les Saintes and for affordable options, I highly recommend checking out Airbnb for a room in a local’s house or an apartment rental – if you haven’t signed up yet, join through my link for $35 off your first stay. VRBO is also a great site to rent an apartment. We paid $35 per night for our own apartment over New Years in 2016/2017.