La Desirade

As you approach La Désirade, it is etched starkly on the horizon: a 700-foot high slab of rock rising from the ocean, five miles long by one and half wide. Much of that width is the mountain top plateau. The northern side is steep and inhospitable; the southern side has the only easily habitable land and is protected for much of the way by a fringing reef. Seen by Columbus’s crew after a painful two-month crossing on his second voyage, it seemed like heaven on earth; they gave it the name Désirade.

This quiet and beautiful island is off the beaten track. The 1,700 local people, many whom fish for a living, are exceptionally friendly. You can rent cars, scooters, or bikes and explore all the roads, including one that goes right along the mountain ridge. Up there, walks down little side trails will bring you to spectacular views. Swimming and beach time are excellent on several places behind the barrier reef. There are also good hikes, get a map from the tourist office on the ferry quay.

The island provides all the electricity it needs from about 50 windmills perched on the mountaintop. They sell surplus to Guadeloupe. These windmills are first generation, smaller than the newer ones on Guadeloupe and Marie Galante.

A cactus garden is under construction near the big college.

Ie Marché is a little supermarket just behind the harbor. Marie Elizabeth, the owner, speaks excellent English, as well as Spanish and German. An impressively large Carrefour Express is in town, and an equally impressive Vival is about half a mile east on the coast road. Supermarkets may close for lunch but are otherwise usually open till at least 1900 weekdays and till noon on Sundays. The post office has an ATM, you will find a pharmacy and several more stores.

Saintes Food, the building with white gingerbread with magenta, cyan and green colors opens 0400-1000 for coffee, croissants, and pain au chocolat. The three main beaches have restaurants that are popular with tourists. For the best food, visit Lagranlag (closed all day Monday and on Thursday evening, otherwise open 1200-1500 for lunch and 1900-2130 for dinner). It is on the main road, just east of the fuel dock. Mme. Zamia Chantel will make sure you get a good meal. Her gratin vegetables and court bouillon are both delicious, as is her blaff if you don’t mind some heat.