Saintes Hikes

Hiking in the Saintes whether on roads or trails is good. There are very few cars (though quite a number of scooters), and in general drivers give pedestrians priority, sometimes being exceptionally patient. They have also put in quite a few helpful signposts, both on roads and trails.

Le Chameau

Le Chameau is the signature hike, taking you just over one thousand feet high, to the tallest peak on the island where stands a fortified watch tower from Napoleonic days. . Going up is along a small road and while any motorized vehicle or assisted propulsion is banned, you may cycle up on a pedal bike. This is quite a challenge; I tried and failed. You can return the same way (and will have to if you cycle) but you can also continue down the other side. From the tower a rocky trail continues down to Plage de Crawen. It takes about 45 minutes to hike from the Chameau turn off to the top, and it is about 20 extra minutes to hike from the dock to the beginning of the road. Fast hikers say it is 45 minutes from town to the top. Coming from the dock you turn right (south) and follow the coast road round to the commercial dock and La Case aux Epice. Here the road you are on is going to finish at Tete Rouge so you turn left and then shortly right following the signs to Pain a Sucre, Anse a Cointre, or Bois Joli. Soon you start climbing and when you reach close to the road’s highest point you will see a sharp left turn signposted to “Le Chameau”. The road is barred fairly thoroughly, which is to stop motorized vehicles, but there is just room to walk round the barrier; it is not there to bar pedestrians. You wind up the hill – enjoy any views you get down over Pain de Sucre, as these will not be repeated at the top. You will pass a big water tower, where you can wander over to the hill’s edge for more views. the old garbage dump is about half way up from the last turn off. It has been beautifully cleaned up and no longer assails you with toxic smoke. The road ends shortly below the tower, and a path takes you up the last few hundred feet. The town has cleared sufficient vegetation to offer an excellent view from Ilet a Cabrit right round to Boug Des Saintes and the airport. The view from the top of the tower was, by comparison, breathtaking – a 360 degree view taking in everything in the Saintes. It was like being in a plane but without have the wing get in the way. Access used to be by an old iron ladder, which was presumably original. Nothing lasts forever and one side broke. You could still get up if you were very careful. But before someone killed themselves, the mayor’s office cut off the top of the ladder from the break so you can no longer get up. I am told they have an eventual plan to restore this, I hope it is true, because standing up there was truly amazing. The trail back down the other side of the mountain starts at the tower and is obvious. I have only been a short way down.

Morne Morel, Fort Caroline

The main area of laid out trails starts from Marigot and goes into Morne Morel. The hikes here are on rocky and stony paths which are quite well blazed with paint. The distances are not great; an hour would be a leisurely hike to Fort Caroline and back. If you have a couple of hours you should be able to cover everything. The nicest place to start is at the head of the Baie de Marigot by La Paillote Restaurant. You can take a drink here before you set off and eat when you return. The path starts just beside the restaurant and climbs up over the rocks with some great views. You will come to a junction where they seem to be building a road and presumably a car park for the hikes. I personally find this a shame, it was prettier before. This is a choice point – upwards into the hills or downward to the fuel dock and boatyards. It is only 10 minutes down into the boatyards and I highly recommend this extra hike as it follows the coast at some elevation and has lovely views. It is not as well blazed as the other trials but so many people have walked along here it is hard to lose your way. As you go along you cannot help notice the dramatic cliffs towering above you on the land side. You will soon come to the ruined haulout, with a fascinating collection of abandoned boats and bits. This was all part of an artisanal development that failed on first attempt, and the ruins in the bush have a distinct feel of “into the heart of darkness” Further along you come to Eurl Carburant Santoise, the little fuel dock, which also sells fishing gear. You cannot help but love an island which sites the only gas station on a peninsular where the only land access is a tiny footpath. The dock is small but good, so anyone that needs gas has to come by boat. This is definitely encouraging the switch from gas to electric vehicles on the island. Behind the gas station are two active boatyards.

You have to return the same way as far as the road and car park site, then take the road up the hill. Remember those towering cliffs? Well this is where you are headed. The trail leads steeply up. You come to an open rocky area where you get some great views back over the island. Continue along the trail until you come to a fenced field. There is a short side trail here to The Viewpoint, the path follows the fence to the left (north). At the end you stand on the very edge of those dramatic cliffs and look right down on the fuel dock. Return the same way and now follow the trail along the the south side of the fence up hill, The path splits at the top of the fence, one way goes Fort Caroline and Baie de Pompierre, the other to Point Zozio.

Take the Point Zozio trail whichever way you plan to hike, it is a prettier route and not much longer. It takes you to a little pond which attracts birds. Take the left turn round the pond follow it round till you arrive at the eastern hilltops looking out to sea. At this point you come to a T junction. Here you can turn left and head down to Point Zozio, or you can turn right and back up to Fort Caroline. Distances are not huge, so you can happily follow the trail to Point Zozio and then return. The right turn takes you up the hill and very shortly to Fort Caroline. It is a good way to approach as you see the buildings from a distance and it gives an idea of how big an area it covered. All that is left of Fort Caroline is some old ruins and further down some ramparts, from where you get a straight down views over Baie de Pompierre.

As you come back out of the Fort Caroline you can turn left and continue down to a road that leads into Baie de Pompierre. Or you can head back to Marigot. If you follow the route to Marigot it will be a little quicker this time and bring you down by fence.

Ilet Cabrit

A lot of clearing has been done at Ilet a Cabrit. The trail, which is mainly a single strand of concrete, starts right behind the beach. It goes up the hill and then zigs round to the right to go up to the top. At this point there is a side trail to the left which takes you among numerous old ruins and buildings. You can check these out now or on your way down. If you take the zig and continue up the trail you come to the top of the hill. Just before you bear right up towards Fort Josephine, a road leads left downhill to some old hotel ruins, you can explore these also. Fort Josephine is a simple but quite sizeable fort with a big water cistern inside and not much else. If you walk eastwards you come to the sheer drop, some more parts of the fort, and an excellent view back over Bourg des Saintes. The distance here are really short you can get up to the fort do some exploring and get back in about half an hour.