Overseas France: Or Where You Can Find France Outside Of France

The days of colonial empires may be long over, though the United States, United Kingdom, France, Netherlands and Denmark continue each to administer a smattering of overseas territories.

Among these, France has arguably the most interesting and wide-ranging set of territories. Overseas France includes tiny St. Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland (population around 6,000), the Caribbean overseas departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique, the smaller Caribbean “overseas collectivities” of St. Martin and St. Barts, the South American overseas department of French Guiana, the Indian Ocean overseas departments of Réunion and Mayotte, and French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Wallis & Futuna in the South Pacific.

Officially, overseas France is divided into “overseas departments” (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Réunion), “overseas collectivities” (French Polynesia, St. Barts, St. Martin, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna), and New Caledonia, which has a special status unto itself.

There are also two uninhabited French territories – a vast, noncontiguous territory with the grand name of Territory of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, inhabited only by researchers, and, most curious of all, the uninhabited island of Clipperton, which sits off Mexico and is administered directly by the Minister of Overseas France.

Tourism is a huge economic driver in many of these territories. St. Martin, St. Barts, and French Polynesia are particularly well known to Americans. Francophone tourists are also familiar with the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, New Caledonia, and Réunion.

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[Flickr image via Rayced]

Ten budget-friendly Caribbean destinations

Ten budget-friendly Caribbean destinations
If you get all your information about the Caribbean from travel magazines, you might find yourself convinced that a night’s stay in the region will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $500. The Caribbean’s super posh reputation has its roots in the region’s tourism history; until relatively recently, tourism in the Caribbean was largely restricted to the very rich. And as one might expect in a region that has historically catered to the rich, there are lots of impossibly exclusive luxury properties in the Caribbean today.

But these resorts do not and should not define tourism in the region. There are many spots across the Caribbean where costs are low and the quality of experiences on offer is high. Here are ten destinations where low hotel rates, exciting activities, and compelling local culture make for real budget-friendly value.

If you find this post interesting, be sure to check out Gadling’s archive of budget-friendly travel stories.

1. Carriacou, Grenada. North of the main island of Grenada is the laid-back island of Carriacou. There are some great beaches on the island (see above for evidence.) A fantastically budget-friendly place to stay is the lovely Green Roof Inn (from $40 for one; from $70 for two) north of Hillsborough, the island’s main settlement.

2. Havana, Cuba. Day-to-day expenses in the Cuban capital can be quite cheap. Casas particulares (owner-occupied bed-and-breakfast establishments) can be found for about $30 for two, and meals can be cobbled together for very little. Cultural events are astoundingly cheap, and reasonable taxi rates can be negotiated. For a listing of good casas particulares, check out CubaParticular and Casa Particular.

3. Big Corn Island, Nicaragua. It is often forgotten that the Caribbean Sea extends to Central America. Big Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua presents a fascinating mélange of English-speaking Creoles and Spanish- and Miskito-speaking transplants from the mainland. Though undeniably hardscrabble, Big Corn Island has some beautiful territory and some unbelievably cheap hotels. Try Princesa de la Isla (from $60, with excellent Italian meals on offer) and Martha’s Bed and Breakfast (from $50). These are, by the way, among the most expensive places to stay on the island.

4. Saba. Referred to by locals as the “Unspoiled Queen,” Saba is one of the most beautiful and least well-known corners of the Caribbean. A mountain jutting out of the sea, it has no beaches and few obvious tourist draws beyond diving. Visitors discover cute villages full of houses with gingerbread trim, lush hiking trails, and outstanding views. Check out the Ecolodge Rendez-Vous (from $75) and El Momo (from $50 for one; $65 for two).

5. Anegada, British Virgin Islands. It takes a concerted effort to get here, but once on this furthest-flung of the BVIs, accommodations can be quite reasonable. The limestone island boasts some of the loveliest beaches in the entire region, yet has seen surprisingly little tourist development. Neptune’s Treasure offers double rooms starting at $110 in high season.6. Montserrat. Hit in 1995 by a major volcanic eruption, Montserrat saw most of its inhabitants decamping to the UK and elsewhere. Though many Montserratians have returned since then, the island’s tourism numbers have not. This fact translates into all sorts of great deals for visitors, who can busy themselves on the verdant island with beachcombing, hiking, rum shop tours, and visits to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Lodging at relaxed Gingerbread Hill begins at $45 for two.

7. Dominica. This very green island is no typical beach destination. It sees few typical Caribbean tourists, drawing instead eco-minded sorts who come to bask in its physical beauty. Highlights include hiking activities, national parks, striking waterfalls, hot springs, and all sorts of fascinating geological oddities, including the island’s awe-inspiring Boiling Lake. Stay at the remarkable Papillote Wilderness Retreat (from $100) or go fully rustic at the impressively eco-minded 3 Rivers (from $70; camping plots from $15).

8. Bonaire. Divers flock to this bone-dry Dutch island at the southern end of the Caribbean. There are other draws, too: snorkeling, historical tourism, and beachbumming on offshore Klein Bonaire. The island’s budget-friendly secret? Its stock of inexpensive bungalows and inns. Among other picks, check out Lagoen Hill (from $72), Lizard Inn (from $70), and Ocean View Villas (from $100).

9. Guadeloupe. On the surface, this overseas department of France doesn’t appear to be a good place to locate bargains. It’s expensive to access from North America and it uses the euro. But below the surface is Guadeloupe’s collection of very cheap gîtes–essentially b&bs, though often with a mandatory week-long stay required. Another plus is Guadeloupe’s appealing diversity of landscapes, from the mountains of Terre-Basse to the sleepy rum-producing island of Marie-Galante and the terribly cute isle of Terre-de-Haut. Find more than 200 gîtes on Guadeloupe listed by Gîtes de France.

10. Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago. This southern Caribbean island has seen considerable tourist development at its southwestern end. Journey to the island’s opposite extremity and find jungle-encircled beaches that never get packed, and cute fishing towns like Charlotteville where inns and house rentals are inexpensive. Cottages at beachside Man-O-War Bay Cottages begin at $60 for two.

Three extraordinary Caribbean hotels for under $150

Yes, the Caribbean is awfully hot right now. And yes, faithful watchers of weather, hurricane season is indeed upon us. But for the next several months, visitors to the Caribbean will benefit from low-season rates that make the region a great value for cost-conscious travelers. With very few exceptions, low season in the Caribbean lasts until mid-November at the earliest and mid-December at the latest.

Here are three very special Caribbean hotels that are set apart from the pack. All offer double rooms in low-season for $150 per night or less. Uncommon care is taken by the proprietors of these three hotels to create remarkable, unique, and locally-grounded environments. All are hugely successful at their mission.

1. Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, Port Antonio, Jamaica.

Tucked into the hills above Port Antonio, Hotel Mocking Bird Hill feels like a hidden treasure. It’s surrounded by fabulous greenery and operates along comprehensively eco-friendly principles, with local staff, reliance on solar energy and rainwater harvesting, anaerobic wastewater treatment, and the absence of in-room air-conditioning. (On the last count, don’t worry. At this altitude air-conditioning is not essential.) There’s a swimming pool here for guests who don’t want to schlep down to the coast’s beaches. The hotel’s restaurant, Mille Fleurs, which sources much of its bounty locally, is unequivocally fantastic. Doubles begin at $138 per night in the off-season. Mocking Bird Hill may close for a week or two in September.

2. Papillote Wilderness Retreat, Roseau, Dominica.

On Dominica, quite possibly the greenest and least exploited island in the Caribbean, another exquisite eco-resort can be found: Papillote Wilderness Retreat, a true labor of love. The resort stretches over a hillside that doubles as a well-maintained botanical garden. The grounds boast mineral springs (one hot and one cold) for soaking. Rooms are simple but cheerful, and make the most of Papillote’s natural setting. The hotel’s restaurant is top-notch and stocked more often than not with local produce. Hotel staff teem with knowledge about the island’s history and ecology. They can assist in organizing hikes and other tours of the island led by able local guides. Doubles begin at $115 per night. Note that Papillote will be closed in September and the first three weeks of October.

3. Auberge Les Petits Saints, Terre-de-Haut, Guadeloupe.

This beautifully furnished hotel, with an aesthetic somewhere between ornate country estate and neon-pastel riot, offers lovely views over the island of Terre-de-Haut (see above) in Guadeloupe’s Les Saintes archipelago. There really is a feel of antique abandon here, which is delightful through and through. There is a pool on the property, as well. This is France, albeit overseas France, and the in-house restaurant is of course very good, with a mouthwatering Basque tasting plate and fanciful cocktails as standouts. The cozy restaurant terrace twinkles with lights and conversations at night and is without question a really special place to spend an evening. Doubles begin at €110 (currently $141) per night during low season.

(Image: Alex Robertson Textor)

Five idyllic Caribbean backwaters

Beyond the Caribbean’s all-inclusive resorts, casinos, overpriced restaurants, and huge crowds are a handful of islands that have escaped mass development. These quiet islands, with their tiny populations and scattered tourist facilities, are not headed for mass-tourism overdevelopment anytime soon, and for a range of reasons-in some cases, the absence of an adequate expanse for a large runway; in others, proximity to more developed islands, or local governmental resistance, or even a decently profitable traditional economy that generates more money than tourism. For whatever reason, these backwaters should remain charming and relatively quiet for some time to come. Let your castaway fantasy flag fly.

1. Anegada, British Virgin Islands.

Geographically and geologically apart from the rest of the Virgin Islands, Anegada is a limestone-based island with enormous stretches of perfect white-sand beaches. It’s hard to top Anegada’s Loblolly Bay or Cow Wreck beaches for their achievement of ideal beach status. There may be things to do on the island above and beyond lazing on the beach in a rum haze, but you’ll surely never need to discover them. Think Anguilla without the crowds (let alone the celebrities) and you’ve got a good sense of the island. Anegada can be reached by ferry from Tortola or charter plane.

2. Barbuda, Antigua & Barbuda.

Barbuda boasts some of the Caribbean’s best and least-trafficked beaches, a noteworthy frigate bird preserve, a fascinating cave complex, and Lighthouse Bay, one of the Caribbean’s most thrillingly perfect resorts. That the island hasn’t been developed to pieces seems a miracle when one contemplates how many Caribbean islands with less remarkable beaches manage to be vastly more developed. Barbuda can be reached by air and ferry from Antigua-or, if you’re lucky enough to be a guest of Lighthouse Bay, by helicopter.
3. Little Cayman, Cayman Islands.

A far cry from Grand Cayman and its densely-packed Seven Mile Beach district, Little Cayman boasts utter and complete quiet. With fewer than 200 residents, it is a backwater by any standard. Most visitors come to dive or check out the island’s interior nature preserve. The island’s beaches are not the region’s best, although locals will help direct visitors to good swimming and sunning spots. Little Cayman can be reached by air from Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.

4. Marie-Galante, Guadeloupe.

Mass tourism has never taken off on rum-producing Marie-Galante, a quick flight (or turbulent catamaran ride) from Pointe-à-Pitre. There are a handful of hotels on the island, though it is Marie-Galante’s friendly gîtes, operated by local residents, that really stand out. Activities include countryside exploration, rum distillery visits, and of course the island’s truly extraordinary beaches (see above.) The only downside of this relaxed rural idyll is the formidable mosquito population. Be prepared.

5. Mayreau, St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

Tiny Mayreau is situated halfway down the Grenadines archipelago. The island boasts an extraordinary stretch of beach and a hilltop stone church with phenomenal views. Accommodations are restricted to one upscale resort and a cluster of simple locally-run guest houses. There is no airstrip on Mayreau. The island can be reached by ferry, water taxi, or private boat.

(Image: Flickr/origine1)

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