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.


[Flickr image via Rayced]

St Barths hosts the rich, famous and hikers

St Barths, arguably one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, is host to the rich and famous from all over the world. But the same beauty that draws celebrities and billionaires makes for some diverse climbing, hiking, cycling and photo opportunities not found elsewhere.

“Beyonce, Lindsay Lohan, Derek Jeter and Mariah Carey love the tropical island” says ABCNews. TheStreet calls St Barts “a glitterati playground of billionaires and pop culture icons who descend between Christmas and New Years for an annual Caribbean migration of debauchery and excess.” Indeed, during our December visit, the port of Gustavia was packed with $multi-million yachts that had made their annual trek to St Barths for the holidays.

We toured the entire 8 square mile volcanic rock island by car in less than two hours. Driving up steep well-kept streets, through some heavy traffic in downtown Gustavia, we passed those yachts in port for the holidays and sidewalks packed with seasonal visitors.

On foot, walking the bustling French city, we saw a who’s who of designer label clothing and jewelry shops, sidewalk cafe’s and bakeries.

But traveling out of town, sparsely populated countryside boasted sweeping vistas with breathtaking, panoramic views. Cyclists stopped for photos and hikers paused to drink in the sweeping vistas only offered here.The countryside remains mostly untouched and probably very much like when Columbus discovered St Barths (AKA St Barts, Saint Barthelemy) in 1493. Walks, hikes and rock climbing opportunities are plentiful with difficulty levels to match just about anyone.

A walk around around Pointe Milou is mostly flat, taking a path from the main road to Colombier Beach and back adds more difficulty and a hike from Grand Fond over Morne Rouge to Saline Beach involves a lot of rock climbing. English-speaking guides are readily available since the island’s main industry is tourism. Reminiscent of Martinique visually, St Barths is very much a French island today even though it took a while for that to happen.


French colonists from nearby St Kitts first settled it in 1648. The island changed hands several times but was finally given legal status as a Department of France in 1946, much like Americans made Hawaii a state.

Today, St Barths enjoys year-round travelers coming for a luxurious experience not found elsewhere in the Caribbean. But there are also regular, normal people visiting too. (See St Barths on shoe leather and a thumb) We’re not billionaires, celebrities or famous in any way but felt safe and comfortable on this beautiful island by car and on foot.

Still, it’s hard not to stop for photos of Rudolph Nureyev’s house overlooking the ocean by day or a $50 million yacht lit up at night.

This is one of those “I could live here” places.

Photos: Whitney Owen

St Barths on shoe leather and a thumb

Before I left Eden Rock, on St. Barths, in search of the local tobacconist, I was told: “You can’t get lost.” Usually, when I hear that, I wind up making some wrong turn or other directional blunder.

The route from Eden Rock to Village Creole, where I planned to cut and light a cigar at La Casa del Habano, consisted of only one road. I just didn’t notice the sprawling shopping complex as I walked past it. The light drizzle soon became rain and then a downpour as I walked in frustration, searching for a place that was behind me.

At the next available business – a bar – I cobbled together enough French to learn I’d missed the shop. Sighing as I turned, the local took pity on me and called for my attention. Sopping and defeated, I turned around to experience advice so warm it actually took the sting out of the rain. He suggested that I hitchhike back to Village Creole. And, if nobody picked me up by the time he finished his beer, he’d scoop me off the streets and deliver me to La Casa del Habano.

Somewhat uplifted, I ventured back to the sidewalk, wary of the splash threat from passing cars and trucks – I’d already fallen victim several times. It may seem like a dicey proposition, but I was told that hitchhiking is both common and safe on St. Barths. I was still nagged by the concerns of a lifetime of “Don’t talk to strangers” lectures, but I found a way to extend my thumb and arm. The first car passed, but the second picked me up. It took about two minutes to get a ride.

I never got his name, but there was hardly time. I couldn’t have been in the shotgun seat for five minutes before we reached my destination, which wasn’t as far away as I’d thought.

Kindly, the driver – who had the rugged skin, hands and muscles of a laborer but the long, curly blond hair and relaxed demeanor of Hollywood’s interpretation of a surfer – pulled into the parking space closest to the cigar shop. He asked for nothing in return for his time and trouble. Matter-of-factly, he said goodbye, and we went our separate ways.

It can be a tough leap for Americans raised to believe that hitchhiking is akin to inviting a homicide. If you want to try it once in as risk-free an environment as you’ll find, do it on St. Barths – it really is the easiest way to get around.

Disclosure: Eden Rock picked up the tab for this trip, and it would have been impossible to cover this destination otherwise, given the cost. Nonetheless, my opinions are my own – they’re certainly not for sale at any price.

Play like the rich and famous in St. Barths

The action may not be as hot in the off season, but you can still hit the spots you’re used to seeing festooned with the mightiest of celebs. Get down to the Hotel Christopher on St. Barths this summer, and you can lock in a rate of only $388 a day … as long as you stay for a minimum of three nights through August 7, 2010. The “Sizzling Summer Savings” package includes breakfast every day and either lunch or dinner in either of the hotel’s two restaurants – Taino and Mango. A free rental car only sweetens the deal, of course.

Here’s your chance to unleash your inner luxury fanatic in the most exclusive of destinations. Give yourself the getaway you’ve always craved.

Renovation brings more hotel options to St. Barths

Do you need a reason to St. Barths? Well, if the destination itself isn’t enough of a reason, check out the latest renovations at the Hotel Christopher. It’s tucked away on Pointe MIlou and new offers two refurbished restaurants (Taino and Mango) and a refreshed lobby and concept store, Linde Gallery. Eleven rooms have been redecorated, and the pool has been transformed completely (it’s also the largest on the island).

The next phase of the renovation comes in May, with three new suites. They will be 880 sqft each – bedroom, living room and large terrace. Also, 10 junior suites and six poolside superior rooms are on the way (to complement the 41 rooms and suites the hotel already has).

“We are extremely excited about the renovations at Hotel Christopher,” says General Manager, Christian Langlade. “Always looking for ways to enhance the overall experience, we wanted to make sure our guests experience Hotel Christopher as a luxurious home in a soothing and unique setting. With each room offering superb sea views, the exceptional dining options at Mango and Taino and the modern Caribbean decor, we feel we’ve set the bar for casual luxury on St. Barths.”