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]

Seychelles two ways: Desroches and Calou

To start, I should say that there’s no comparison between Desroches and Calou. They’re two different beasts altogether, luxury apples and budget-friendly oranges, respectively. Yet taken together they present two distinctive experiences of the country: Seychelles two ways.

Desroches is one of Seychelles‘ top resorts, a private island resort that underwent a major design upgrade following its leasing in 2008 to South African investors. At €1200 ($1590) per couple per night – not including the €400 ($530) or so it costs per person to fly the 250 kilometers to the island from Mahé, the country’s main island – it’s very pricey. That €1200 gets guests an oceanfront suite (see above) the size of a nice country cottage. For villas or even splashier “retreats,” the nightly outlay is much higher.

Desroches offers an international crew who are always smiling and open to making conversation. It’s impossible not to feel pampered at Desroches, a resort that manages to make its guests feel looked after but also left to their own devices. That’s a balance that many luxury resorts get wrong.

Suites are wonderfully outfitted in light tones, a nice mishmash of earthy and modern. Lounge spaces are capacious, with few walls. There’s a spa, appropriately hushed and meditation inducing, clinging to the beach as well. The resort blends beautifully into the island’s tropical greenery. Also noteworthy is the island’s very good conservation office, funded by a resort foundation, whose director allows guests to join him on morning wildlife inventory walks around the island.

Calou, located in a garden in the middle of La Digue, is a much less lavish proposition. Staff are few, somewhat overworked though genuinely friendly. Cottages run €124 ($164) per night including breakfast and dinner for two. Cottage with breakfast is only €100 ($132) with dinner for an additional €15 ($20) per person. The evening meal is enjoyed around large communal tables. Calou’s cottages are simple with barely adorned white walls, a fan as well as air conditioning, and a corner refrigerator.

Desroches is the fantasy, the space apart from workaday life; Calou, though not hostel-cheap, is within reach of many. Desroches is inarguably more comfortable; its padded gorgeousness removed just a hair from the unreal. It is a dream space. Calou, pleasant and welcoming, is one hotel among many.

Yet the meals at Calou (just above) are better than those on offer at Desroches. This isn’t the fault of the kitchen at Desroches, which produces some very good dishes, particularly Southeast Asian fare. But Desroches strives to replicate a kind of international fare that requires various items – salmon and apples, for example – to be flown unfathomable distances. Salmon is not the freshest proposition on an equatorial island in the Indian Ocean.

Calou’s kitchen relies on fresh local bounty. The fish is consistently very good and local salads and vegetables are delicious and well prepared. One night during my visit, there was an outstanding starfruit salad. Another dinner highlight was a very sharp chili sauce. Desserts were exceptional: puddings, custards, carmelized coconut crumbled over ice cream. Breakfast is simple and delicious as well with homemade jams and fresh fruit.

Both hotels have a lot going for them – vastly different things, it must be repeated. The attractiveness of each hinges on budget, traveler personality type, and vacation philosophy.

How to row across the ocean

Over the weekend, the New York Times memorialized adventurer John Fairfax in the most awe-inspiring obituary ever written. In it, we learned that Mr. Fairfax had run away to the Amazon jungle at 13, then later worked as a pirate’s apprentice out of Panama. But the main narrative of Mr. Fairfax’s life was that he had rowed across not one, but two oceans: the Atlantic in 1969 and the Pacific in 1972. In fact, he was “the first lone oarsman in recorded history to traverse any ocean.”

While ocean rowing sounds like a near impossible feat, there are still dozens of adventurers in pursuit of this challenge. Earlier this month, Gadling profiled the Pacific Rowing Race, which is set to take place in 2014 following a course from Monterey Bay, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. No doubt, the Ocean Rowing Society, the organization charged with the adjudication of all ocean rowing records and on whose steering committee John Fairfax was a member, will be on hand as rowers set out on their quest.

The Ocean Rowing Society devised a set of guidelines for ocean rowers in a meeting in 2000. The guidelines cover acceptable crossings for the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, definitions of assisted and unassisted rows, and minimum compulsory safety measures and equipment for undertaking an ocean row:

  • It is noted that Christopher Columbus’ route from Spain to the Bahamas is the traditional Atlantic crossing route (“Departures from Cape Verde will be recognized as an Atlantic Ocean crossing with the words “shortened crossing” added to official listings.”)
  • Auto-steering is optional.
  • Wind generators may be used.
  • Solar panels should be used for generating all electrical power on board the row boat.
  • Canopies are not allowed.
  • Ocean rowing is a drug-free sport.

Head over to the Ocean Rowing Society website to learn more.

Image Flickr/TrueFalseFilmFestival

Luxury resort harbors Tanzania’s last tropical coastal forest

For adventure travelers, the classic visit to Tanzania begins with a climb up Kilimanjaro, followed by a safari on the Serengeti, and is topped off with a relaxing beach experience on the island of Zanzibar. The first two items on that list are unmatched experiences that simply can’t be beat, but those looking for alternative to the beaches of Zanzibar may want to consider a stay at the Ras Kutani lodge, an eco-resort that offers access to the last tropical coastal forest in the country.

Located just 20 miles from Dar es Salaam, Ras Kutani offers beautiful and tranquil beaches along the Indian Ocean. The warm coastal waters are home to a vibrant and thriving coral reef system, which is home to dozens of species of fish, and is visited frequently by dolphins, sea turtles, and even whales. This makes it an ideal setting for snorkelers, although sea kayaking and boogie boarding are also popular activities when the surf is up.

But the main draw to lodge is the spectacular coastal forest that surrounds the resort. Charles Dobie, the owner of Ras Kutani, made it his mission to save and preserve the coastal forest there, and as a result, he now owns one of the last remaining examples of that amazing ecosystem. The lodge is surrounded by 100 acres of this lush forest, which is home to more than 130 species of trees, four different types of monkeys, a wide variety of birds, as well as baboons, wild pigs, and the rare and beautiful Civet Cat.

Visitors to the lodge can stay in one of nine unique and spacious cottages, or four hilltop suites, that have been designed to mesh harmoniously with the environment. In addition to the relaxed beach activities, they are also able to take a self-guided tour through the coastal forest, where they can explore its natural wonders for themselves. Afterward, guests can enjoy the lodge’s famous gourmet cuisine, and relax by the ocean, where if they’re lucky, they may catch sea turtles as they hatch, and make for the sea.

To learn more about the Ras Kutani lodge, and everything it has to offer, visit the resort’s website.

Conrad Maldives hotel offers guests a chance to spot whale sharks

The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island hotel has announced that it is once gain joining forces with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme. This unique partnership gives visitors to the resort a rare opportunity to view and interact with those amazing aquatic creatures while research is conducted on their behavior, migration patterns, and habitat.

The whale shark is the largest fish on the planet, sometimes stretching as much as 40 feet in length and weighing over 20 tons. Despite their great size however, they are known to be docile and gentle creatures who inhabit warm ocean waters like those found in the Maldives. In fact, the island nation happens to be one of the few places on Earth where whale sharks are known to congregate year round.

For the 5th year in a row, the MWSRP will be working in conjunction with the Conrad Maldives hotel on their research project, which will continue through February. Until that time, the hotel is offering its guests daily excursions out into the Indian Ocean to view whale sharks in their natural setting. The price of those excursions is $200, which includes transportation aboard a speedboat/luxury cruiser to dive and snorkeling sites that are inhabited by the large fish.

For adventurous travelers who love interaction with unique animals, this is an amazing opportunity. Diving in the Maldives provides the chance to not only see the whale shark, but also manta rays, moray eels, grey reef sharks, and sea turtles. Having just returned from a trip to the Virgin Islands, during which snorkeling and diving were frequent activities, I can safely say that I would jump at the chance to do this as well.

[Photo credit: Jaontiveros via WikiMedia]