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