Les Saintes, a Beautiful Place for History Buffs, Foodies, and Even Teenagers

Find food for thought and for the body in Les Saintes

My oldest teenager does not hand out praise easily. He’s well-traveled, whip-smart, and clearly knows everything, as all teenagers do. This is why when he declared Les Saintes his “favorite place in the Caribbean,” I sat up and took note.

Les Saintes
Les Saintes are a cluster of nine tiny islands scattered off the southwest end of Guadeloupe. Only two of the islands are inhabited, Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas.

Les Saintes are a cluster of nine tiny islands scattered off the southwest end of Guadeloupe. Only two of the islands are inhabited, Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas. They’re part of the country of Guadeloupe, and as such part of France. This makes the Saintes a popular vacation destination for Guadeloupeans looking for a weekend getaway and European travelers. Despite the fact that everyone, jaded teens included, loves these islands, they never feel crowded or touristy. 

The approach by sailboat is well-marked and straightforward. You glide past the “pain du sucre,” or sugar loaf, a 170-foot rocky volcanic hill that guards the harbor with pillars of hardened lava. The green mountains dotted with red roofs, like a tropical Christmas tree, offer excellent protection from the prevailing winds. The mainland of Guadeloupe just six miles to the north also protects the main harbor. As you get closer to the town, colorful fishing boats bob contentedly on the clearest water for hundreds of miles. 

Dinghy dock Les Saintes
The floating dinghy dock in Terre-de-Haut is close to the heart of town.

We’ve been here a few times, and I need to come clean and tell you that the dinghy dock in Terre-de-Haut is a huge draw for me. After you’ve scrambled on every decrepit dinghy dock in the Caribbean, tearing your clothes and your knees, dangling from a long ladder and groping around in the dark while a conga line of cockroaches follows you back to the dink, you start to really savor the simple joy of a good dinghy dock. It’s floating, full of sturdy cleats, no sharp edges or rusty bolts, protected from the swell, close to the heart of town, and cue the choir music... It’s lit up at night.

I don’t think the dinghy dock is what won over my jaded teenager though. The area is packed with goodies for his history-loving heart. From the commanding Fort Napoleon and its impressive museum, to the goat filled Fort Josephine, to the endless tales of battles at sea, there’s a lot of brain food here. 

Delicious food in Les Saintes
Terre-de-Haut is a foodie island!

The edible kind of food is a huge draw, too. Terre-de-Haut is a foodie island. We were blown away by the original offerings and swanky meals you’d expect in a big city restaurant. We licked the bowls of our mango souffle at Ti Kaz’La and savored every morsel of the completely locally sourced chef’s surprise dinner at Au Bon Vivre. We were introduced to the delicious Cafe Gourmand tradition, in which your after-lunch coffee comes with a sampling of tiny, perfect, homemade desserts. There are plenty of traditional French bakeries for breakfast breads and pastries of course. 

Les Saintes is also known for a baked good called Tourment D’Amour, meaning Love’s Torment. Legend says that the tart covered with coconut or guava jelly was originally baked by women waiting for their fishermen husbands to come back from sea. Local women sell them from woven baskets along the streets, and we were told only widows sell this popular treat. 

Terre-de-Haut allows you to slow down and chat with pastry-wielding widows because there are almost no cars on the island. The downtown in Terre-de-Haut is pedestrian only for a large portion, and then only electric scooters and golf carts. This helps the town keep the pace of friendly cats, chess-playing old men, and free-range children. 

Les Saintes Bay is rated as one of the most beautiful bays in the world by UNESCO and my teenagers. For sailors, it gives you so many things aside from that perfect dinghy dock. You have excellent snorkeling and diving within a short dinghy ride and loads of hikes which the teenager loved. There is plenty of room to anchor along with well-maintained mooring balls, easy customs and immigration above the ice cream shop, stocked grocery stores, and a protected bay. What you won’t find are marine services or a fuel dock, so come topped off and with a boat that’s able to sail on to the next harbor. 

Les Saintes evening
The author and her family would stroll after dinner, listening to a man playing guitar on a bench or children playing in the park.

Our favorite thing to do in Les Saintes was just to walk. We would stroll with our dogs in the early morning and watch the town come alive with the smell of pain au chocolat and espresso leading us down the street. We would walk to do our errands, dragging our little rolling cart to the grocery store or the garbage dump, noticing the gingerbread trim on the houses. We would hike with the goats, stopping often to get out of the sun and take in the breathtaking views of the bay or mainland Guadeloupe. And we would stroll around after dinner, listening to a man playing guitar on a bench or children burning off energy at the park before bed. 

Normally I get a little stir crazy on small islands, but I never felt that way here. I kept thinking, “Maybe I need to learn how to make baguettes so I have an excuse to stay here?” At least I know my son will come visit me. 

by Cindy Wallach

About the Author: Longtime SpinSheet columnist Cindy Wallach is sailing the Caribbean with her family and two dogs aboard their St. Francis 44 catamaran Majestic.

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