On Les Saintes (a string of small islands named Los Santos by Columbus: only Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas are inhabited) the people are descendants of Breton fisherfolk who have survived among themselves with little intermarriage with the dominant West Indian races. Some still wear the same round hats, the salako, that Breton fisherfolk used to wear, and fishing is still the main occupation on the islands.
They are a popular excursion from Guadeloupe now, but are not too spoilt, and with a good, natural harbour, many small cruise ships spend the day here. Nevertheless, to get a better idea of the islanders’ traditional way of life, staying overnight is recommended so that you can appreciate it once the day trippers leave at 1600. Public holidays are particularly heavy days with hundreds of day trippers.
Terre-de-Haut is the main island visited by tourists: irregularly shaped and surprisingly barren, it is about 6 km long and 2 km wide at its widest point. Most of the 1,500 inhabitants live around the Anse Mire, looking across the Ilet à Cabrit. There are some excellent beaches including that of Pont Pierre, also known as Pompierre, where snorkelling is good and camping is possible, Marigot, L’Anse du Figuier (good diving, no shade), L’Anse Crawen (nudist) and Grand’Anse (white sand, rougher waters, swimming not allowed). The UCPA sailing school at Petit Anse offers half or full day sailing or windsurfing courses. Walking on the islands is good, either from the town to the beaches, or to the top of Le Chameau (TV mast on top) on Terre-de-Haut’s W end (spectacular views of Les Saintes, Marie-Galante, Guadeloupe and Dominica).
An easy trail, Trace des Crétes, starts at Terre-de-Haut. Turn right at the pier, follow the main street about 100m, turn left at the chapel and follow the road up to Le Marigot (look out for the sentier du morne morel sign behind the restaurant on the S side of the bay) and on to the beach of Baie de Pont Pierre, a lovely golden beach with rocks, Roches Percées, in the bay. Boats and diving equipment can be rented at the landing stage. Goats can be a nuisance if you decide to picnic here. At the end of the beach the trail leads up the hill where you have a good view of the islands, if you keep left, one branch of the trail leads to Grand’Anse beach. The ‘white’ cemetery, La Cimétière Rose, worth visiting, pretty, with paths bordered by shells, is close to the beach and from here you can walk back to Terre-de-Haut, about 1 hrs in total. Alternatively, you can walk along Grand’Anse and on to Pointe Rodriguez and the small cove Anse Rodriguez below it.
There are beautiful views also from Fort Napoléon, high up above the town on Pointe à l’Eau, open 0900-1230 except 1 Jan, 1 May, 15-16 Aug and 25 Dec (20F to enter, children 6 to 12 half price). The views demonstrate the strategic importance of Les Saintes (the Gibraltar of the Caribbean), and the museum in Fort Napoléon gives the French view of the decisive sea battle of Les Saintes (1782 – the English Admiral Rodney defeated and scattered the fleet of France’s Commander de Grasse, who was preparing to attack Jamaica). The fort itself is rather disappointing but the exhibitions are good with interesting models of the ships and battles. A guide will give you a 30 min tour (in French) of the main building. If not historically-minded, just sit and watch the weather. There are exhibits also of local fishing (including a saintois, a local fishing boat, originally with blue and white striped sail, but now diesel-powered) and crafts, a bookshop and drinks on sale. Around the ramparts is the Jardin Exotique which specializes in growing succulents and includes a wild area where plants native to Les Saintes are grown. On the Ilet à Cabrit are the ruins of Fort Joséphine.
Terre-de-Bas is home to about 1,000 people, mostly fishermen. There is a pottery which also gives some employment, but many have left for work in France.
Boats land at Grande Baie which is a small inlet guarded by a fort and two small statues. You get good views of La Coche and Grand Ilet (two of the uninhabited islands) on the way across. There is a good little information centre at the dock. Buses will meet the ferry and you can go to the main settlement at Petite Anse where there is a new fishing port as well as the secondary school for the islands and a pretty little church with a red roof (tour approx 40 mins 30F). The beach at Grand Anse is very pleasant and there are a few bars and restaurants nearby (A La Belle Etoile is actually on the beach). There is a track which runs from Petite Anse to Grand Anse which is a good walk. It is very quiet compared with Terre-de-Haut. Salakos and wood carvings are made by local inhabitants.