Marie-Galante, a small round island of 158 square km , is simple and old-fashioned but surprisingly sophisticated when it comes to food and drink. It was named by Christopher Columbus after his own ship, the Santa María La Galante, and has three settlements.
The largest is Grand-Bourg (rather run down) in the SW with a population of around 8,000; Capesterre is in the SE and Saint-Louis (sugar factory, see the bullock carts delivering cane during the cutting season) in the NW. By Grand-Bourg plage try the batterie de sirop, selling a treacle-like sugar cane syrup mixed with rum and lime or with water. The beaches, so far almost completely untouched by the tourist flood, are superb. By Capesterre, the Plage de la Feuillère has fine sand beaches and is protected by the coral reef offshore. Follow the path N to Les Galeries, which are large cliffs eroded by the sea to make a covered walkway over 15m above sea level.
There is a pleasant beach at Anse de Vieux Fort, the site of the first settlement on the island in 1648 and of a series of fierce skirmishes between the French and the Amerindians. The Trou à Diable (off the D202) is a massive cave which runs deep into the earth. To visit it, it is essential to have strong shoes, a torch with extra batteries, and a guide. It is a very remote spot and there is no organized tourism. The descent requires ropes and should not be attempted unassisted. The walk from the road is striking.
The D202 road meets the D201 at La Grande Barre, from where there are good views of the N end of the island and to Guadeloupe. On the coast there are limestone cliffs over 30m high which have been eroded in places to form spectacular arches with the sea splashing through them. One is at Gueule Grand Gouffre (cold drinks on sale) and another, less good example, further E at Caye Plate.
In the nineteenth century the island boasted over 100 sugar mills; a few have been restored and may be visited: Basses, Grand-Pierre, Agapy and Murat. Some are still operating. The former plantation houses of Château Murat (museum open Mon to Thur 0900-1300, 1500-1800, Sat and Sun 0900-1200, free) and Brîlle are interesting. Murat gives a good impression of the great 18th century sugar plantations; below the sweeping lawn lies the old sugar mill with cane crushing machinery still intact. Behind the house is a walled herb garden.
The Bellevue rum distillery on the D202 is a cottage industry. The rum (clear and branded as ‘agricole’) is very powerful and you will be invited to taste and buy. You may also be offered bags of brown sugar and dessicated coconut, a surprisingly nice combination. At the Distillerie Bielle you can taste and buy rum as well as ceramic rum flasks made at the pottery atelier, open mornings, T 97 93 62. The Distillerie Poisson in the W on the N9 makes the Père Labat rum and is open for visits (also small museum) with tastings, 0930-1200, T 97 03 79. There is a cinema in Grand-Bourg, El Rancho, which has movies dubbed into French.