Goats grazing peacefully in Terre-de-Haut, Les Saintes
Terre-de-Haut, three miles long and about two miles wide, is ideally explored on foot. The five-minute walk from the airstrip to Bourg, the island's sole village, takes you down a bougainvillea-shaded lane lined with tiny, brightly-painted houses and past a centuries-old cemetery. The names engraved upon the weathered headstones reflect the island's Breton and Norman ancestry; the conch shells decorating the graveyard honor its sailors lost at sea.
If you don't have the time (or the stamina) to travel on foot, scooters, bicycles and local taxi-minivans are easily available in town. Wherever you wander, the translucent turquoise waters of the Caribbean await nearby. And you can walk anywhere, even to the highest point, Le Chameau, which takes two hours up and back. At 309 m (l,014 ft), the peak, topped with an old stone citadel, affords a sweeping panorama not only of Terre-de-Haut, but of the seven other islands that constitute the archipelago of Les Saintes: Ilet a Cabrit, Le Pâté, Terre-de-Bas, Les Augustins, La Coche, Grand Ilet, and La Redonde. The experience is breathtaking any time of day, but at dawn or dusk it becomes the memory of a lifetime.
Among Terre-de-Haut's year-round points of interest, one of the most rewarding is Fort Napoleon, an historical oddity built by the French over a century ago and totally restored by groups of young volunteers about l8 years ago. What makes the fort so unusual is that it has been used over the years for a number of things, but never for war. Nobody has ever fired a shot at it or from it. Guided tours do tell of the famous l7th- and l8th-century battles of Les Saintes, and there are mementos on exhibit, but the fort's museum collection of 250 modern paintings contains not a single one with a military theme. The fort, and an iguana similar to those seen scurrying up the ramparts, figure prominently in the islands' coat of arms.
The conservator of the fort stresses two points for visitors: come in the morning (the hours are 9:00 to noon) and bring a camera. The views are a photographer's dream and the flowering cactus gardens surrounding the fort are among the most exotic and best maintained in the Caribbean. Directly across the bay, atop Ilet a Cabrit, sit the ruins of Fort Josephine, named for Napoleon's first wife, born l20 miles south on the French island of Martinique.
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