With the start of the Olympics around the corner, let’s take a look at one of France’s most accomplished Summer Olympians. Considered one the greatest of modern female sprinters, Marie-José Pérec is a native of Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe and was nicknamed “The Gazelle” (and the Greta Garbo of athletics for her insistent privacy) for her speed and graceful running style in track.
Under the flag of France, she specialized in the 300 and 400 meter and won three gold medals in the 1990s in Tokyo, Barcelona and Atlanta. In London this year, Julien Absalon is a French medal hopeful, looking to add to his gold medals won in Athens and Beijing. Another Frenchman who was the first white man to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 meter sprint hopes to race in that event, as well as the 200 meter.
Pérec’s birthplace of Basse-Terre is the western wing of Guadeloupe’s two primary islands that resemble butterfly wings with a mangrove swamp between them. It is home to a national park with hiking trails, a Jacques Cousteau underwater reserve and La Soufrière volcano.
The eastern island is Grande-Terre, home to surfing schools, long and lazy sandy beaches and beach bars from which to overlook the gorgeous azure water. Small archipelagos stretch southward from the ‘mainland’, each with unique characteristics that round out the essence of the Guadeloupe Islands.
It is ever so easy to absorb the perfect blend of French charm, island relaxation and gorgeous landscape. The main resort area of Guadeloupe is the reef-protected waters off the southern coast of Grande-Terre, while the eastern side of the island is buffeted with the crashing surf of the Atlantic.
As a center of Caribbean Creole culture, you will readily notice the blend of French African and Caribbean influences in Guadeloupe’s culture, dance, cuisine and patois language. Though colonized by the French, the islands also came under British, and briefly, Swedish rule before becoming a “department” of France in 1946. The islands now operate as an overseas region with representation in Paris. The Euro is the island currency, and French is the official language.
Not only do visitors enjoy spectacular seaside views and rainforest hikes, they can choose from many vacation rentals, hotels and bed & breakfasts. And word has it that you must not miss waterfront dining in Saint François at L’O – quite a gourmet experience!
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