That rarest of breeds—an overseas department of France—Guadeloupe is a place where the language, currency and wine lists all attest to the fact that you're in the motherland, while the volcanic backdrop, vivid architectural palette and fragrant spice markets tell a different story. But no matter. As soon as you arrive in the port of Pointe-à-Pitre, you'll embrace the contradictions. The island's improbable blend makes for beautiful (and delicious) experiences, such as a taste of the tourment d'amour, a coconut-filled tart—think French petit gâteau meets the tropics.
Pointe-à-Pitre isn't Guadeloupe's administrative capital, but it's definitely the island's cultural capital, as you'll soon discover as you explore the museums, markets and historic sites. And you're never far from amazing nature: An easy drive in almost any direction on this butterfly-shaped island will lead to rivers, rain forests, waterfalls, wild stretches of coastline—and the highest peak in the Lesser Antilles.