Indulging in tranquility on Guadeloupe's Terre-de-Haut

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Plage de Pompierre, GuadeloupeThe aroma of fresh bread wafted from the bakeries into the sunny streets of Terre-de-Haut Island, part of Guadeloupe's Les Saintes island chain, and every local person strolling through its harborside neighborhood was carrying two or three baguettes.

I had just tendered ashore from Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf, and even though I'd had a hearty breakfast onboard just an hour earlier, my nose couldn't help but follow those fragrant loaves.

There's one main road in this French West Indies town, also called Terre-de-Haut, that parallels the shoreline and is lined with pretty cottages, restaurants, bakeries, art galleries and clothing stores.

It was quiet when I visited early this year, at the height of the Caribbean's winter season. There were no vendors hawking wares, no offers to braid hair, no Saint-Tropez-style boutiques and no tour guides at the dock. In fact, there appeared to be no organized tourism infrastructure at all.

Cruisers don't have to search long to find a Caribbean island with French roots. There's French St. Martin, Martinique and St. Bart's, to name a few. I've been to all but one of those islands, but there's a different vibe in Terre-de-Haut, a kind of pastoral elegance that would appeal to clients who've already called at the more celebrated islands of the Eastern Caribbean.

Only a handful of large cruise ships visit the main island of Guadeloupe, and Terre-de-Haut is a few miles off the coast, accessible by small plane or ferry. Just a handful of smaller ships drop anchor in the Les Saintes archipelago. In addition to Windstar, they include Star Clippers, SeaDream and Azamara Club Cruises. When I visited, the 312-passenger Wind Surf was the only ship calling at Terre-de-Haut.

A few dozen houses dot its crescent harbor, including one shaped like the bow of a boat. Colorful boats bobbed in the harbor, evidence of the island's fishing industry.

A tiny tourism office is located on the main square, and a friendly staffer there, who spoke only French, tried to describe to her non-French-speaking visitors the walking route to the island's most popular beach, Plage de Pompierre. She gave us a map and told us in very broken English that it would be a 20-minute walk.

Following the map, we walked up and down hills along stretches of road with nothing but goat and chicken farms and then spotted a local couple walking toward us. They were laughing and pointing up at a tree, where several iguanas had taken refuge from the hot sun.

The walk to Pompierre Beach was closer to 45 minutes but worth every sweaty step. It's a wide expanse of coastline loaded with coconut trees that provide shade starting at the water's edge.

Huge rock formations opposite the beach protect swimmers from wind and from large waves breaking farther out.

It was a prime snorkeling spot, and we saw dozens of our shipmates enjoying the crystal-clear water.

Back on the Wind Surf that evening, everyone was still marveling at the quaint and quiet beauty of Terre-de-Haut.

The eight-island Les Saintes archipelago has a colorful past. According to a local history brochure, Columbus found them in November 1493, three days after the Feast of All Saints. He is said to have named the archipelago Los Santos, later changed by the French to Les Saintes. The first French settlers arrived in the mid-l7th century, and the waters around the archipelago saw skirmishes with the British. The most famous is said to have been the battle of 1782 between British Admiral George Brydges Rodney and French Admiral Joseph Paul de Grasse, which resulted in 30 years of British rule.

The islands were returned to the French through the Treaty of Paris in 1815.

Along with Les Saintes, other port calls on my seven-day Wind Surf cruise were the British Virgin Islands of Jost Van Dyke, Tortola and Virgin Gorda; St. Kitts; and St. Bart's. The ship sailed roundtrip from St. Maarten.

For cruise news and updates, follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.

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