01-2005/12-2010

France and its ex-colonies. I know that for most of the people that visit France the number one destination is the cosmopolitan Paris. That wasn’t the case for me. I first stepped my foot into French territory in the Caribbean, when I visited Guadalupe and Martinique. Although on the other side of the ocean, this small group of islands manages to keep a balance between motherland France and the independency that most of the other islands had to fight for.

Back in 2005, when I was touring the western Antilles, I spent some time in this part of France. Majestic beaches, tropical plantations and happy people are some of the characteristics that first get you. Nearly a third of Martinique is forested and other parts of the island are pineapple, sugarcane or banana plantations. You can still find sleepy villages untouched by development and remote beaches that end up in hilly mountain trails.

Guadeloupe, the center of the Caribbean’s Creole culture, boasts a spirited blend of French and African influence s. The island’s archipelago is largely provincial in nature and remains well known for its sugarcane and rum as well as for its beaches and resorts.

In both islands the French touch is present together with the colorful Caribbean element. By positioning yourself at one of the beautiful beaches outside the busty capital you can easily explore the hidden gems of the islands.

Back in mainland France, having only visited the cosmopolitan Mediterranean Riviera, it wouldn’t be right to come to any conclusion about the rest of the country. Anyway, Cote d’ Azur stretches along France’s Mediterranean coast, from Toulon to the Italian border. Many of the towns -St. Tropez, Cannes, Antibes and Nice- have become world famous thanks to the idle rich. The reality is rather less glamorous but nevertheless the sunshine, 40km of beaches, all sorts of cultural activities and a bit of glitter still make it a place to be. Using Nice as a center a big, deep dive into the glamour world of the rich and famous is always a tempting experience.

France is the largest country in Western Europe. It stretches from the hilly area in the North to the endless beaches in the South, and from the wild forest of Brittany on the West to the icy Alps on the East, with cliffs, canyons, dense forest and beautiful vineyards in between. Over the centuries, France has received more immigrants than any other country from the former colonies, either in Indochina or Africa. All this diversity has introduced new elements in the culture, cuisine and art and has made this country a melting pot of diverse civilization.

After all, once on the Western end of Europe, today’s France stands at the crossroad between England and Italy, Belgium and Spain, North Africa and Scandinavia. And that’s how the French have always regarded their country, the very center of things.

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