Made up of a butterfly-shaped archipelago of eight islands and many small islets, Guadeloupe has essentially been part of France since 1635, except for a year in the 1800s when it was Swedish and for short periods British. Christopher Columbus was the first European here in 1493. One island, Saint Martin, is still shared with Holland. In 1946 Guadeloupe became a French overseas department.

While the official language of Guadeloupe is French, many also speak English and Creole as the lingua franca.

The islands’ rich cultural heritage is celebrated at Carnival in February, while in October a Creole Week is the key celebration. In May, blues musicians descend on Marie Galante island for a festival. There’s even a yearly goat celebration!

You can see ancient tribal art in the form of rock carvings, or get active by climbing a volcano, scuba diving or hiking the National Park of Guadeloupe. Visit spectacular Carbet Falls on Basse-Terre, a sugar plantation or the French fort, Louis Delgrès, built in 1650 by Charles Houel, the French governor. Meanwhile the beaches are some of the best in the Caribbean.

The Village Artisinal has local handcrafts, while Pointe-à-Pitre is ideal for high street shopping and the best markets there are near the harbour – browse for flowers, spices and handcrafts here.

Nightlife centres on the usual bars, clubs, casinos and restaurants and you’ll often hear Biguine, a music fusing French ballroom of the 1800s and African beats.

Food includes Creole specialities and has a strong French influence. Seafood and curry are both popular, with plenty of herbs and spices as key ingredients in most dishes.

Get around on the generally good roads. There are reasonable buses, cycling is popular and taxis are widely available. Boats connect the islands of Guadeloupe and those further afield, while car hire is probably the best way to explore.

All the islands have a good range of hotels, and there are self-catering cottages and villas too.

Finally, most visits are safe and trouble-free. Just take the usual common sense precautions.