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Come to Marie-Galante to see the Caribbean the way it used to be before the advent of high-rise hotels and casinos. In just 1 hour from Pointe-à-Pitre, you can be transported to a world that time seems to have forgotten. This offshore dependency of Guadeloupe is an almost-perfect circle of about 155 sq. km (60 sq. miles). Almost exclusively French-speaking, it lies about 30km (19 miles) south of Guadeloupe's Grand-Terre and is full of rustic charm, including some 19th-century windmills dotting the island and an occasional ox-drawn cart. We could skip those Sunday cockfights, however.

Today some 12,500 inhabitants live here, making their living from sugar and rum, the latter said to be the best in the Caribbean. The best distillery to visit is Distillerie Bielle, Section Bielle, 97112 Grand-Bourg (tel. 590/97-93-62). The island's climate is rather dry, and there are many good beaches, some of the finest in Guadeloupe's archipelago. One of these stretches of brilliantly white sand covers at least 8km (5 miles). However, swimming can be dangerous in some places. Grand-Bourg, the main town, is dominated by an 1845 baroque church. The island's best beach lies almost immediately adjacent to Grand-Bourg, Plage de la Feuillère, a 2km (1 1/4-mile) stretch of white sand that's favored by swimmers and sunbathers. Equally appealing, and more isolated, are the Plages du Nord, stretching across the island's northern tier. They include the Plage du Vieux-Fort, a 1km (1/2-mile) stretch of open white sand, and the Place de l'Anse Canot, a semicircular bay whose white sands encompass waters that are ideal for small sailcraft, thanks to wave-sheltered waters that are relatively calm.