You know those places that you pass but never stop? Marie Galante was one of those places for us. It’s a small French island near Guadeloupe and we’ve wanted to visit but to us it was just a low, mysterious island off in the distance. The reason we hadn’t visited is that Marie Galante is a bit east and the wind normally blows from the east, which means that you have to bash into the trades to get there. We’ve been told stories of what a sweet spot it is but it had always remained a closed book to us. The wind gods must have been looking out for us because while we were in Dominica (just southwest of Marie Galante), the winds shifted to the southeast setting up a comfortable reach for Mermaid to lay the island. We hauled up the anchor and headed out. The forecast was good to it’s word and it was a lovely sail to Marie Galante.
Marie Galante is very laid back with friendly inhabitants and very few tourists. Brush up on your french before you go because only a handful of the population speak any English. It’s different geologically from the other islands in the area. Marie Galante is made up of a limestone plateau while the surrounding islands are volcanic. Back in the bad ‘ol days the island was covered with sugar cane harvested by slaves who turned much of the cane into Rhum Agricole. That’s rum made from suger cane instead of molasses like the regular rum. Rhum Agricole is a fiery liquor but as we were to find out, it can be tamed.
We found our friends Gordon and Louise on SV Coho in the anchorage who told us that they made the trip Marie Galante to stock up on their favorite rhum. That’s a long way to come for rhum so we knew right then that we had to try it. They had already rented a car to go to the distillery the next day and invited us to tag along. The next morning the four of us hopped in a rental car and headed to the Bellevue distillery for a tasting. We stopped and played tourist at the ruins of an old plantation house on the way as well as a pond where the slaves had poured out the stock of Rhum Agricole during a rebellion.
Habatation Belvieu is a large Rhum Agricole distillery and their 59º brand is found throughout the French West Indies. it’s called 59º because it’s 59% alcohol or 118 proof. You can’t carry it on a plane because it’s flamable. Luckily, that wasn’t what we had come for. Louise’s favorite drink is the Belvieu shrub rum and it’s only available at the distillery. We headed for the tasting room and found it very different and quite good. Shrub rum is a generic term for any rum that is infused with herbs or spices. It’s a very popular drink in the French West Indies as well as down island in the Windwards. This one was special. It was as smooth as silk with hints of cinnamon and vanilla. A taste is all it took for us to stock up. Gordon and Louise are ardent hikers so while we had the car we were treated to an island tour that included a couple of short hikes to beautiful vistas.
The water where we were anchored was gin clear so next day we took a long dingy trip in search of some snorkeling. We’re always in search of an off the beaten path snorkel spot but didn’t find it this time. We saw beautiful bays and beaches but found the snorkeling not the best. With a big north swell heading our way from an Atlantic storm but the it was time to move on. We hope to return someday but at least Marie Galante is no longer a mystery island.