GETTING THERE: Eastern Airlines schedules flights from Washington via Miami, and American Airlines flies out of New York via St. Martin to Le Raizet Airport two miles outside Point-a -Pitre. Our Eastern connection, which touched down in St. Martin coming and going, cost about $450 round trip per person coach, though prices vary by season.
Charter packages that include air transportation and hotel are available out of New York. And because Guadeloupe has traditionally attracted Europeans and Canadians, package deals arranged out of Montreal by Canadian agents can add as much as a second week, daily breakfast and half your dinners gratis for the same price as the best deal from Washington -- although you will have to fly from Montreal. For assistance in contacting Canadian travel agents, contact: Alliance of Canadian Travel Association, 410 E. Henri Bourassa, Montreal, H3L1C4, Canada, (514) 382-0544.
WHEN TO GO: Guadeloupe's dry season lasts from January through April, when temperatures are in the mid to upper 80s, tempered by light trade winds and interrupted now and then by downpours that pass in minutes. May through December becomes more humid and the skybursts more frequent, but temperatures stay comfortable year-round.
GETTING AROUND: Transportation on the island is necessary to explore the restaurants and take day trips. Taxis aren't cheap. And although public buses are clean and inexpensive (usually new Mercedes vans), their schedules are in Caribbean time, a euphemism for "sooner or later."
Tour guide services are available by land and by boat, but the best way to see the island is by rental car. Hertz and Budget reps are posted at most large hotel service desks, and another half dozen rental companies are at your service at the airport.
WHERE TO STAY: Most of Guadeloupe's large hotels are concentrated in small but lively Gosier. Among its notable accommodations: Auberge de la Vielle Tour (phone 84-12-04), Salako (84-14-90), PLM Arawak (84-12-74) and La Creole Beach (84-15-00), formerly the Holiday Inn. Casino action and several Gosier restaurants are in walking distance. Rates range from $75 to $125 for two, depending on the season.
In Bas-du-Fort, two neighboring three-star hotels are popular with a younger, predominantly European crowd: Novotel Fleur d'Epe'e (83-49-49) and Frantel Guadeloupe (83-64-44). Both are newcomers in the past 10 years and, like their competition in Gosier, offer daily schedules of eating, drinking, water sports and entertainment. Prices vary, from $80 to $120 for two.
On the eastern side of the island in St. Francois is the Meridien Guadeloupe (84-41-00), a four-star hotel in the respected French chain. It singlehandedly put this sleepy fishing village on the map in 1974, but its distance from Point-a -Pitre and other destinations put it at a disadvantage that even its Robert Trent Jones golf course can't make up. Price $100 and up for two.
U.S. travel agents can help you reserve seven-day hotel deals through a Point-a -Pitre agency, Fe te Francaise, which give a break in price and add extras, including car rental discounts, dinner with champagne and gratis breakfasts under the "American plan."
For the adventurous, Guadeloupe offers numerous small hotels and housekeeping rentals, some located in tiny coastal villages that most tourists see only from the windows of their cars. For more information: Association Guadeloupe des Gites de France, Office Departemental du Tourisme de la Guadeloupe B.P. 1099-5, Square de la Banque, 97181 Point-a -Pitre cedex, phone 83-27-41.
WHERE TO EAT: Most of the larger hotels plan weekly Creole buffet dinners that are bargains and allow guests to sample a wide variety of local dishes. Among the excellent restaurants worth getting out to:
Restaurant Le Bougainville, at the corner of Rue Frebault and Rue Delgras in downtown Point-a -Pitre, is the antidote to the "what-do-we-do-now" blues that town causes. You will hear more fuss about the nearby La Canne a Sucre, one of New York restaurant critic Craig Claiborne's discoveries, but both serve delectable Creole and classic French dishes. An elaborate lunch cost about $30 for two.
Le Bistro, located in the cliffs of Petit-Havre between Sainte-Anne and Gosier, overlooks a breathtaking valley leading down to the sea. Lunch is visually stunning. Make dinner reservations for no later than 8 p.m., because the staff is small and the restaurant gets crowded. The specialty here is seafood. But first try the house punch: four jars, each filled with a different island fruit that has marinated in an industrial-strength rum for days. A ladle from each into a glass and a small bite of the starfruit is about the limit before this concoction hurts you. cost, including wine, was about $70 for two.
Le Restaurant de L'Elysees Matignon opened in January, where Marie Lou Restaurant had operated in Bas-du-Fort for 12 years. Guadeloupe's latest dining spot serves French haute cuisine prepared by its Paris-trained chef. Formal in setting (and dress), it is on the pricey side. Dinner for two, including a bottle of punch de cocoa and a bottle of decent bordeaux, cost about $85.