Rum Travels: Guadeloupe - Part2 Basse Terre & Grand Terre
Updated: Jul 8
A quick 1hr ferry back from dreamy Marie Galante to Pointe-à-Pitre and we're ready for part 2 of my Guadeloupe rum travels blog.
If you missed part 1 - rum travel hints & tips for the tiny island of Marie Galante you can find it (here)
First, a warning, after the sleepy laid back lifestyle on the small island of Marie Galante, the bustling city of Pointe-à-Pitre might come as a bit of a shock! It certainly did for us :-)
Shaped like a butterfly, the main area of Guadeloupe is actually two separate and very distinct islands (just a rivers width apart and connected by several roads); Grand Terre - the eastern island is relatively flat and quite developed across the island. If you're looking for lively places with lots going on then Grand Terre is for you. Basse-Terre on the other hand is mountainous, more sparsely populated and much more rural. We opted to spend the second part of our holiday on the west coast of Basse-Terre.
The beaches, bars & restaurants:
As mentioned above, we based ourselves on the west coast of the western island [Basse Terre] so most of my experience is around there. Top tips:
Bouillante/Malendure (central west BT) - a proper hidden gem. Couldn't recommend this area highly enough. A favourite with locals and regulars over from France. Eat at the basic, but outstanding - 'La Cote Ouest', or the more fancy 'sunset B' (with its awesome self-serve ti punch bar!). Hire kayaks and snorkels from Malendure beach and paddle over to the nature reserve tropical fish mecca of 'Pidgeon Island'.
Central Basse Terre - the various rainforest hikes and waterfall visits are all awesome. And very manageable. The high peaks are best planned for dry clear conditions. NB: It gets cold up top!
Pointe des Chateaux (Far east Grand Terre) - our one excursion to GT took us to the farthest east point and it was well worth it. We visited over a bank holiday and the long narrow peninsula out to the point was lined with families on camping trips - looked like a lot of fun. The spectacular views and mini hike at the end were well worth the drive over. For rum nerds, the exposed coastal area on the Atlantic coast is also the chosen location for many cane fields (salty air providing natural protection to the cane)
South East Basse-Terre - rum distillery heaven. The home to Montebello, Papa Rouyo, Longueteau & Karukera, more on them later.
South West Basse-Terre - home of the Bologne distillery. The large laid back town of Basse-Terre is well worth a visit. No beaches but a lively town with easy access to some great hiking.
Deshaies (Northwest BT) - a long slow drive to get here, but worth every mile. A community of small sand floor shack restaurants set just back from a piece of paradise. The beach (below) was the location for the filming of 'death in paradise' and remains pristine and undeveloped.
Guadeloupe has a set of regulations (Geographical Indication [GI]) that must be followed in order to label as Rhum de Guadeloupe. Cocktailwonk has brilliantly covered these (and other rum GI & AOC) here. One significant difference from the renowned appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) of its sister French Overseas Department of Martinique is that Guadeloupe allows the use of discontinuous distillation (pot stills).
As is sadly so common, the last 250 years have seen a significant decline in the number of distilleries on the islands of Guadeloupe - from over 70 in 1775 to about a dozen today. I covered the fascinating distilleries of Marie Galante in my previous article (here). The majority of the remaining distilleries on the main islands are situated on Basse-Terre, with only Damoiseau and the tiny artisan distillery of Gwadinina located on the eastern island of Grand-Terre.
I was fortunate to visit all those on Basse-terre. Here's a few tips & highlights:
A family-owned and run distillery set in absolutely beautiful grounds (see the lead article photo of their main residence).
Longueteau grow the majority of their own cane which you can see on the tour of the distillery. Farming themselves rather than buying cane from farmers on the island offers incredible control over the quality and easy management of the cane varieties. This has led them to recently start releasing single field/plot (generally single varietal) rums. These are beautifully bottled and a very exciting way to compare the difference between cane types (a little expensive IMO but cool nonetheless).
The distillery is very geared up for tours, with good reason given the field-to-glass approach and beautiful grounds. You need to pre-book the tours at a small cost, which are offered in different languages, and end with an instructed tasting of many of the range of rhums. Probably the best (and most 'spouse-friendly') tour of all the distilleries.
Karukera rummery, next door to Longueteau, was set up in 2006 as an aging house initially focussed on building up a portfolio of well-aged single cane variety Longueteau rhums. Now a well-established brand in its own right and no longer limited to just Longueteau rhums, Karukera is located in a unique microclimate which unusually results in increasing abv as the rum ages.
Montebello - Home of the legendary Cuvée The Bolokos, family-run Montebello distillery is well worth a visit. Tours are only in French but are free and end with a tasting of several of their rhums. (sadly, and predictably, none of the rare Bolokos was available at the distillery).
The tour was a genuine journey through a working distillery and we were able to get up close with every step from crushing to aging.
Working it's way through 8,000 tonnes of cane each year, the impressive old steam engine crusher is a cool thing to see.
Montebello's rhum is aged in a giant stack on metal shipping containers - hot stuff!
Clearly a traditional distillery with close links to the town & families around it. Easy to reach and definitely worth a visit.
Papa Rouyo - My visit to here was a definite highlight of my time in Guadeloupe.
Papa Rouyo distillery was launched in 2021 with the very clear intent to produce modern, innovative rhum in alambic copper pot stills through a symbiotic relationship with the farmers and the terroir.
The team are oozing passion and excitement about what they are doing and a tour around the facility is clearly as much an opportunity for rum lovers to learn about Papa Rouyo as it is for the team at the distillery to share their love for what they are doing.
Originally intended to be located close to their cane fields in Moule on the eastern coast of Grand Terre, various events and complexities resulted in Papa Rouyo being established in a very cool warehouse venue shared with an artisan brewery on the east coast of Basse Terre. The modern, no-expense-spared, set up offers perfect control of the end to end process and the opportunity to learn and refine from one day to the next.
Where larger distilleries are wedded to their style and have vast production processes that are hard to change, the small scale and use of pot stills at Papa Rouyo allow them to be experimental and to try new approaches on both fermentation and distillation with every batch.
Aging at Papa Rouyo is a key focus and the team have chosen to only use new American & French barrels, along side ex-cognac casks. These are combined by the master blender to produce some very exciting results.
The combination of the climate at the distillery & aging site, along with the use of new oak, offers extremely accelerated barrel influence so it's no surprise that Papa Rouyo have been happy to release their first rhums after only a year or two.
During my visit I was honoured to try the very first bottle of L’Œilleton, this is the follow up to their 2021 unaged release 'Le Rejeton' that I reviewed alongside the Habitation Velier & long rested Antipodes unaged bottlings back in February (here). *I have now tasted L’Œilleton twice - a the distillery and a sample I brought home - summary review: more complex & better balanced that Rejeton. I'll definitely be searching out a bottle [86+pts]
My next article will be a side by side of aged Rhums from Papa Rouyo :-)
Bologne - Sitting alone on the south west corner of Basse Terre, Bologne distillery is located in the pretty seaside town confusingly named the same as the western island ('Basse-Terre').
Immediately you are aware of the clear and deep connection to it's history and to the unique terroir of it's local cane fields (situated around the distillery on the volcanic plateau of Saint-Claude and Capesterre). Locals in Guadeloupe are unshakably faithful to one distillery, usually their local one. This runs from generation to generation in much the same way as families in the UK support their local football team. So it's no surprise that shops and bars in the south and west of Basse Terre are heavily weighted to Rhum Bologne.
Recent focus on the organic production and single cane varietal rhums are most welcome and tour of the distillery, the estate and the aging warehouse are an absolute must.
Reimonenq - Located in a stunning setting on the central north coast of Basse Terre, Reimonenq is geared up for visitors and coach tours.
Don't expect anything too in depth in terms of seeing actual production but the old, eclectic collection of oddities in the 'museum of rhum' is a fun way to pass an hour.
Damoiseau - The only major distillery that I missed, as it's located away from the rest on the Northeast of Grand Terre. A reason to return :-)
Not forgetting Bonne Mère - a small sugar factory on the island making molasses based rhums and Gwadinina - a tiny family run distillery on the SE of Grand Terre.
Now closed but also worth a nose around if you're in the area are Domaine de Séverin & Gardel,
Sadly, the lions share of unique and interesting aged Guadeloupe rhum seems to be bottled by independent bottlers and more easily available (and cheaper) in Europe. The bargains in on the island are the incredible unaged rhums, these are available at the distilleries or various shops around the island.
The best shops, with an excellent selection of Guadeloupe & regional rhums (and a few aged gems if you're lucky) are in the commercial district of Jarry (just west of Pointe-à-Pitre), check out Cave à rhum and PHP Trading.
Recommend further reading: