Visiting Deshaies in Guadeloupe, the fictional Saint Marie island that provides the setting for the BBC series “Death in Paradise”, was a bit surreal for me.
Have you ever visited a theme park? Disney’s Main Street, for example, or Harry Potter studio, where the designers do their best to create a feeling that you’ve been transported to another place or time that you already know well?
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That’s how I felt in Deshaies, which I knew so well as the fictional town of Honoré in the TV series. Yet it’s not an invented village built to entertain tourists. It’s an actual village that looks just as I imagined it.
“Death in Paradise,” in case you haven’t watched it, is a BBC detective series produced by Red Planet Pictures. It’s starting its 12th series in January 2023. It works on a fairly standard premise: each week’s episode starts with a mysterious murder, which the oddball detective proceeds to solve, with the help of several sidekicks. Right now Ralf Little plays the Detective Inspector who, right on cue near the end of the episode, always has a sudden inspiration that solves the crime.
Deshaies, Guadeloupe and “Death in Paradise”
Before I left for Guadeloupe, I wrote about how I chose my destination: because of “Death in Paradise.” I love the scenery in the show, set on the fictional island of Saint Marie. I decided that it was as good a way as any to choose which Caribbean island to visit. That’s how I found myself visiting Guadaloupe and, in particular, this place that felt so familiar, even though I’d never been there before: Deshaies, where most of the show’s action takes place.
(Before I go on, a message for any of the cast and crew of “Death in Paradise” who might happen upon this post: I am not some creepy stalker. I have greatly enjoyed every episode of your show, but what I really fell in love with was the setting.)
Small buildings, some of them brightly painted, line a peaceful bay, dotted with fishing boats. A church stands above the village on a rise. Serving as a clear reminder of our mortality, a huge cemetery looms on a hill, visible from pretty much anywhere. The cemetery, by the way, is usually carefully excluded from the filming of “Death in Paradise.”
To me, it was very clear why the producers chose Deshaies for the “Death in Paradise” set:
- It’s the prettiest village in Guadeloupe, in my opinion.
- It allows the cast and crew to spend half their year in the real Deshaies.
- The guest stars, when they appear in a single episode, get a free trip to Guadeloupe. I wonder how many extend their stay to enjoy a bit of this paradise.
To read about all the best things to do in Guadeloupe, read my Guide to Guadeloupe!
In the show, the fictional island of Saint Marie is a British overseas territory, though with some sort of French colonial past, given that some of the characters have French accents. Guadeloupe, in real life, is an overseas region of France.
Deshaies seemed to me more touristy than any other towns I visited on the western “wing” of Guadeloupe, though it’s still not very touristy. It’s home to a few more seafood restaurants than a village that size would have, with higher prices. Many of the shops seemed more prosperous than the average. But you’d have to go to the eastern “wing” of the country to find a truly tourism-oriented economy.
“Death in Paradise” filming locations
I visited what I knew as Catherine’s Bar, the restaurant featured in the show, which, in real life, is Restaurant Le Madras. The wooden patio with a roof, right on the beach, was just as I “knew” it from the show. It looked just the same, if much less busy.
To soak up the atmosphere a bit, I ordered ice cream (passion fruit and guava sorbet, to be specific). The tiny waves lapped at the beach just below me. Palm trees shivered in the wind. The chickens picked for food. Hardly anyone was around except for a few customers in the restaurant itself across the tiny street.
It was quiet.
Your mileage may vary, of course. I visited after “paradise season” was over, usually December to May. I don’t know how much busier the town gets when they’re filming.
Added in 2022: The town of Deshaies has begun accommodating cruise ships with up to 600 passengers. I fear this may change the small-town feel of the town.
After my ice cream, I strolled up to the Deshaies church: the Catholic Church of Saints Peter and Paul. The church appears in the background of the show in every episode and has been used for a few scenes as well.
Just where I expected to find it, right next to the church, was the building used in “Death in Paradise” as the Honoré police station. It was closed, and I saw no indication of what it is used for other than a filming location. I noticed, though, that the building next to it has fake window panes painted onto wood shutters. It was the only remnant of the filming I came upon.
It was weird to see that so much about Deshaies matched the image in my head from watching “Death in Paradise.” Because of that, it was easy to think about the show as if it was real. I found myself thinking “If I lived in a town with so many murders, I would seriously consider moving away!”
Book your accommodations in or near Deshaies here. Apparently the cast stays at the Langley Fort Royal Hotel, and some scenes take place there as well.
Getting to Deshaies
Guadeloupe is a butterfly-shaped collection of islands, and Deshaies is at the northwest tip of Basse-Terre island, the western “wing” of the butterfly.
There is a bus system in Guadeloupe, both line buses and little jitney vans. Unless you have a lot of time, though, I’d suggest either renting a car or taking a taxi to Deshaies. I rented a car for my whole stay. Since Guadeloupe is a French territory, the roads and signage are just like in France. That gave me a feeling of familiarity. From the airport, a taxi will take 45 minutes to an hour. Make sure the cab has a meter or negotiate a price before you set off. If you want to travel around a lot, a rental car will end up costing less than relying on taxis.
From the airport, take the N1 west to the N2, which will take you right to Deshaies.
Things to do in Deshaies
Besides perusing the filming locations for “Death in Paradise,” there are other things to do in or near Deshaies:
Visit the botanical gardens “Jardin Botanique de Deshaies.” This is one of the most beautiful spots in the area. On the way there, stop on the hill just after you leave Deshaies and catch the view back toward town. You can also stay right in the botanical garden in this villa or this bungalow.
Go to a public beach:
- Plage de Grande Anse, or Grande Anse Beach, is just north of the town.
- La Perle Beach a.k.a. Anse La Perle is north of that.
- Plage de Clugny is even further north.
- There’s a nudist beach as well, between la Perle and Clugny.
- Plage de Leroux a.k.a. Plage Ferry, is just south of Deshaies.
- Petite Anse Beach is further south of that.
All of these are short drives away by car or taxi. All are beautiful beaches, with Grande Anse being the biggest. Plage de Leroux is quite small.
Anse la Perle beach, by the way, is the location of the Inspector’s beach house in the TV series. The house was built for filming purposes. I didn’t go see it, so I don’t know if the production company dismantles it when each production season ends.
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If you’ve visited the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and spent any time in Deshaies, please add your comments below!
My travel recommendations
- Skyscanner is where I always start my flight searches.
- Booking.com is the company I use most for finding accommodations. If you prefer, Expedia offers more or less the same.
- Discover Cars offers an easy way to compare prices from all of the major car-rental companies in one place.
- Use Viator or GetYourGuide to find walking tours, day tours, airport pickups, city cards, tickets and whatever else you need at your destination.
- Bookmundi is great when you’re looking for a longer tour of a few days to a few weeks, private or with a group, pretty much anywhere in the world. Lots of different tour companies list their tours here, so you can comparison shop.
Other travel-related items
- Get a Priority Pass if you fly a lot so that you can use airport lounges while you wait for flights. Plan your visits around meals and/or drink times and it’s definitely worth the investment!
- I’m a fan of SCOTTeVEST’s jackets and vests because when I wear one, I don’t have to carry a handbag. I feel like all my stuff is safer when I travel because it’s in inside pockets close to my body.
- Airalo is an e-sim card. You buy it through an app and activate it when you need it. I tried it on my trip to Thailand and it worked just like any other sim card, but without my having to fuss with physical cards.
- I use ExpressVPN on my phone and laptop when I travel. It keeps me safe from hackers when I use public or hotel wifi.