Located in St. Francois, La Cocoteraie is widely considered the finest hotel on Guadeloupe. It has only fifty rooms; all suites. Such luxury is not inexpensive; its beach suites are $816 a night during high season, while the pool suites a relative bargain at $733 a night.

Although owned by the Meridien hotel chain and on property adjacent to the Guadeloupe Meridien, the Cocoteraie is completely separate. It has its own (phenomenal) pool, beach, restaurant, bar, entrance, staff and management. Although guests at La Cocoteraie may use the amenities at the Meridien (it has a larger beach with water sports), it doesn't work the other way around.

Checking in is a gracious affair accomplished on a large sofa. While seated, a hostess brought us a glass with a blend of fresh fruit juices. The exceptional treatment did not end at reception. When shown our rooms, we and the two couples we were traveling with discovered that our suites had been upgraded to the beach front. We also found a bottle of Piper-Heidseck Rose Champagne (about $35 to $40 in the U.S.) chilled and waiting on the table in each of our living rooms. Other touches included a large bouquet of tropical flowers decorating mahogany credenza in the bedroom, a lavish complimentary buffet each morning, and a fresh flower bud placed on our pillows when our beds were turned down each evening.

All of the Cocoteraie's suites are large, approximately 750 square feet, having two bathrooms, a bedroom, a living room and a balcony. The master bath is large, with a oversize octagonal bath having a view of the cove through plantation shutters. The master baths are lined with a beautiful aqua pebbled terrazzo tile. The bedroom was large, about 10' by 12' and king size beds are available. The living room features a sleeper sofa as well as a satellite television in a mahogany armoire. A mahogany desk and tables round out the living room, which, like the rest of the suite, is decorated in bright tropical colors. Second story suites have the advantage of vaulted ceilings; first floor suites have wrap around patios instead of a balcony and French doors off both the living room and the bedroom.

The staff all speaks varying degrees of English, while the front desk and management are fluent. The entire staff has an graciously helpful attitude, making your stay invariably pleasant. Never once, even when making unusual requests, was the answer "I'm sorry but...". The answer was always "yes" (or "oui," as the case may be). Once, when leaving for the day, I indicated when we would be returning, asked for a bucket of ice to be brought to my room before my expected return, and that a bottle of wine be chilled. Not only was the wine chilled as requested, the staff had opened the bottle and set out wine glasses.

The attentive staff is led by the "energetic" Fidel Montana. Hispanic in origin and raised in Brazil, Monsieur Montana is fluent in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and (he claims) Chinese. No one in our group spoke Chinese, so we had to take his word on that claim. Monsieur Montana makes a point to meet and learn the names of each of his guests. More than once during our stay, he stopped by to say hello, ask how we were enjoying our stay, where we had been, and our opinions of different restaurants. Invariably during these discussions, a waitress would arrive with a round of drinks, compliments of Monsieur Montana. Once, while noticing our group wrestling with an uncooperative convertible top, Monsieur Montana had the Hertz representative in St. Francois at the hotel with tools within minutes.

The waveless pool at La Cocoteraie is a treat. One guide terms it "extravagantly large." Its real beauty is in the varying levels, its creative shape, and inviting areas including a swim up bar. A wooden bridge crosses the pool at one end, while blue and white Chinese vases decorate throughout. The bar shares the best wine and champagne list on the island with La Varangue, the pool side and beachfront restaurant. I would be remiss if I failed to point out the Cocoteraie's two private tennis courts and the adjacent Robert Trent-Jones designed golf course.

The suites are housed in small pink or blue buildings, four suites to a building. Most of the buildings ring the pool, several ring the small private beach, and two are in a nice secluded garden area. The garden suites are the least expensive at La Cocoteraie, but I found the seclusion of the area charming and would be more than pleased with a garden suite.

During the late spring and summer, rates fall steeply. Seasonal rates do not begin until January, making November and December especially attractive. In addition, specials are occasionally available that reduce the off-season rates. One special to inquire about is the Meridien 25, which gives a 25% discount with a 25 day advance reservation and the Forte 30, which provides a 30% discount with a 30 day reservation. Be certain to check rates with the hotel directly or through a service like www.travelweb.com, as the prices quoted by tour operators in U.S. Dollars are often higher than the rates quoted in French Francs by the hotel.

Regardless of which season you visit La Cocoteraie, I'm confident that you will find it worth every penny.



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