Known to its one-time Carib indian population as "karukera", or "island of beautiful waters", the French territory of Guadeloupe is a centre of Caribbean Creole culture.
French, African and Caribbean influences infuse its music, dance, food and widely-spoken patois.
Guadeloupe's economy is kept afloat by public salaries and credits from Paris. Unemployment has been a long-running malaise, although its effects are tempered by France's generous social security system.
Agriculture revolves around sugar cane and bananas; the latter is troubled by regional competition and the phasing out of preferential European quotas.
Tourism is important. Visitors, most of them from France, are drawn to Guadeloupe's resorts, beaches, waterfalls and forests and the territory is a port of call for cruise ships.
Guadeloupe is prone to earthquakes and hurricanes. Mount Soufriere, Basse-Terre's volcano, last erupted in the 1970s.
Visited by the explorer Christopher Columbus in 1493, who named it after a Spanish monastery, the territory was home to Carib indians who resisted Spanish attempts to settle the islands.
French colonists arrived in the 17th century, wiping out the Carib population. The settlers brought slaves from Africa to work on plantations and Guadeloupe prospered thanks to the trade in sugar and tobacco.Swedish rule
There were several British occupations in the 18th and early 19th centuries - and a brief period of nominal Swedish rule - before the territory was restored to France. It became a French "department" in 1946, and from the 1980s, a region of France.
Although support for the status quo is strong, a campaign for secession from France flared in the 1980s when pro-independence groups bombed hotels and government buildings.
Discontent at the rising cost of living led to violent protests early in 2009, and France sent in troops when rioters killed a trade union official. The French government raised wages for the low-paid, a key demand of the protestors, who ended a general strike in March.