Known to its one-time Carib Indian population as "karukera", or "island of beautiful waters", the butterfly-shaped 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 also a key earner with visitors, mostly from the US, drawn to Guadeloupe's resorts, beaches, waterfalls and forests.
Head of state: The President of France
Guadeloupe is administered as a part of the French mainland.
Paris is represented by a prefect, appointed by the French president. Regional and general councils, elected by popular votes, oversee legislative and day-to-day affairs. Guadeloupe sends representatives to the National Assembly and to the Senate in Paris.
Commercial broadcasters operate alongside services provided by public broadcaster Reseau France Outre-mer (RFO).
700 BC - First inhabited by the Amerindian Arawak people who are displaced by Carib Indians in 1000 AD.
1493 - Visited by explorer Christopher Columbus but the Carib Indian inhabitants resist Spanish attempts to settle.
1635 - French colonialists establish a settlement, wiping out the Carib population and bringing in African slaves to work on sugar plantations.
1700-1800s - Several British occupations and a brief period of nominal Swedish rule before the territory is restored to France in 1816.
1946 - Becomes a French overseas department
1958 - Guadeloupeens choose to remain a French possession over independence
1976 - La Soufriere volcano erupts causing half the island to be evacuated
1980 - Becomes a French administrative region
1980s - Campaign for secession flares up when pro-independence groups bomb hotels and government buildings
2009 - Violent protests follow a general strike over the cost of living. France offers Guadeloupe hundreds of millions of euros in new subsidies.