Blessed with an abundance of wildlife, the first thing visitors to Ile Royale will notice will be the sea turtles feeding along the pier, the iguanas basking on rocks, and perhaps even the peacocks strolling along the road. At first glance, the island seems like paradise but scratch the surface and a much sombre past becomes clear. In fact, French Guiana was not always the tropical holiday destination it is today – far from it. During its penal colony days, being sent ‘en Guyane’ was the ultimate form of punishment, reserved primarily for the worst of France’s criminals (many will, of course, know the story of Henri Charriere aka Papillon, played by Steve McQueen in the film of the same name). Thankfully, Ile Royale – part of the three islands known as The Devil’s Islands (the smallest of which still retains the name today) has thrown off the shackles of its past and today embraces visitors in a rather more welcoming manner! If you decide to venture beyond the picture postcard long beach with swaying palm trees, historians will no doubt enjoy visiting the beautiful French colonial buildings, once home to the prison officers. Besides the officers’ quarters sits one of the highlights of Ile Royale – the prisoner-built chapel, dating from 1855. The most striking features, inside the wooden church, are the murals painted by convicted forger, Francis Lagrange. Other remains include the House of the Sisters, the military hospital and of course, the prison itself. Interestingly, in 1971 the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (or CNES, France’s equivalent to NASA) purchased the islands. As they sit in the flight path of most rocket launches, the islands must be evacuated on launch days.