Like the idea of a luxury Caribbean experience with a distinctly French twist? Look no further than the island of Martinique.
Martinique is the northernmost of the Windward group of islands in the Caribbean, a member of the French West Indies and one of many islands that make up the group of Lesser Antilles, often referred to as the ‘Breezy Islands’. When your Princess Cruise stops for the day, you’ll be as entranced as we are with the unique feel of this island.
This charming tropical island has a picturesque volcanic landscape, fringed with fine beaches and sprinkled with sugar, palm, banana and pineapple plantations. So what about this tropical paradise will give you a little French flair?
This charming tropical island has a picturesque volcanic landscape, fringed with fine beaches and sprinkled with sugar, palm, banana and pineapple plantations
Yes, we said French.
Martinique is one of the eighteen regions of France (being an overseas region) and an integral part of the French Republic. As part of France, Martinique is part of the European Union, and its currency is the euro. The official language is French, and virtually the entire population also speak Antillean Creole.
Thanks to its overriding French influence, Martinique is effortlessly cool, chic and stylish, but in a uniquely Caribbean laid-back way. Recently, several celebrities have made the island their regular vacation haven with Richard Gere, Uma Thurman and Jon Bon Jovi all big fans of the French Caribbean.
Many historical figures, writers and artists have all made Martinique their home over the years – Napoleon’s Empress, Josephine, was born here in 1763 while celebrated French artist Paul Gauguin painted many of his most famous works while visiting Martinique.
Eating out is undeniably a highlight. The island has remained under French control since 1635 and therefore has a distinctive French and Creole heritage with compelling cuisine to match. Poultry and seafood are extremely popular with local delicacies such as stuffed crab, stewed conch and roast wild goat, often with a spicy Caribbean twist.
But the real treat is dining on classic French dishes enhanced with local Martinique produce such as guava or plantains. Imagine a delicate lobster soufflé for starters, braised hen stuffed with a rich applesauce or octopus cassoulet for a main course and a decadent banana tarte Tatin drenched in French rum sauce to finish. Magnifique!
While most high-profile restaurants in and around Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, offer English-version menus, many smaller, privately owned eateries in the surrounding countryside have French-only menus so be sure to brush up on your French and download a translator app.
In Fort-de-France, notable establishments like Le Planteur, Marie-Sainte, le Belle Epoque, and La Mouina tempt guests with al fresco dinning and beautiful natural settings with a friendly Martiniquan service to boot.
Adventurous eaters should explore the island’s lesser-known eastern coast, where immaculate family-owned treasures like Chez Tatie Simone in Ste-Anne and Basse Pointe’s la Plantatio won’t disappoint.
The towns of Les Trois Ilets and Fort-de-France are two of the best places to shop for Parisian fashions if you don’t mind the matching very French price tags. Rue Victor Hugo is the main shopping strip in Fort-de-France and is worth a visit purely to soak up the chic atmosphere and indulge in the al fresco coffee culture, but there are also a couple of malls just east in Le Lamentin.
However, don’t dismiss the local markets as they offer a great insight into the culture. There are three in Fort-de-France: the Vegetable Market, the Fish Market, and the Big Market, also known as the Spice Market. Top souvenirs include Caribbean and Arawak, or indigenous South American, style vases, pots and jars, as well as sculptures and paintings.
The idea of a French beach might conjure a risque image to some, however there are no specifically designated nude beaches on the island. While there are no designated nude beaches, don’t be surprised to find many are openly topless. Also expect the sand on most beaches to be fine black or peppered, which is beautiful to see but hot on the feet as the sun rises higher throughout the day.
Southern Martinique boasts the island’s only white-sand beaches. The magnificent Grande Anse des Salines, 5km south of Ste-Anne is considered the best with around 1km of pristine white sands dotted with palm trees. Another favorite beach is Pointe de Bout on the west coast, renowned for its watersports.
If you only have time for a few things, here are the highlights to put on your list.
It won’t escape your attention that the island is famous for its rum. Explore La Route des Rhums, a tour of the world’s finest rum distilleries based on France’s famed Route des Vins.
Plantation to art
Head to le Carbet, where Christopher Columbus landed on his fourth voyage in 1502, and explore the restored plantation of Leyritz. The Centre d’Art Paul Gauguin is also nearby and contains exhibits relating to the painter’s stay and work in the area.
Take it breezy
The island is known for good wind with kite surfing, windsurfing and sailing extremely popular pastimes. However, other popular activities include surfing and diving – some of the best diving can be found around Diamond Rock while offshore near St Pierre is popular for wreck diving.
Tour de Force
Fort-de-France, with its white walled colonial architecture, colorful craft market and La Savane, is a tourist and local hotspot filled with stunning gardens and fountains as well as quaint cafes and shops.
Night owls will do well to head to Boulevard Allegre, a hip and trendy quarter with plenty of opportunities for late night dining, bar-hopping and people-watching. If you fancy a flutter, Martinique has two casinos, one in Pointe-du-Bout and the other near Fort-de-France offering American or French roulette and blackjack.