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Martinique

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Martinique city of Le Diamant named a downtown street Rue Obama; it extends 472 feet.
  • Paul Gauguin painted several Martinique landscapes during a short stay on the island (1887).
  • Napoleon I’s consort, Empress Josephine, as born in Martinique (1763).
  • Mount Pelee’s 1902 eruption was the 20th century’s deadliest volcanic explosion.
  • The Schoelcher Library was built in Paris for the 1889 Exposition, then shipped to Martinique and rebuilt.

The tropics, with a French twist

Martinique is a Caribbean island, but it also is a region of France. Although mainland France is 4,350 miles away, Martinicans speak French and vote in French elections choosing representatives to the French National Assembly. And the euro is the local currency.

To choose Martinique for a Caribbean getaway is to immerse oneself in many aspects of French culture, including the language, food, architectural styles and choices for shopping.

However, this is France in the tropics with features associated with other area islands — the turquoise waters, sandy beaches, game fish and a system of reefs — which offer a rich range of choices for anglers, beach lovers and water sports enthusiasts.

As for the landscape, it is a rugged volcanic land, punctuated by mountains with appeal for the hiker, plus rain forests, waterfalls, rolling hills and picturesque bays and coves. Two-thirds of the island comprises protected areas, the largest portion accounted for by the French Regional Natural Reserve.

Martinique also is France with a history that differs significantly from that of the mainland in that African slaves were imported in the 1700s to work on sugarcane plantations. The result is an African-influenced culture apparent in things like the Creole language and zouk, a music that was born in the French Caribbean.

Martinique was a colony, and today there are museums providing insights into that background, plus plantations to visit and historic buildings to see, such as Fort-de-France’s Bibliotheque Schoelcher, or Schoelcher Library.

The island offers diversions for night owls, mostly in the capital, Fort-de-France, where visitors may choose clubs featuring jazz or the danceable zouk. There are casinos, too, as well as restaurant choices to satisfy visiting foodies — whether they are night owls or not.

Finally, the island’s Mount Pelee volcano sets Martinique apart from all other Caribbean islands (or any islands) because it exploded with such force in 1902 that it killed 29,000 to 30,000 people in Saint-Pierre, then the island’s capital. There were only a couple of survivors. Tourists can see the mountain, even climb it, as well as see the remains of Saint-Pierre and visit associated museums.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Celebrate Carnival festivities with Martinicans by, for example, joining in a parade. If you cannot make this four-day holiday, the fallback position is timing your visit for Mi-Careme, or mid-Lent. a 24-hour reprise of Carnival three weeks after the main event.
  • Charter a large sailboat or powerboat for a day. Or, go out on the water in a small sailboat.
  • Take a hike. The island has scores of miles of marked trails (marked in French). Take this walk in the Pitons du Carbet mountains, bearing in mind they reach as high as 4,000 feet above sea level.
  • Or, target the Mount Pelee volcano on the north coast for your outing. The summit trail is for experienced hikers.
  • Go diving. For a unique diving experience, explore ships that sank in the harbor of Saint-Pierre during the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelee.
  • In Fort-du-France, check out the club scene, which is lively. Look for spots to hear jazz or zouk, music born in the French Caribbean and good for dancing.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Get thee to one of the rum distilleries for a tour and tasting. There are many distilleries on the island. Also, see a plantation such as Habitation Ceron, where sugarcane is still raised, along with other crops.
  • Join a fishing expedition and pull in a dorado or other game fish.
  • Visit Mount Pelee and Saint-Pierre, the city destroyed by its 1902 eruption. See Saint-Pierre’s Volcano Museum with its eye-popping information about the blast that wiped out a city’s population in three minutes. Also at Saint-Pierre, the Earth Science Discovery Center, with workshops about the geology and history of the Earth, is an option.
  • The snorkeling is good on the southwestern coast, which is lined by reefs.
  • Learn how to play bele, traditional Martinican drumming, at La Maison du Bele, or the Bele House, a culture center in Sainte Marie dedicated to drumming.
  • Spend a little time studying — which means sampling — Martinique’s choices for French and Creole cuisine. Also, sip a Ti-punch, a locally popular rum-based mixed drink,

Things to do for Authentics

  • If an art lover, visit the Gauguin Museum at Le Carbet. It contains replicas of the artist’s work created when he was in Martinique.
  • Rent a villa, and enjoy the privacy.
  • The Maison de la Canne, or Sugarcane House, in Trois-Ilets is a museum that explores sugarcane and rum in Martinique’s history, but also in fascinating for the light it sheds on slavery on Martinique.
  • Take a day cruise (lunch included) with stops at various points of interest on the island, or join a dinner cruise. And/or choose a boat trip aboard a semisubmersible boat. This allows you to look at the underwater reefs and stay dry.
  • Get tickets for a performance by Les Grands Ballets de la Martinique, a local folkloric dance troupe.
  • Shop for good European imports, as well as local goods such as rum, pure vanilla extract, gold Creole jewelry, tapestries, paintings and more.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Martinique Promotion Bureau at http://us.martinique.org and choose another language if necessary.