Top 5 guide to Martinique

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From an active volcano to abundant activities, from French-Creole culture to fine rum, Martinique has it all. Francesca Murray helps you uncover the island’s best bits

I’ve fallen in love with the sound of Martinique at night. It’s a gentle symphony of birds, crickets and frogs that refuses to let you forget you’re on the ‘Island of Flowers’, completely surrounded by nature.

And nature enhances everyday life here. One evening, in the midst of Martinique’s nightly chorus, I heard a light tap on my door followed by an affable “Ça va?”. My new host wanted to know how I was doing. I opened the door and sheepishly replied that I was feeling a little sick, probably just adjusting to the climate and jet lag. “I’ll get you a tea,” she said. She returned ten minutes later holding a branch heavy with leaves. My eyes grew wide and we both chuckled. I’d expected a regular tea bag, not a remedy from her Creole garden.

Martinique has a complex history and a strong cultural identity, evident in the traditional bèlè music, the dress, even in personal interactions. It is an overseas region of France but retains deep Creole roots. Add to this a remarkable diversity of flora and fauna, and gorgeous landscapes that vary dramatically from north to south, and you have something unique. It’s impossible to run out of places to explore and new experiences. Martinique will draw you back time and time again.

Touching down
• Aimé Césaire International Airport is in Lamentin, a 20-minute drive from the capital, Fort-de-France.
• LIAT flies direct to Martinique from Barbados, with connecting flights across the region. y Taxis from the airport cost €20-60, depending on destination. Renting a car is recommended. Private pick-up services are available. Sweet Caribbean Holidays specialises in assisting English-speaking travellers with transport, hotel bookings and excursions (www.sweetcaribbeanholidays.com).

Top 5 wild places

1 Mount Pelée
The only active volcano on the island is infamous thanks to the 1902 eruption that left Saint-Pierre in ruins. The former capital has not been restored but the town is still worth a visit and the volcano is one of the most popular hiking locations in Martinique due to its unbeatable views and lush vegetation.
2 La Savane des Pétrifications
Take a hike through the savannah at the southernmost point of the island. It’s easy to forget you’re in Martinique as you pass cacti, canyons and fossilised coral reef. The dry climate has caused certain parts to look and feel like a desert.
3 Cascade du Saut du Gendarme
Martinique’s most accessible waterfall is a gem hidden in plain sight. A short walk across a creek takes you right to this refreshing natural wonder. The water is deep enough to have a swim.
4 Grand Rivière
This river runs right through the forest and out to sea; adventure-seekers can hike along it, linking the town of Grand Rivière with Le Precheur. It’s a six-hour trek that must be planned in advance, with two cars or a boat reservation for pickup.
5 Dlo Ferré
Dlo Ferré is a small natural mineral pool surrounded by the sea. With water warmed by the sun, it makes for a relaxing soak in an impressive landscape. There’s room for only about three people so be prepared to wait your turn.

 

Top 5 places to stay

1 Le Domaine des Bulles
This family-run ecolodge overlooking the Atlantic is one of a kind. Guests sleep in their own personal bulle (bubble) underneath the stars, each set in an outdoor oasis with either a private pool or jacuzzi. Board games are provided for extra bonding, and there is also a family suite that sleeps up to five people. Doubles from €150. Le Vauclin; 596 74 69 54; www.ledomainedesbulles.com
2 Hotel French Coco
This small luxury hotel has bagged several awards for making strides in sustainability and superior comfort. Exclusive yet inviting, guests are welcomed into a world where minimalist design meets sublime tranquillity. Each suite offers access to the Creole garden, which is fragrant with exotic plants, many of which are used in the hotel’s gourmet restaurant. Suites from €425. Tartane, Trinité; 596 38 10 10; www.hotelfrenchcoco.com
3 Hotel Bambou
Taking pride in its Creole roots, this charismatic hotel is a colourful maze of bungalows and banana trees by the beach. The beautifully renovated Superior Rooms include a terrace and access to the private infinity pool, mere steps away from the invitingly balmy sea. Doubles from €126; Anse Mitan, Trois-Ilets; 596 66 01 39; www.hotelbambou.fr
4 Carayou Hotel & Spa
The Carayou offers an all-inclusive experience without isolation thanks to its close proximity to the town centre. Rooms, each with a sea-facing terrace or a balcony, have an understated Caribbean charm. Try the aqua aerobics class in the morning, and end the day with unlimited drinks at the bar, which overlooks the bay of Fort-de-France. Doubles from €210. La Pointe du Bout, Trois-Ilets; 596 66 04 04; www.hotel-carayou.com
5 La Batelière
La Batelière is the best hotel for business travellers. A five-minute drive takes you straight to the centre of Fort-de-France, but it’s far enough from the bustle to get a good night’s sleep. The hotel pool has a terrific sunset view, and a French breakfast buffet is included. Doubles from €125. rue des Alizés, Schoelcher; 596 61 49 49; www.la-bateliere.com

 

Top 5 places to shop

1 Le Grand Marché Couvert
Fort-de-France’s covered market is bursting with life. On any given afternoon (except Sundays) you’ll find vendors dressed in traditional madras clothing selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to homemade rums and liquors. Don’t be afraid to ask to try a small sample before you buy. Fort-de-France
2 Le Village de la Poterie
The Pottery Village is a former Jesuit convent-turned-shopping centre with a host of artisan boutiques selling everything from perfumes to custom-made pottery. Visit La Savonnerie Antillaise for scented soaps and shampoos handmade in Martinique. Route des Trois-Ilets, 97229, Trois-Ilets; 696 20 12 44; www.poterie-village.fr
3 La Galleria
As one of the largest shopping malls in the Lesser Antilles, you’ll find plenty of big brands like Levi’s and Mango here. Accroc Chocolat, a gourmet Belgian chocolate shop, is just around the corner from the food court, which serves traditional Creole dishes. Acajou, Le Lamentin 97232; 596 50 66 63; galleria.mq
4 Village Créole
Browse several restaurants and boutiques, and stop by Ô Ruban Rose for your high fashion fix – Mylène selects accessories and apparel from international designers, with eye-catching displays of colour-popping dresses and trinkets that sparkle. Pointe Du Bout, 97229 Trois-Ilets; 596 66 03 19; www.village-creole.com
5 La Librairie Antillaise
Bookworms will be right at home at the Librairie Antillaise. It’s a one-stop shop for magazines, newspapers, books, guidebooks and maps. Pick up a copy of France Antilles for an inside look at the local scene. Various locations around the island; www.librairieantillaise.com

 

Top 5 places to lime

1 Cloud
A short elevator ride takes you straight into Cloud, a rooftop bar reminiscent of chic happy-hour spots in New York or LA. Rather than boasting seaside views, lights shine from the hills of Fort-de-France. Rue Ernest Hemingway, Fort-de-France; 596 696 272; www.cloudrooftopbar.com
2 Lili’s Beach Bar
The ideal spot for liming day or night. Sun-seekers take advantage of the beach beds, while evening guests hang out on wooden benches planted in the sand. Chill out with a beer or cocktail while enjoying one of the weekly concerts. Schoelcher; 596 42 89 02; lilisbeachbar.com
3 Le Kano
Popular with locals and tourists alike, Le Kano kicks off every week with buy-one-get-one-free happy-hour Mondays and a DJ to get the after-work crowd going. Try the signature ‘Kano’, a sweet and sour cocktail with tequila, rum and lemon. Anse Mitan; 596 78 40 33; le-kano.restaurant-martinique.biz
4 Tropical Café
Set in the swanky lobby of Hotel La Pagerie, this is the place for entertainment and a mean cocktail. The mojitos, made with Martinican rum and fresh sugar cane, are a must. People often have a drink here before heading to dinner at the nearby Village Créole. Pointe du Bout; 596 660 530; www.hotel-lapagerie.com
5 Ti Sable
The Sunday night jam sessions here are legendary. Both local and international artists hit the stage to bring this beachside restaurant to life. You can arrive early and enjoy the BBQ buffet, or head straight to the bar and grab a Lorraine, Martinique’s national beer, before dancing your cares away. Grand Anse; 596 68 62 44; tisablemartinique.com

 

Top 5 places to eat

1 Chez Evelyne
Set on the white sands of Grand Anse, one of the island’s best beaches, Chez Evelyne serves fresh seafood right off the grill. Try the Plat Creole for a sample of staples such as sweet potatoes, blood sausage and yams. Les Anses d’Arlet; 596 48 39 38
2 La Baraqu’Obama
Yes, you read that right. This small, lively restaurant is named after the 44th US president. With succulent conch and presidential decor, it’s the preferred Sainte-Luce dining option among locals. Sainte-Luce; 596 62 59 46
3 Le Point de Vue
The Viewpoint is perched on a hill overlooking a vast, wavy beach in Sainte-Marie. The menu features traditional creole food at affordable prices. Plates start at just €12. Anse-Charpentier; 596 69 05 22
4 La Voile Blanche
The menu here displays a modern spin on Creole classics such as accras de morue (salt-cod fritters) with a sweet dipping sauce. The chef often makes use of local finds – don’t miss the seafood linguine pasta. Le Diamant; 596 76 40 49; lavoileblanchemartinique.com
5 Boulangerie La Guérande
One of the best bakeries in Martinique takes its role as a traditional boulangerie very seriously. The lines may be long but it’s worth the wait for mouthwatering macarons, fresh fruit-topped cakes, classic baguettes and croissants. Trois-Ilets; 596 78 25 77; boulangerielaguerande.fr

 

Top 5 things to see and do

1 Jardin de Balata
This botanical paradise perches in the hills of Fort-de-France. A dazzling array of plants, flowers and palm trees gives visitors a clear idea of why Martinique is called the Île aux Fleurs. (Island of Flowers) There’s a children’s play area and a suspended bridge with a breathtaking view of the bay. Route de Balata, Fort-de-France; 596 64 48 73; www.jardindebalata.fr
2 Cap 110
This sculpture serves as a haunting tribute to the lives that were tragically lost when a slave ship carrying some 300 people ran aground offshore in 1830. The triangular formation of Cap 110’s 15 statues represents the triangular trade between Africa, Europe and the Americas. Anse Caffard, Le Diamant
3 Anse Noire
Shining black sand, swaying palms and turquoise waters make Anse Noire one of the most cherished beaches in Martinique. It’s also the number-one spot for snorkelling because turtles love to hang out here too – just be sure not to touch or feed them.
4 Habitation Clément
No trip to the rum capital of the Caribbean is complete without at least one visit to a distillery. Clément offers guided tours in multiple languages, including entry to the garden and an unlimited tasting. Rum aficionados will love the chance to try the distillery’s oldest rum, aged 10-15 years. Domaine de l’Acajou, Le François; www.rhumclementusa.com
5 La Savane des Esclaves
This outdoor museum, with Creole houses and gardens, provides a deeper understanding of the effects of slavery in Martinique. The excellent guided tour explains every aspect of life post-colonisation, and there’s also a monthly cacao workshop. Quartier La Ferme, Trois-Ilets; 596 68 33 91; www.lasavanedesesclaves.fr

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