Before then, the Arawak and Carib Indians had called their homeland Madinina (meaning ‘island of flowers’) in honour of its vibrant varicoloured blooms. Today this east Caribbean isle is marvelled at by tourists, drawn to the island by its volcanic landscape and natural splendour. Rolling sugar, palm, banana and pineapple plantations tumble down to fine white, black, or peppered sand beaches. Martinique’s location also makes it a stopping-off point for cruise ships, which dock at the capital’s Pointe Simon. The island’s French and Creole heritage is especially pronounced in bustling Fort-de-France, where Parisian chic is fused with a laid back Caribbean vibe. Shops stock French brands and bistros play Gallic folk music while Martiniquais clad head to toe Chanel tap their manicured toes to the lively sounds of local zouk.
Christopher Columbus declared Martinique ‘the most beautiful country in the world’ when he discovered it in 1493.
Be prepared to delve into Fort-de-France’s narrow, winding streets to discover the capital’s most colourful markets. In the centre of town, stroll through the park under the gaze of Napoleon’s Empress Josephine, a native of Martinique. For the best bathing beaches head to Ste Anne, Le Diamant and Les Anses d’Arlets – the water is warm, calm and beautifully clear.
• La Pagerie
• Parc des Floralies
• Musée Départemental
• Cathedral of St-Louis
• Montagne Pelée
• Musée Volcanologique
• Restored plantation of Leyritz
• Centre d’Art Paul Gauguin
• Pointe du Bout, Martinique’s major resort area
• HMS Diamond Rock
• Fonds Saint-Jacques
• Maison de la Canne, a modern museum devoted to sugar and rum just outside Trois-îlets
Martinique Tourist Office in France
2 rue des Moulins, 75001 Paris, France
Tel: (01) 4477 8600.
Almost every market boasts an array of local items and crafts from rum, straw goods, bamboo hats, Creole dolls and palm-woven baskets to colourful Creole jewellery. French imports are everywhere, be it boutiques, supermarket or a local store. Wines, liqueurs and crystal are surprisingly good value. Pay by travellers cheques and you qualify for a hefty discount in some of the larger tourist shops.
Local food is characterised by French and Caribbean influences, using fresh island produce and European panache. Sauces and roux from France mix with spices from the Caribbean region: the result is a unique fusion seasoned with generous savoir-faire. Local specialities include lobster, red snapper, conch, sea urchin and stuffed crab. Also a Creole dish, colombo in which goat, chicken, pork or lamb is cooked in thick curry sauce.
When to go:
Year-round warm weather is wettest during the rainy season June to September. Peak season is December to the end of April, with soaring prices and great crowds of travellers. Things are quieter May to the end of November as Europeans tend to return home.
2.5km (1.5 miles).