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Getting to Martinique is now a lot more affordable thanks to low cost airline Norwegian.com’s add on flights from New York, Boston and Fort Lauderdale opening up the possibilities for a thrilling twin centre holiday.
When I was organising my trip, with the help of the Martinique Tourist Board (based in New York) they seemed genuinely surprised that a UK journalist would be interested in visiting the island. Yes, there are Caribbean outposts with much closer British connections but I think they’ve underestimated our fondness for our neighbours just across the channel. For most people heading to the Caribbean, the main draw is the anticipation of a sun drenched tropical island getaway. Martinique will certainly deliver in that regard, but it also offers even more with its distinctive French flair and charm.
Sun, sea and sand
When it comes to beaches, the choices are endless from small coves to black sand beaches in the north and wide sweeps of soft, white sand in the south. All are open to the public. One of the best known is Anse les Salines near Saint Anne – it is a long attractive beach back by palm trees and lush green foliage providing welcome shade. It is the beach most favoured by cruise ship excursions though and can be very busy. The beaches highlighted in the video include the beach at the Hotel Bakoua in Trois Islets, the gorgeous lagoon at the Hotel Cap Est on the east coast, Grand Anse also in the Trois Islets area, Le Diamant beach and the black sand Anse Ceron in the north.
Hire a car and freewheel
Hiring a car is dead easy, either at the airport, in the capital Fort de France or from one of several outlets in the Creole Village in Trois Islets. Costs will vary widely and last minute availability can be patchy so its best to book in advance online. All cars on the island are high standard French imports, roads are generally well maintained and clearly signed.
Visit former capital Saint Pierre
Sometimes dubbed the Pompeii of the Caribbean, St Pierre was the island’s elegant capital until it was destroyed by a devastating eruption of Mont Pelee in 1902. Almost 30,000 people died and the city was never rebuilt, the capital was instead moved to Fort de France. The ruins have been preserved and its an interesting, if somewhat eerie, place to visit. The ruins of the Theatre in particular give a sense of the grandeur the place once had.
These wonderful tropical gardens, set into the hillside, just north of Fort de France are well worth a few hours. Full of colour all year round, the palm collection is particularly impressive and the highlight is the 15m high Treetop Bridge walk. Click here to visit their website
Sample the local Rum
They take their Rum very seriously in Martinique and its a source of great pride that they produce ‘Rhum Agricole’ from pressed sugar cane as opposed to mass produced rum which is made from molasses, a bi product of sugar cane. There are nine distilleries on the island, most welcoming visitors to look around and sample the products. We visited two of them. The Depaz Distillery is a working distillery where, post the harvest in February you can see production in action. Habitation Clement also a prominent Rum producer although the production is no longer done on site. Instead the original distillery buildings have been preserved as a museum of the process and the whole estate has become more of cultural foundation. In the beautiful gardens there is a fabulous modern sculpture collection and just by the entrance there is a steel clad, contemporary art exhibition hall, currently housing a splendid collection on loan from the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
Shop in local markets
More Run is on offer in the local markets – colourful rows of bottles of home made Ti’Punch – rum mixed with all manner of exotic local produce from pineapple to coconut. The markets are also the place to stock up on spices and huge fat vanilla pods as well as souvenirs and local crafts, often using the multi coloured Madras check fabric. The video was shot at the Grande Marche in Fort de France.
Until very recently only French history was taught in Martinique schools but one man in particular, Gilbert Larose, has made it his mission to make sure that Slave history is now very much on the curriculum. He singlehandedly created La Savane des Esclaves, where visitors can witness, learn and help preserve the true history of the island. Gilbert has also written and produced an animated book, aimed at children, which is now used in schools.
Another powerful reminder of this part of Martinique’s history can be found at Anse Caffard. Overlooking Le Diamant bay and rolling waves is a stunning memorial to the slaves who drowned on their way to the island. The huge white stone figures cast an ominous shadow on the otherwise serene landscape.
Feel the island rhythms
A cultural dance performance is standard hotel entertainment fare. This one was the ‘Le Grand Ballet’ performed at Le Bakoua Hotel in Trois Islets and covering a wide variety of dance styles. Aside from traditional dance, listen out too for Zouk, a music style developed in the 80’s in Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Take a boat trip
A day out on a catamaran is a great way to see more of the coastline and enjoy the warm Caribbean sea. Our trip with Kata Mambo was from Pointe du Bout marina in Trois Islets, sailing north up the coast to St Pierre. Before a stop at the capital we got to sail along with dolphins and, after lunch on board, a snorkelling stop was a lovely way to round off the day.
Who doesn’t love a good sunset? Our closing shot was taken from Kano Bar and restaurant in Pointe du Bout. Highly recommended for its location and food.
Norwegian.com offers up to four weekly services from London Gatwick to Martinique via New York JFK, Boston and Fort Lauderdale during the winter season. Flights are operated by a fleet of brand new aircraft including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft with two cabins – Premium and economy and the Boeing 737-800 offering free Wi-Fi between the US and French Caribbean
Fares start from £293.80 one way in economy and £583.80 one way in Premium on the transatlantic legs of the route
For detailed general island information click here