Martinique, C’est Moi
Martinique is the flagship of French culture in the Caribbean
and the verve of the French is ever-present. In the capital, Fort de France, a
Parisian boldness quite at odds with the laidback attitude typical of the
Caribbean prevails. You'll have the illusion of being in France: the style and
chic is pure Paris, but look around you and the coconut palms and the sunshine
will remind you that you're a long way from Europe.
Shoppers will appreciate the Parisian sophistication as they
join the chic customers sashaying past shops filled with classic names from
French couture: Yves St Laurent and Christian Lacroix are just two major
fashion brands with outlets here – one thing that makes the island very popular
with cruise lines is that it’s one of the best shopping destinations in the
The people of Martinique have remained loyal to French culture
and consider other Caribbean peoples – even their near neighbors on Guadeloupe
- to be a little wild and temperamental.
The name 'Martinique' is thought to derive from the Carib word
'madinia' which means 'island of flowers' - a beautiful name for a glorious and
glamorous tropical destination. Myth has it that when Columbus discovered the
island he believed it was inhabited by a tribe of Amazons as he was greeted
only by a team of women shouting and gesturing. A moment's thought might have
called the more prosaic truth to mind - the men folk were away raiding on other
The north of the island is dominated by Mont Pele, a 4,656 ft
volcano which destroyed the old city of St Pierre - the Paris of the lesser
Antilles - in a catastrophic explosion. The central plains of the island are
the site of the sugar cane plantations that provided the island with much of
its wealth before tourism became important. Further south rolling hills rise up
and the coral limestone on the southern peninsula contrasts with the dark
volcanic stone of the north.
Martinique is endowed with beaches to suit every taste.
Connoisseurs of fine sand will prefer the south as that in the north is hard
and dark courtesy of Mont Pele. As well as sunbathing on beaches of the
sheltered palm fringed coves you can enjoy wandering through picturesque
fishing villages. If you want to explore more of the island full or half day
tours are easily arranged and usually include a meal. You can appreciate the
island from helicopter or small aeroplane with tour companies such as Airway
and Alile Air Services.
To experience the island from a more intimate perspective hire a
bike or explore on horseback - no experience needed. Mounts can be hired from
La Gourmette, on the outskirts of Fort de France or from the Ranch de Trois
Caps near Le Marin. The tropical vegetation is a major attraction of the
Martiniquan landscape and the thoughtful, well-presented display of tropical
plants and trees at Balata Gardens will appeal to the green-fingered.
There are plenty of more active pursuits to choose from.
Sailboarding is popular all over Martinique but advanced sailors should head
for Vauclin on the Atlantic coast for the best waves. Tartane on the Caravelle
peninsula is the premiere location for surfers. If surfing and sailing aren't
for you, but you still want to enjoy the waves to the full try kayaking.
Martinique also offers superb deep sea fishing with trips leaving from Le
Scuba diving is a fantastic sport, and although you'll need a
certificate to venture out independently, teaching sessions can be arranged
through hotels and tandem dives make the sport accessible even for novices.
Some of the best sites are Diamond Rock and Sainte Anne in the south, from
where you'll be able to view some very special colonies of corals. Not quite
ready for strange thrill of marine life deep beneath the ocean surface?
Snorkelling provides a dazzling view of some of the most colourful creatures.
Head for Les Anses d'Arlets and see seafans and sponges.
One of the less attractive aspects of the island – though you
can’t deny its popularity – is cockfighting. It may sound barbaric, but the
atmosphere at a fight is electric and this most intense of spectator sports
gives you a real glimpse of the passionate spirit of the people of Martinique.
If you want to mull the strange relationship this island seems
to represent between civilization and barbarism, you would do a lot worse than
to do so over a glass of imported wine of local coffee. Within easy distance of
the cruise port you’ll find several very pleasant French-style cafés where you
can do just that.
Martinique is a little bit of France in the middle of the
Caribbean – a little bit, though it’s not completely French. This amazing
island is a fantastic blend of cultures that you’ll want, someday, to return