We have often visited Martinique, as Jilly Blancaneaux (nee Jilly Walwyn), Susie’s younger sister has lived here since aged twenty. When she married Charles Blancaneaux, ‘Une Beke’. Meaning a member of one of the oldest French Settlers of Guadaloupe, Martinique and French Guinea in South America. Apart from which Martinique is our favourite of all islands in the Caribbean. Perfect for yachting, which features superb beaches on the South Western aspect with much calmer water and warmer sea breezes, than the Atlantic Eastern coast of this enchanting island. An added attraction being that Dominica is only twenty miles to the north and St. Lucie similarly twenty miles to the south, a 20 mile sail alternatively a matter of minutes aboard a fast seaworthy ‘ Caribbean Dayboat’ or motor cruiser. You can also either take a ferry or fly to either of these neighbouring islands.
The Route. England to Martinique
There are no direct flights from the United Kingdom to Martinique nor same day connecting flights from the UK through France to Martinique. We flew easyJet to Paris Charles de Gaulle, then took the train into Paris for the night. Where we stayed at the “Hotel du Levant”:http://www.hoteldulevant.com, 18 Rue de la Harpe , 5th Arri. Paris on the Left Bank of the River Seine overlooking the magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame and the beautiful ancient Ile de Citie. Dining out at one of the many excellent and charming bistros overlooking the River Seine a stone’s throw from our hotel.
The following morning we took the ‘ Paris Underground ‘ a matter of some 200 metres from our hotel, out to Orly Airport. Boarded the mid morning daily Corsair flight to Fort de France Airport at Le Lamentin, on Martinique. An eight hour flight across the Atlantic. We recommend flying ‘Business Class’ as being an essential, if at all possible and virtually essential en route home at night. We arrived in the late afternoon, conveniently in daylight. A wonderful time to arrive because you see the entire island below you as you approach from the east, prior to flying in over the magnificent Baie de Fort de France with the famous landmark of the Sacre Coeur Basilique shining in brilliant white on the mountainside to the north. Whilst passing the vast 17th century Fort de St. Louis on the final approach across the bay. Prior to landing beside the sugar can swaying in the warm Westerly Trade Winds. Upon alighting from the aircraft, the temperature after leaving Northern Europe is some 80 degrees with a noticeably high level of humidity. Therefore be sure to have changed at Orly Airport in Paris into ‘Tropical weight’ clothes prior to boarding the flight.
We collected our pre-booked ‘Budget Rental’ car which we arranged in UK and drove for twenty minutes along the dual carriageway to Fort de France, then for a further ten minutes up into the mountains to stay with our family at their stunning mountainside house at Ravine Villaine. Set amidst a virtual ‘Garden of Eden’ of palm, coconut, banana, grapefruit, avocado trees, massed tropical flowers and climbers, floodlit at night, overlooking a magnificent banana plantation n’ period Plantation house some five hundred feet below, down in the valley on a mountainside plateau. . By this time it was dark, with the lights of Fort de France and the bay beyond across to Les Trois – Islets twinkling under a clear Caribbean starlit night sky…
The typical ‘French Colonial’ architecture of the house, is white painted timber, with fretted pierced wooden ‘Ginger Bread’ fretwork embellishments, terracotta pan tiled roof, white painted shutters, terracotta tiled floors, ‘French windows’ and a large wide timbered veranda with terracotta tiled floor. Complemented by a vast timbered raised decked terrace, featuring a terracotta roofed gazebo n’ a crystal clear mosaic tiled swimming pool. fed by a mountain stream, flanked by hibiscus, orchids and other exotics. The mesmerizing scent of waxy white Frangapani flowers in full bloom permeates the night air, which is as always a thrill to the senses. A wide set of terracotta graduated steps leads off the decking down to a floodlit garden through which a mountain streams cascades down into the valley. We were once again ‘In heaven in the Caribbean’..
Martinique is situated amongst the French Antilles in the Caribbean Sea and is arguably is the largest and loveliest island of them all. Famous as ‘La Plus Belle Ile des Fleurs en Paradis’ with a near perfect climate where temperatures fluctuate little, continually hovering around 80 degrees throughout the year, with a tolerable level of humidity which translates effectively as perpetual summer time! Tropical rain storms seldom last longer than a matter of hours which supports exceptionally lush natural vegetation, enhanced by growing in volcanic soil full of minerals and natural nutrients.
Martinique was first settled by the French during the 17th century during the period that St. Kitts was shared equally between early French and the English Settlers at which time it was still a stronghold of the Carib Indians. A warlike race, who had settled throughout many of the Caribbean Islands, having paddled their war canoes up through the volcanic chain of islands that are known today as The West Indies. First Tobacco thereafter Sugar became the main crops of the Martinique economy, of which for centuries ‘Sugar was King’ which enriched the great sugar plantation owning families, making them the wealthiest of all French settlers amongst their world wide colonies that stretched right around the world to include the ‘Paradise Islands of Tahiti’ in the Mid-Pacific Ocean. Today although Sugar is still an important crop, Banana Plantations have replaced much of the sugar that used to be pre-emminent. One of the largest and most modern n’ high tech multiple banana plantations enterprises being owned and run by Henri Simonet of the Famille Simonet, whose antecedents have been amongst the leading plantation owners for centuries.
On the Simmonet owned ‘La Grande Cite Banana Plantation’ they have installed Israeli designed aerial cables supported upon pylons, featuring hooks that the large heavy cut stems of bananas are hung upon for transportation direct to a Banana Packing House. Where the stems of bananas are doused in a vat of disinfectant and them washed down, industrially air dried and lowered onto a conveyor belt. Where the bananas are cut into domestic sized hands of bananas and then packed into cardboard boxes, loaded into climate controlled steel shipping containers and transported by lorry down to the large modern commercial docks at Fort de France for shipping to Europe for distribution to major super markets largely in France and Germany.
Currency: Euros / You will need plenty of cash incidentals whilst exploring by car.
Major Credit cards universally accepted here.
Hotels & All Inclusive Resorts
Martinique boasts so many wonderful oceanside hotels situated in truly glorious locations, that the visitor is faced with a hard choice if not familiar with the island. Our recommendations are to stay in the south of the island where all the best beaches are to be found together with the best restaurants and general facilities, such as boat hire/charter, sailing, water ski-ing, para gliding, jet ski-ing, kite surfing, wind surfing, scuba diving n’ snorkelling or just swimming n’ sun bathing on a glorious sandy beach fringed with coconut palms.. The fabulous ‘Les Boucaniers Club Med Resort’ at Marin is a marine paradise unequalled in the entire West Indies for those who seek the very best of in water sports. Sandals Resorts all pale into insignificance by comparison from the point of view of water sports facilities and a value for money.
If you are looking for somewhere quieter, we would recommend Hotel Mercure Coralia Diamond, Point La Chery, Le Diamant. An oasis of calm overlooking the sea. Boasting a lovely swimming pool terrace, pleasant air conditioned rooms, good food and reasonable tarif. St. Lucie is visible in clear weather and the famous Diamond Rock just off the coast which was occupied by the Royal Navy in a daring raid during the Napoleonic Wars. The British sailors landed cannon on this small rocky islet less than a mile off the south west tip of Martinique, thereby commanding one of the major sea lane approaches to the island, renaming the rock H.M.S Diamond. More of a public relations exercise in humiliation for the French rather than of any important naval value. Nevertheless an incredible feat by the standards of the day. Beware not to leave any valuables in your car when parking the vehicle anywhere in Martinique, particularly at the glorious beach at Le Diamont.
Habitation La Grange is a remote inland ‘ An 18th Cnty. Plantation House’ situated a short distance back from the Atlantic Atlantic Coast. Most beautifully furnished, pleasant bedrooms and excellent food, set amidst wonderful gardens on edge of the ‘Tropical Rain Forest’. If you are searching for an authentic feel as to what it would have been like living in a plantation house at the time of the French Monarchy, then this is for you. A car Rental, preferably 4×4 vehicle is absolutely essential here. Be warned there is less than nothing to d here in the immediate locality.
Motoring in Martinique
Martinique is a very large island with excellent road. Nevertheless, it is not so much the distance but the often mountainous terrain and demanding nature of motoring here that makes it important to carry a good map, use satellite navigation and be certain to keep the vehicle well fueled up, as petrol stations are often hard to come by in remote areas, particularly in the north of the island.
Take time out to explore Martinique on the web as much as you can prior to your planned arrival which will amply reward your efforts. There is so much potentially to see and do here, that you will need to choose carefully which venues are of most interest to you, unless you simply wish to remain at a beach resort.
Western Aspect of Martininique
From Fort de France take the N2 northwards and turn off onto the N3 climbing up the mountains with magnificent views down across Fort de France over Baie de Flamands to Trois Islets and the south. Pause to admire the astonishing replica of the dazzling white Basilique Sacre Coeur then continue to the beautiful Balata Botanical Gardens which are arguably the finest in the Caribbean. Continue up through the mountains, pausing to admire cascades until able to turn onto DI for Fonds-St.-Denis after which take the Route de L’ Observatoire above Tranchee. The view from the summit is worth the death defying almost perpendicular road up to the mountain top that closely resembles an undulating downhill championship ski run. So not for the feint hearted nor inexperienced driver, you have been warned!
Driving on the D1 down the the beautiful steep mountain valley of the Jardin des Plantes River, brings you to the coast to rejoin the N2 just southward of St. Pierre.
Fine beaches with easy parking make this a good place to enjoy a cooling swim in the Caribbean after an arduous and demanding mountain drive.
A short drive brings you to St.Pierre that was famously devastated by the awesome volcanic eruption of Mont Pelee just above the town in 1902 with the loss of the entire population of some 30,000 souls save for a sole prisoner imprisoned in a granite walled cell, whose thick walls saved him from the inferno and pyraplastic blast that also caused a tidal wave that sank every ship in the Rade de Ste. Pierre with the exception of one trading schooner. As you enter the town which was never rebuilt to remotely re-capture it’s former glory as the ‘Paris of the Caribbean’ boasting a superb theatre, luxurious villas, town houses, a cathedral and all the pleasures that the sugar barons hitherto enjoyed at this once thriving and wealthy town. The museum here is a must see as is the ruins of the theatre and municipal buildings of government.
A few kilometres to the north is the magnificent state of the art modern hi-tec Musee de Volconologique which has been built to withstand severe earthquakes, the entire building resting on hydraulic rams. Apart from a wealth of relics and technical data, the museum film show is well worth taking time to view.
Take the N2 Coast Route down to Fort de France, that passes through gaily painted largely timbered fishing villages, passing an immense electricity power station and a rum distillery owned by the Martinique sugar growers association, that is signed on the highway and essential to find time to visit and of course buy some of their excellent Rum and Syrup of cane which you mix together with the juice of a fresh lime to make the most superb Martinique cocktail that you drink in cocktail or shot glasses, this is the Caribbean answer to a Dry Martini, which is equally strong and requires to be enjoyed in moderation. Apparently much favoured by lovers on Martinique, as a sipping drink between lovemaking, having first enjoyed a few Planters’ Punches earlier. Those on Martinique have a vastly greatly tolerance to these delicious cocktails than those visiting the island unfamiliar with such spirits.
Eastern Aspect of Martinique
Take the N6 east from Fort de France to the Atlantic Coast at Robert and then follow the N1 north all the way up to the remote fishing villages of Macouba and Grand Riviere where there is an amazing fish restaurant famous for mountain crayfish known as Ecrivisse in France which is served here oddly enough in ‘Sauce a la Americaine’ which is a hot spicey tomatoe and pepper sauce laced with garlic. You are served will a large deep bowl with the Ecrevisse forming a pyramid of shellfish which you attack with ‘shellfish crackers’ that resemble long nosed robust electrical pliers, all washed down with Martinique brewed lager/beer or wines imported from France such as Muscadet, Sancerre, White Burgundy, Chablis or Rose from Provence. Inhabitants of Martinique make a pilgrimage here specially to eat these Ecrevisse and then walk down to the harbour to gaze across to Dominica some 20 miles to the north.
The views along the N6 are frequently spellbinding, so although the drive is long and the trip will take all day, it is well worth the effort to have seen this lovely coastline that is totally different to the Caribbean Coast most particularly whilst driving through the Parc Natural Regional du Martinique that includes the stunning nearby offshore islands and reefs off Robert of Les Ilets Chancel ou Ilet Ramville together with the Presquil de la Caravelle and the Chateau Dubuc, the erstwhile 18th cnty fortified peninsula and chateau of the most famous of all 18th century Privateers from Martinique, whose domain was effectively utterly impregnable at that time. A location that deserves a day or two of exploration in itself if time permits within easy reach of Habitation Lagrange at Le Marigot, only a few kilometres to the north.
Southern Aspect of Martinique
This is where all the main action on the island takes place regarding marine tourism centered on Le Marin which also has a large modern marina with state of the art yacht services. Yachts, cruisers and day boats can all be chartered here but you must have an internationally recognized license of competence such as can be gained through the Royal Yachting Association courses available in the UK at modest fees and essential for anyone seeking to charter a boat abroad. Turquoise Yachting at Marin and Trois Ilets offer the best range of powercraft. There are a multitude of sailing yacht charters available at these two locations to choose from. We recommend renting a ‘ Fast Outboard Offshore Day Boat ‘ such an Expression 29 foot fitted with twin outboards, unsinkable and economical on fuel, not cheap to charter but the best in this class of day boat which provides a very considerable range of exploration when you have the proper marine charts of Martinique coast and reefs to refer which are absolutely crucial.
We recommend the Grand Anse des Salines, the finest and safest beach on Martinique. As the most enjoyable and perfect example of a Caribbean beach to swim and sunbathe upon with easy parking under the coconut palms directly above this vast and stunning beach at the very southernmost tip of Martinique. Wonderful local fare of all kinds is available from beach venues here, including superbly light crepes with Creole fillings of choice a Martinique speciality, glorious sorbet ices that are sold by beach vendors.
A group of stunning local girls parade up and own this wonderful beach modelling all manner of bathing things, wraps, parreras, summer dresses n’ much else besides which you are sure to wish to buy. As they are so colourful n’ cool and the girls modelling makes all this utterly irresitable, which makes for great beach entertainment and fun for everyone. A handsome beach beach boy always models beachware for the guys. However he always looks so much better than almost anyone else in his beach stuff. Remember, Martinique is world famous for glorious young things on the beaches and rightly so. The local girls are amongst the loveliest in the world n’ utterly charming too. Not in any way to be compared remotely to the international tarts n’ hookers to be found on the Pamplona Plage at St. Tropez which has become a virtual ‘Sodom and Gormorrah’ where excess nudity n’ lewd behaviour is sadly considered to be stylish and fashionable.
Les Boucaniers Club Med Resort s nearby at St. Anne right on the entrance to Marin Bay situated on a gated and private peninsula with security. Here there are too many water sports to list available together with a veritable fleet of boats along with good instructors.
On the Anse de Carilan adjacent which has good parking directly above the sand, there is a wide range of water sports equipment, including Hobbie sailing catamarans, Ocean Kayaks, Jet Skis and water sk-ing available without the expense of having to be staying at Club Med. But if you are a water sport enthusiast, then the most economical way to enjoy yourself, is to holiday at Club Med where everything is on hand including diving, blue water sailing and big game fishing.
There are superb places to eat all around Martinique at every level from a simple beach venue to grand lux. The seafood here is utterly wonderful but as everywhere else that is an international resort, not inexpensive. We love eating the locally caught crayfish as a special treat between eating the more simple catch of the day, brought in freshly caught by the local fisherman grilled on the spot, just simply delicious.
The coastal road that runs from Trois Rivieres on the north west side of Marin Bay all the way around the south westernmost aspect of Martinique is a spellbinding drive not to be missed. The road continues to provide truly astonishing vistas all the way around this coast all the way to Les Trois-Ilets, passing Diamond Rock, the lovely l’Anse d’ Arlet beach where there is an excellent and very reasonable waterfront fish
restaurant on decking above the beach. The road climbs through the rain forested mountains above the coast up from Grande Anse and descends to beautiful bay of L’ Anse a l’Ane before climbing again and then running down towards Trois Ilets. Look for the sign on the left to La Pagerie, the childhood home of Josehine de Beauharnais, later Empress Josephine the nymphomaniac wife of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Josephine was a leading member of a small group of hedonists in Paris whose female members styled themselves ‘Les Mervielleuse’. La Pagerie is a charming plantation house, although surprisingly modest in size.
Be sure to run into Les Trois Ilets prior to driving back to where ever you have chosen to stay, because there are many delightful boutiques to explore and of course but things from. Down on the charming little marina here, there is a good and very reasonable restaurant overlooking the marina on the western quayside, avoid the brash noisy venue you will see situated at the town end of this marina.
At Riviere Salee where you will rejoin the N5 for either Marin Bay or the north, look out for a wonderful flower stall beside the intersection here where you simply must stop and buy some flowers which will be an experience that you will never forget. As the flowers on sale here are simply too beautiful for words and so reasonable that you can fill your hotel bedroom with flowers freshly picked from a veritable ‘garden of eden.’
Visited, researched, compiled and written by: John Hayden Halsey