Martinique is a French Overseas Department in the Caribbean, crossing Parisian chic with West Indian warmth, croissants with rum. It is here that the painter Gauguin retired to paint his idyllic scenes, a quality not lost on the many tourists who come to bake on the island’s beautiful beaches and explore its tropical, volcanic interior.
Being a part of France, French is, naturally, the official and common language, spoken and understood by everyone across the island. Creole patois is also heard from time to time.
Est-ce que vous parlez anglais? – Do you speak English ?Combien est une chambre double? – How much is a double room?Le plat principal était délicieux, merci. – The main dish was superb, thank you!Excusez-moi, ou est la banque? – Excuse me, where’s the bank?
The currency of Martinique is the Euro.1 Euro = £0.67 (September 2006)
Martinique is pretty hot, all year-round, with temperatures rarely dropping below 26˚C. The dry season stretches from December to May, more rain falling over the rest of the year. August and September can be particularly torrid with a strong possibility of cyclones!
Fort-de-France is most visitors’ first stop in Martinique. While attractive from afar, with church steeples and colonial buildings, parts of Fort-de-France have unfortunately become rather decrepit and run-down, though this in turn gives it a certain character. Worth seeing are the fort, which has a guided tour; the town’s impressive library, shipped piece by piece from Paris in 1890s; the insightful Museum of Ethnology, housed in a beautiful turn of the century villa; the Saint Louis Cathedral with its locally-inspired stained-glass windows and, last but not least, the colourful street markets which dot the town.
While parts of Martinique’s coastline have been somewhat ruthlessly developed, beach-lovers can do no better than Les Salines, in the South of the island – the water’s crystalline, the sand’s white and the sunsets are breathtaking. For a bit of culture, head to Trois Ilets and visit the Sugar Cane Museum and the Pagarie Museum, dedicated to the childhood of Empress Josephine.
Up in the North, explore the eerie old town of St Pierre, virtually entirely destroyed, with a loss of 30,000 lives, by the explosion of the Mont Pelée volcano in 1902. What has been rebuilt is not lacking in charm. Nearby, the villagers of Grand’Riviere have hung onto their traditional fishing customs, giving the village a real picturesque Caribbean feel.
Martinique offers excellent opportunities for water sports, not least diving and sailing. The interior has plenty of chances for walking, horse riding and mountain biking.
Clothes and jewellery are always interesting buys. The former is usually made out of Madras fabric, used normally for traditional Creole costumes, while craftsmen can be watched shaping the gold jewellery by hand. Otherwise, invest in some of the island’s top quality rum and its douce lettes tropical sweets.
The island’s nightlife comes recommended with lots of shows and concerts on offer, all of which will be listed in the France-Antilles newspaper. The many zouk, jazz and piano bars tend to have fun atmospheres, while Fort-de-France is well stocked with discotheques. For those who gamble, there are various casinos dotted around the island.
The same driving laws apply in Martinique as in France. Hence one drives on the right and the blood alcohol limit is 50mg. All roads on the beaten track are in excellent condition.
Food and Drink
Martinique has a wide range of Creole cuisine which is able to draw on a whole range of rich flavours – fish, shellfish, avocado, chillies, wonderful fresh fruits. Highly recommended are the boudin créole (Creole dumpling) and the crabes farcis (stuffed crabs). As for drinks, delicious fruit drinks for the kids, a variety of rums for Mum and Dad.