[y] Martinique Travel Guide
The French Island of Martinique has the fashionable shops, cosmopolitan cities, affluent neighborhoods, exclusive hotels and gourmet restaurants like Paris, just take away the dark brooding skies of winter and replace it with year-round sunshine. Martinique was called the Island of Flowers by the Carib Indians who first settled here because of the lush vegetation of hibiscus, poinsettias, bougainvillea, coconut palms, and mango trees.
But it wasn’t long before Martinique turned into an aristocrat’s getaway. Known for its snobbery, and refusal to speak English, Martinique offers one of the highest standards of living in all of the Caribbean. Approximately 40 miles long and 12 miles wide, Martinique has a landscape of hills and mountains. Rainforests cover the slopes of the mountains in the north and the drier southern part of the island has brushy savanna vegetation, the best beaches and most of the development.
The capital and largest city, Fort-de-France, is busy with traffic and crowds while the other towns are small fishing villages or resort areas. The highest point on Martinique is the 4582-foot Mont Pelée, an active volcano at the northern end of the island. The center of the island is dominated by a mountain range reaching 3959 feet called Pitons du Carbet. Like in France, everything shuts down by noon and reopens after 2:30. High season runs mid-November through May, and the island can be quiet during September and October.
BEACHES & SWIMMING
The best beaches for swimming and lounging area on the southwestern coast. The black sand beaches on the northeastern side are much rougher. Les Salines at the southern tip is often called the best beach on Martinique. Even when other areas on the island are cloudy, Les Salines is almost always sunny. Anse Céron is a beautiful black-sand beach with beautiful coconut trees and a wilder landscape. Ilet la Perle is a rock of the shore that’s a good place for scuba diving.
Martinique has great hiking through the rainforest in the Pitons du Carbet and the ruins of Château Dubuc on the Caravelle Peninsula. The most difficult trails wind up Mont Pelée on the northwestern side.
SCUBA DIVING & SNORKELING
Grand Anse is a great spot for easy dives and snorkeling with its calm waters and coral. Sainte-Anne and Sainte-Peirre are also good snorkeling locations.
- Cap Enragé, north of Case-Pilote, has underwater caves full of fish and marine life.
- Rocher du Diamant (Diamond Rock) has more caves, but rougher waters.
- Ilet la Perle, a rock off the northwestern coast, is a spot to see groupers, eels and lobsters.
REMAINS OF SAINTE- PIERRE
The remains of the city of Sainte-Pierre are the main attraction. Destroyed in a volcanic eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902, only one survivor escaped and 30,000 people were killed. There are even 12 shipwrecks in the bay from the eruption, which are great diving destinations. You can tour the site on a train, the Cyparis Express, named after the single survivor, or see the museum for more of the remains of the city.
Fort-de-France has many shops for authentic creole crafts and jewelry.
Other shopping centers are in Lamentin:
Centre Commercial de Place d’Armes
Centre Commercial La Galleria –
Centre Commercial La Bateliere
Centre Commercial de Cluny
Evenings in Martinique are spent gambling in the casinos, dancing in a disco or taking in live music.
CASINO BATELIÈRE PLAZA (Schoelcher; 0596/61-73-23), is just outside of Fort-de-France, and open from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. during the week, and 4 a.m. on weekends, but closed on Sunday. You’ll need a passport and the proper attire (jacket and tie for men, dresses for women) to play blackjack, roulette, or stud poker.
CRAZY NIGHT (Sainte-Luce; 0596/68-56-68), can hold up to 1,000 people and is very popular for dancing to live music or a DJ.
Where to Eat in Martinique
Restaurants in Martinique are on par with the standouts on the French mainland. Of course, the seafood is excellent, and the local specialties include freshwater crayfish, conch, and the Caribbean lobster.
FATZO (11 rue Felix Eboue, Anse-d’Arlets; 0596/68-62-79), is the most well-known restaurant in Martinique and gets rave reviews for the exceptional service, food, hospitality, and atmosphere. The presentation is so creative with the international dishes served here.
LA BELLE EPOQUE (97 Rte. de Didier, Didier, Fort-de-France; 0596/64-41-19), is a gourmet establishment housed in a white mansion. The menu changes daily, but always includes a large selection of foie gras. Guests dine among antiques and use delicate crystal goblets and sterling silver.
CHEZ LES PECHEURS (Le Bord de Mer, Carbet; 0696/23-95-59), is the quintessential island restaurant. Fresh fish always grilled to perfection. There is usually a delicious grilled octopus as well as the fisherman’s platter, which might be tuna and marlin. The weekends bring live music and a lively atmosphere.
COULEURS LOCALES (Morne-Vert; 0596/55-59-12), is a local spot where Chef René creates delicious dishes like shrimp fritters, smoked chicken with pineapple sauce, duck fillet with passion-fruit sauce, and sautéed pork with dark rum and cinnamon.
HABITATION LAGRANGE RESTAURANT (Habitation Lagrange, Marigot; 0596/53-60-60), is a beautiful plantation dining room where you can sample Millefeuille au foie gras, a house specialty layered with green bananas and flavored with orange-lace rum, or the jumbo crawfish flambéed. It is necessary to make reservations.
LE BÉLEME (Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa, Quartier Cap Est, Le François; 0596/54-80-80), is the outdoor restaurant at the exclusive Cap Est Lagoon Resort. The unique cylindrical wine “cave,” is popular with locals and visitors. The contemporary French cuisine includes specials like pastilla of duck with foie gras and truffles or scallops with coconut sauce and sautéed julienned vegetables.
LE COLIBRI (4 rue des Colibris, Morne-des-Esses, Sainte-Marie; 0596/69-91-95), has a great view of the ocean from its spot on the northeastern shore. A family affair, the brother and sister team serve delightful French and Creole dishes. The wine list is very good too.
LE DÔME (Hôtel Valmeniere, av. des Arawaks, Fort-de-France; 0596/75-75-75), is still a secret spot that many locals know to hit for a delicious meal. Main course specialties include pan-fried sea scallops with lemongrass and carrot pudding and quail with foie gras sauce, sweet potatoes, and mushroom cakes.
LE FROMAGER (Quartier St. James, Saint-Pierre; 0596/78-19-07), is a bit difficult to find, but well worth the effort. Panoramic views of the sea are breathtaking at this open-air restaurant. And the food is just as wonderful.
Where to Stay in Martinique
Most of Martinique’s resorts are quite expensive, so we have listed a few more affordable options here along with the luxurious resorts. If the budget is really tight, it is a good idea to look into the Relais Creoles, which are guest houses run by families.
CAP EST LAGOON RESORT & SPA (Quartier Cap Est, Le François; capest.com; 0596/54-80-80; 800 735-2478) is Martinique’s most exclusive resort. Each villa has views of the turquoise waters, gorgeous furnishings, plasma satellite televisions, large minibars and some have their own plunge pool. The spa and restaurant are incredible. The resort has tennis courts, pool, gym, spa, beach, two bars, watersports, and a helipad.
AMANDIERS RESORT (Quartier Desert, Sainte-Luce; karibea.com; 0596/62-12-00), is actually three hotels combined to create a single resort with shared facilities. The Amyris Hotel rooms, situated on the cove, are all suites with their own pool and beautiful garden. The Amandiers rooms also have beach views, but a more simple décor. Hotel Caribia has one-bedroom apartments with terraces and kitchens and is more affordable. The resort has one of the best restaurants on the island, Amyris, as well as two bars, three pool, tennis, snorkeling, and children programs.
Manoir de Beauregard (Chemins des Salines, Sainte-Anne; 596/76-73-40; manoirdebeauregard.com), is a historic hotel that sits on an old sugar cane field. The rooms are spacious with double or twin beds. Plage des Salines beach, one of the more beautiful, is a five-minute drive and Plage de Ste-Anne beach is a 15-minute walk. There is a restaurant, bar, and pool.
Habitation LaGrange (Le Marigot; 596/53-60-60; www.habitationlagrange.com), is an isolated hotel about one mile north of Le Marigot and a mile inland from the coast. Each room has a verandah with views of banana groves and tropical gardens and has beautiful antiques and furnishings of different eras. The bathrooms are the highlight with wood paneling, footed tubs, and pedestal sinks. There is a restaurant serving traditional Creole cuisine, a bar, tennis courts and a pool with a poolside restaurant.
Hotel Diamant Les Bains (Le Diamant; 596/76-40-14; www.martinique-hotels.com) is surprisingly affordable for expensive Martinique. Just off the beach, the hotel offers bungalows near the pool, bungalows directly over the beach or rooms in the main building with the restaurant and bar. Rooms have terraces, tiled floors, and are fairly roomy, although the bathrooms could use updating.
Saint Aubin Hôtel (Trinité; 596/69-34-77), is beautiful and affordable sitting on a hill above the sugar cane fields and the bay about two miles from the closest village, Trinite. There is a beach about a mile away. The three-story Victorian house has large, modern rooms with fine furnishings and a view of the gardens or sea. There is a pool, but no restaurant or food is served here.
Weather in Martinique
- Martinique is always comfortably warm, averaging between 70°F and 85°F whether it’s January or July. Humidity is high, ranging from 80% in March and April, to 87% in October.
- Late August to November is the rainy season and it will rain about 20 days a month in September, the rainiest month. Although the rains are frequent, they don’t last long.
- April through September are the hottest months. The mountainous northern interior is cooler and rainier than the rest of the island.
Getting To Martinique
Martinique’s airport is in Lamentin, six miles east of Fort-de-France, and about 20 minutes from the Pointe du Bout resort area. Air France, AOM, Air Liberté and Nouvelles Frontières have daily flights between Paris and Martinique. From the US, American Airlines flies from Miami, New York and Boston and connects at San Juan in Puerto Rico and Air France flies direct from Miami. Within the Caribbean, Air Martinique, Air Guadeloupe and Air France fly between Martinique and Guadeloupe, St Martin and St Lucia. Antigua-based LIAT connects Martinique with the English-speaking Caribbean.
The best way to see Martinique is by car. The airport has many car rental agencies and your current driver’s license is valid. Be aware some rental agencies add in the contract a fee for every mile driven. Make sure to look over your contract carefully.
Taxis are plentiful and convenient but fairly expensive.