Martinique is an overseas department of France, located in the Caribbean Sea, directly north of St. Lucia. The island which has a rather interesting history is a heady combination of tropical gardens, beautiful beaches and mountains. While many visitors to the island prefer to relax on the beautiful beaches and feast on Creole and French cuisine, there is much more to do in Martinique. From hiking, snorkeling and diving, to explore the city’s colonial past at the museums or a stopover at the zoo, Martinique has something for everyone.
St. Louis Cathedral
Labeled as ‘the religious centerpiece’ of Martinique, the St. Louis Cathedral has been rebuilt in the same spot a record seven times. The previous six structures were destroyed by natural calamities that have plagued Fort-de-France over the years. The current structure was built in 1895 and was designed by Gustave Eiffel. The church which was built in a Gothic Revival style with rounded arches has a frame of iron beams that support the steeple, walls, and ceiling, giving it the nickname “Iron Cathedral.”
Le Jardin de Balata
The Balata Gardens is one of the most visited sites in Martinique because of its huge and varied collection of plants. Located just outside Fort-de-France this beautiful expanse of green is a welcome change from the sea and sand. You can take a leisurely walk through the pathways or along the wooden rope bridges suspended from the treetops. There are also plenty of benches to sit on if you just want to soak in the beautiful mountain views.
Once referred to as “the Paris of the Caribbean,” and the former cultural capital of Martinique, the city of Saint-Pierre was totally destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1902. The new town which sits on a steep hillside is built among the ruins of the old one and is another popular destination for tourists eager to relive the macabre tale of the eruption by walking among the stone ruins. Since it can be a long and hot climb between the ruins, a good idea would be to take the train from the port to the top.
If you’re the adventure-seeking kind then a hike up Mount Pelée should definitely be on your itinerary. The active volcano which last erupted on May 8, 1902, killing thousands of people within minutes and destroying the capital city Saint-Pierre, is now a popular hiking destination. There are various hiking trails that will take you up to the summit of the volcano from where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the surroundings if it is a clear day. If hiking is not your cup of tea then you can take a short cut by driving up to a point about a mile away from the summit and then walking the rest of the way.
More interesting than the books that are stored in the Schoelcher Library is the history and ornate design of the building. The library stands out in Fort-de-France for its unique architecture, an avant-garde building during that era. This is mainly because it was designed and built in Paris in 1889 for an exposition and then disassembled and shipped to Martinique where it was set up. The library is named after Victor Schoelcher, on whose initiative it was created.
La Savane des Esclaves
La Savane des Esclaves is a 2-hectare open-air museum spread over a hillside in Trois-Ilets at the edge of the forest. It is a replica of what a village in Martinique would have looked like post-slavery. A walk through the village is a humbling experience as it will make you understand the real history of the people who were taken away from their homes to work in these new lands. Everything from the houses to the herbs and fruit grown in the gardens outside is reminiscent of that era. An interesting landmark here is the headless statue of Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife. The statue has been vandalized so often by locals because of her support for slavery that the city has stopped trying to fix it.
This is an interesting place to visit with the family as it has a bit of everything. At the Habitation Clement, you can discover old and new world Creole culture. This is partly a heritage site and museum with a rum distillery and plantation. Visitors can explore the grounds and marvel at the numerous sculptures that are placed there or sample different rums and liqueurs in the tasting room of the distillery. The recently renovated part of the house has also been turned into a gallery to showcase works of local Caribbean artists.
Zoo de Martinique
The Zoo de Martinique is a good place to visit if you have children with you. Set within the ruins of a sugar mill, this former botanical garden on the outskirts of Saint-Pierre is a great way to spend the day with the family. The rope bridges and paths that wind their way through the numerous tropical plants and the well-designed animal enclosures add to the charm of this small zoo.
Anse Cafard, Slave Memorial
20 eight feet tall, white stone effigies arranged in a triangle stand on a hill, looking silently out at the Diamond Beach and the Caribbean Sea. Created by sculptor Laurent Valére, they are a poignant reminder of a tragedy that befell a slave ship in 1830 when the ship carrying more than 40 would be slaves failed to anchor properly and crashed into Martinique’s Diamond Rock Mountain. Although a popular setting for a great photo op, the huge statues will definitely appeal to your emotional side.
Not too far from Sainte-Anne you’ll find one of the most popular beach locations in Martinique, Les Salines. The soft white sand and calm waters of this picture-perfect palm-lined beach make it an ideal place for families with children. Plenty of food vendors are at hand if you want to dig into a bite of Martinique’s treats. There are also restrooms and showers where you can clean yourself up. Weekends are usually crowded so the best time to visit would be during the week.
Ruins of Chateau Dubuc
There is a lot in Martinique that will transport you back into its colonial past and the ruins of Chateau Dubuc are just another reminder of the disparities that existed back then. The sprawling ruins of the former home of the wealthy owners of the Caravelle Peninsula are enclosed in the ruins of their vast sugar refinery. Although only the ruins remain, a clickable map will begin an audio commentary that will enlighten you about the site and its history. Near the entrance to Chateau Dubuc is the La Caravelle Nature Trail which you can take to get excellent views of the rugged coastline as you hike through a mangrove forest.
Les Anses d’Arlet
One of the most charming areas of southern Martinique is the fishing village of Les Anses d’Arlet. This is the place to head to if you want a quieter environment. Visitors are drawn to this peaceful place characterized by its beautiful little church, sandy beach, and Creole houses. The Grand Anse (big cove) is a popular destination for its lively promenade and long white sandy beach. A string of villages makes up the commune of Les Anses d’Arlet, each with their own distinctive name depicting the cove.
Just So You Know:
- Forte-de-France the capital of Martinique is the main port and also the starting point for many of the island’s adventures.
- Court-bouillon, fish in a spicy tomato sauce is the national dish of Martinique.
- The official language in Martinique is French.
- Martinique is a great place to enjoy water-based activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, and sailing. An annual sailing event the Aqua Festival is held at the Bay of Robert.
- You can buy a variety of spices at the Grand Marche, the largest market on the island.
Get Some Culture:
- Musee Departemental d’Archéologie – Not too far away from the pier in Fort-de-France this small museum will give you a deeper insight into the lives of the Carib Indians and the island’s pre-Columbian history.
- Musee de la Pagarie – The kitchen of the birthplace of Empress Josephine now houses a museum with various memorabilia including love letters from Napoleon to Josephine.
Grab A Bite:
- Restaurant 1643 – Located just adjacent to the zoo at one of the more interesting places on the island, 1643 Carbet is one of the oldest houses on the island. The restaurant is a go-to destination for its expansive menu and delectable dishes.
- La Table de Mamy Nounou – Located in Tartane on the route to Chateau Dubuc, this restaurant is very popular for its beautiful setting and the varied dishes that it serves up. You can try out the French or local cuisine here with a detailed explanation provided for each dish.bxdff