Things to do in Martinique
The finest of Martinique’s beaches is at the southernmost tip. Grande Anse des Salines is a perfect, mile-long curve of white sand with crystalline shallows. Ideal for a secluded escape during the week and for people-watching, the coolest crowds gather on Sundays in Les Anses d’Arlet, tucked away in the capital of Fort-de-France. On the deck of beach restaurant Ti Sable, there are cocktails and fine creole cuisine to go with live music all afternoon.
The northern uplands of Martinique are so fertile that Jardin de Balata, a garden, actually looks less wild than the land around it. You’ll see hummingbirds darting through hibiscus and bougainvillea, and butterflies flitting among the lobster-claw and bird of paradise (both banana-like heliconias). You can be guided or walk it at your own pace, but remember that every plant has a story. There’s also a short canopy walk to get close up with the tropical tree tops.
As the name of the island capital suggests, Martinique has had a long association with France. Take a walk around the Savane park in the city and you can see Fort St Louis and the ornate Schoelcher Library, built with French engineering from wrought iron and coloured stone. But the French connection goes only so far. A while back, a statue of Josephine Bonaparte (Napoleon’s wife was born in Martinique but is not popular here) was actually ‘beheaded’ – ironic, given that she avoided this fate in real life. Her head has never been found.
Restaurants are dotted all over the main centres – Fort-de-France, Trois-Îlets, Le Marin (the centre of sailing) and Sainte-Anne. Wherever you choose, start with the local aperitif, a ‘ti ponch – heaped sugar, rum and a quarter lime squeezed to near destruction. The coolest place to eat out at is Le Zandoli at La Suite Villa in Trois-Îlets, whose French fusion fare is as good as its style is eccentric. For really simple food, ask around for les lolos, simple, generally grilled fare often on the seafront with ‘les pieds dans l’eau’ (literally, with ‘your feet in the sea’).
To truly understand the Martiniquans, you must delve into their culture, which is steeped in the language, rhythm and, of course, spicy cuisine. Start with the food, at any rate, which you can do through Ateliers Tatie Maryse, a creole food blog that has grown into a cooking school. You’ll learn to cook three typical creole dishes, including accras de morue (codfish fritters), colombo de poulet (a local curried chicken dish) and flan au coco (coconut tart).