Napoleon's Empress Josephine was born and raised in Martinique, French with few interruptions since 1635 and offering stunning beaches, tasty food and a live volcano for excitement. Banana farming, cane raising, rum distillation and tourism are all vital to the island. Expect Gauloise cigarettes and gendarmes directing traffic.
One of the Caribbean's most beautiful islands with white sandy beaches and lush rainforests, it's part of the
Lesser Antilles in the semitropical zone. The western shore faces the Caribbean, and its eastern shore fronts the more turbulent Atlantic, popular with windsurfers and board surfers. The island is only 1,088 sq. km (424 sq. miles), 81km (50 miles) at its longest point and 34km (21 miles) at the widest. Hikers and horseback riders chart guided adventures among the steep, lush hillsides.
Mount Pelée rises to a height of 1,397m (4,582 ft.). In the center of the island, the mountains are smaller, with Carbet Peak reaching 1,188m (3,897 ft.). The high hills rising among the peaks or mountains are called mornes. The southern part of Martinique has big hills that reach peaks of 350m (1,148 ft.) at Vauclin and 420m (1,378 ft.) at Diamant. The irregular coastline of the island includes five bays, dozens of coves, and miles of sandy beaches.
With its iron-grille-work balconies overflowing with flowers, the capital,
Fort-de-France, seems a cross between New Orleans and the French Riviera. It offers chic shops, a flowered Park, Savanne, with many palms and mangos in the centre of town, the Bibliothque Schoelcher and the Saint-Louis Cathedral, built in 1895. Pointe du Bout is the island's main resort area with hotels, golf, shopping and casino nightlife.
St. Pierre sits north along the coast, destroyed in 1902 when Mont Pelée erupted. The Museum of Vulcanology displays alarming lava-coated mementoes.
Carbet, a quaint fishing village, was briefly home for French painter Paul Gauguin, and inland is
Morne Rouge, site of the MacIntosh Plantation, which cultivates Martinique's renowned flower, the anthurium. The vegetation here includes hibiscus, poinsettias, bougainvillea, coconut palms, and mango trees.
There are twelve rum distilleries to tour, and the island carries France's official designation for producing agricultural rum, a prestigious label similar to that of cognac or champagne.
sightseeing, La Pagerie is the birthplace of Martinique's most famous daughter, Josephine. Check out the sights such as Diamond Rock and the Botanical Gardens where you can admire over a thousand varieties of tropical and local plants and there are even cockfights here. Not to be missed is Les Grands Ballets Martiniquais with its vibrant troupe of singers, musicians, and dancers, who combine tales of plantation days with choreographed beguines, mazurkas, and waltzes. Cost of dinner and a show starts at 50€. Be aware that the sexy and rhythmic beguine was not Cole Porter's invention but a native dance of the islands; however, many claim its origin.
The mean temperature averages 26C (79F) with humidity at 75%. The rainy season is from the end of August to October. French is the official language. Creole is spoken locally. English is spoken in the tourist areas.
Airport Martinique Aime Cesaire is outside the village of Lamentin, a 15-minute taxi ride east of Fort-de-France and a 40-minute taxi ride northeast of Les Trois-Ilets peninsula (the island's densest concentration of resort hotels). Most flights require a transfer on a neighboring island - usually Puerto Rico, Antigua, or Barbados.
Driving in Martinique is on the right side of the road and an international driver's license is required.
Vaval is celebrated when Lent falls for 5 days in either late February or early March, but there is also usually some form of celebration or contest conducted for the six Sundays prior. The election of the Carnival Queen is usually held the first Sunday before the actual week of Carnival. Each village prepares costumes and floats and celebrations take place, reaching fever pitch just before Lent.
The monetary system is the same as mainland France, using the euro (€).
Electricity is 220-volt AC (50 cycles), the same as that used on the French mainland. Bring a transformer and adapter.
Restaurants generally add a 15% service charge to all bills, which you can supplement if you think the service is outstanding. Named "Best Gourmet Island of the Year" in 2008 and 2009 by Caribbean World Magazine, Martinique boasts unique culinary delights.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.