Recommend September 2017 - 4
Tour of the
Island of Flowers
Even Christopher Columbus, whose explorations had more of a
mercenary than an aesthetic impetus, was inspired when, in 1502,
he stumbled upon Martinique. One look at the lush, colorful
vegetation lining this landfall's shores and hillsides, and he
adopted the Carib Indians' name for Martinique, "The Island
of Flowers." That label has stood the test of time for 500 years
because it's still accurate.
The range of natural habitats within this 50-mile-long island is
remarkable. It includes the lowlands of the south, with their
white-sand beaches; the rolling farmlands of the center; and the
wilderness, much of it protected parkland, of the north, where the
land climbs toward 4,600-ft. Mount Pelée and other peaks clad
with majestic mahogany trees, giant ferns, bamboos, and
profusion of blooms.
Many of Martinique's 400,000 inhabitants live along the southern
and western shores, with 100,000 clustered in Fort-de-France,
tucked between a natural harbor on the west (Caribbean) coast
and steep hills. Served by Martinique Aimé Césaire International
Airport (FDF) and home to the Tourelles and Pointe Simon ship
terminals as well as a Cruise Village, this is a bustling city
with historic sites, a promenade along the waterfront, history and
ethnographic museums, restaurants and clubs. It's a mecca for
shoppers, too, with local markets, designer boutiques, and elegant
stores. The bulk of Martinique's hotels and villas are in Trois-Îlets
and several other shore-hugging towns south of the capital city, on
the other side of the Baie de Fort-de-France.
On a peninsula to the west of Trois-Îlets lies Pointe du
Bout, home to several of Martinique's hotels. Continuing along
southwest Martinique one enters Anses d'Arlet, a fishing village
with colorful boats and small seafood eateries. Diamant, on the
south coast, faces Rocher du Diamant (Diamond Rock), which
rises 575 ft. out of the sea.
East of Diamant, Sainte-Luce and yachtie favorite Le Marin
have more hotels, dive operations, and proximity to the old
Trois-Rivières Distillery, which offers tours and tastings.
Martinique's Savane des Petrifications, or petrified forest
(actually log-shaped volcanic rocks), is near Sainte-Anne, and
Anse Michel Beach.
white-sand Les Salines Beach, at the southernmost tip of
Martinique, is a beauty.
While the southern part of Martinique lays claim to the capital,
resort areas, and beaches, the north attracts visitors with
incredible scenery-bird-filled forests, mountains, waterfalls-and
one of the most dramatic sites in the entire Caribbean: the ruins of
former capital city Saint-Pierre, considered the "Little Pompeii of
the Caribbean." Today, not only is Saint-Pierre a fascinating place
to explore, but there are hiking trails on and around Mount Pelée
(drive back to Morne Rouge, then turn left) as well as two good
museums and yet more bird's-eye views of the sea. If some of the
roads in this part of Martinique are narrow and twisty, don't blame
their engineers: This terrain is as rugged as Les Salines, in the
south, is flat.
The sand on the beaches gets darker as you drive from the
south to the north, but places like Anse Céron in the northwest
are popular nevertheless, as is the hiking on nearby trails and
diving in the waters surrounding Îlet la Perle.
Backtracking to Saint-Pierre and then crossing the interior via
roads N2 and N3 leads to the northeast coast, but most
visitors explore the Atlantic side of the island by setting out from
the resorts in the south. Roads east from Trois-Îlets or northeast
from Le Marin lead to Le François, about a third of the way up
the coast. A bit more than halfway up the Atlantic Coast, the
Presqu'île de la Caravelle peninsula extends to the east. With
its verdant sugar cane fields, trails, restaurants, and beaches
where conditions range from child-safe to surfer-thrilling, Presqu'île
de Caravelle is a popular day-trip destination for active pursuits.
North of the peninsula visitors will discover Tombolo, two hills in
the ocean that are accessible by foot between January and April,
but only at low tide, sort of like the Caribbean Mont Saint-Michel.
Continuing all the way up the often wild, wind-blown Atlantic
Coast and past Martinique's northernmost point is the fishing
village of Grand-Rivière, literally the end of the road. This being
the north, its beach has black sand, restaurants offer Creole
seafood dishes, and several trailheads serve hikers. ❇
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recommend September 2017
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