There are few things as enjoyable in life as the trickling of sand between your toes. And when the short glass in front of you holds a mixture of old white rum, sugar cane syrup and lime called Ti-Punch, you know you must be in the French West Indies. The rustic table, set under a white canopy, camps a few feet from the waves, but the chef in short shorts who dances behind the grill is anything but rustic. In fact, he is one of the most sophisticated cooks in Martinique.
Until recently, the island of Martinique, technically part of France, enjoyed a tranquil run, sheltered by Guadeloupe to the north and St. Lucia in the south, but a bunch of creative chefs and hotel entrepreneurs are tweaking the landscape and cooking up new reasons to visit. You'll also find some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, an active volcano you can hike, sugar cane and banana plantations, tropical forests and fabulous surfing.
When it comes to lodging, options are plentiful. You could spend your three days at Club Med Buccaneer's Creek or at the simple La Dunette in St. Anne in the South, listening to the whistle of the wind in the palm trees. But the modest size of the island makes it an ideal destination to discover by car in 72 hours. One option is to rent a car (insist on a four-wheel-drive) upon arrival and head to Le François, the perfect base for a relaxing first day on the water. It’s worth it to drive the seemingly interminable stone path that meanders uphill to Hotel Plein Soleil. In the morning, you will be rewarded with a dreamy tropical landscape, banana trees, a warm breeze and the view of the turquoise Caribbean Sea in the distance.
Domaine Saint-Aubin, a large mansion reminiscent of a Louisiana plantation estate
You could also opt for a luxurious and romantic Robinson Crusoe experience and rent La Maison de l’îlet Oscar, a colonial house smack in the middle of a private island, but if you prefer to have all the amenities at your fingertips, then Le Cap Est Resort Lagoon & Spa is for you. The only Relais & Chateaux property on the island features a Guerlain spa. On your way north, you can lounge at Domaine Saint-Aubin close to Sainte-Marie, a large and quiet mansion reminiscent of a Louisiana plantation estate. For more urban action choose Villa St. Pierre, a small boutique hotel at the heart of St. Pierre’s historic neighborhood. If your idea of a vacation includes hiking an active volcano and the weather cooperates, stay at the simple Auberge de la Montagne Pelée, the perfect spot for an early morning jaunt. Or try Hotel Bakoua in the chic Trois-Ilets neighborhood, where the vibe is more St. Tropez than deserted island.
MARTINIQUE ITINERARY DAY
A delicious breakfast including tropical fruits and homemade yogurt is served at Hotel Plein Soleil. From there it’s an easy drive to the marina where you can embark on one of the statuesque catamarans run by Les Ballades Du Delphis for a half or full day. Seeing La Martinique from the water is a must, not only because of the legendary Fonds Blancs, where the shallow patches of white sand allow you to walk in the middle of the ocean but because sailing the rugged coast near La Caravelle peninsula gives you a rich idea of the topography. You will navigate between the various islets and perhaps stop at Ilet Chancel to see the ruins of the 18th-century sugar cane factory and the wild iguanas that roam the ancient walls. Crunchy accras (cod fritters), rum and a serious multi-course lunch are served on board.
| L'Habitation Clément, a fascinating rum factory/museum
If you would rather remain on sturdy ground, head to L'Habitation Clément, a fascinating rum factory/museum where you can tour the gorgeous grounds and historic mansion while learning (and sipping) the oaky nectar. For a simple lunch, head to Kaï Nono across from the marina at Le François but if your budget allows, pick a local lobster or wonderful salad at Le Campêche, the stylish eatery on the beach of the Cap Est Resort.
Time to head inland in the direction of St. Pierre through the tropical forest and its giant ferns sprinkled with dew. You can stop in the lovely village of Ajoupa-Bouillon or, for a more vigorous hike (only in clear weather), Les Gorges de la Falaise will reward you with a stunning and refreshing waterfall. If you wish to spend the night close to the volcano, so you can hike it in the morning, L’Auberge de la Montagne Pelée with its individual cottages is a solid option. The chef/owner specializes in Creole cuisine and the scent of his chicken Colombo, a fragrant curry stew, fills the air.
to Day 2