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Martinique, within the Windward Islands, is among the more distinct islands within the Caribbean, both topographically and culture-wise. For just one, it stands at the merging of two water bodies, the Atlantic Sea at the northern and eastern end and the Caribbean Sea towards the southern and western tip. The tiny island, therefore, has two distinctly contrasting beach groups.
Additionally, the land here's varied, with wide stretches of flat land juxtaposed with large mountain tops. The weather relies mainly on the altitude. Should you visit the top Mount Peele, you'd end up in an elevation of four, 656 ft! The island's "more compact" hillsides sign in around 1,500 ft.
Christopher Columbus discovered Martinique just like he explored other Caribbean islands within the late 15th Century. The island's inhabitants then were the Carib Indians, known as the area Madinina, or "island of flowers." French settlers came three decades later, and other than a brief span between 1794 and 1815, once the island was under British rule, Martinique is a French property.
Even today, even while some separatist groups are with greater autonomy, Martinique goes to France, less a colony, but because a complete-fledged region. This means that even though the island is separated in the Eiffel Tower by 1000's of miles, the people of Martinique are French, with similar privileges given a Parisian. The Euro may be the official currency, French stamps can be used for postage, and also the "language of affectionInch may be the official tongue.
The folks of Martinique mostly are of African descent. Their colorful culture unique towards the island features a Carnival celebration to rival those of New Orleans. Simultaneously, the area has started to embrace the tourism industry, with beautiful resorts covering the pristine whitened sand beaches of Martinique's southern coast.
Fort-p-France is Martinique's capital. Its fairly convenient location around the island enables for activities in virtually any direction.
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships pier in the Port of Fort-p-France, easily situated in the middle of the town. Duty-free shops are scattered all over the port, and there's easy road accessibility relaxation from the island.
You are able to traverse Martinique's diverse geography by a variety of automobiles. Taxis really are a popular and simple choice, but be advised that they're costly. In addition, they are not metered, therefore it is easier to choose a cost before you decide to walk into the cab.
Buses are available in two dimensions around the island. You will find the grands busses, which hold around forty people at any given time and travel throughout the capital of Fort-p France. Then you will find taxis, which handle the more outings past the city limits. These taxis are independently possessed, and you may recognize them by their "TC" sign.
Ferry transportation between Fort-p-France and Pointe du Bout is affordable and convenient. A 1-way ticket costs less than $4, as the round trip ticket runs about $6. Bicycles and motor scooters are one other favorite way around Martinique.
Things To See and Do
Distinctly French, Martinique offers a seductive mix of magnificent beaches, lush mountains, fascinating history, and flamboyant tropical gardens. Fort-de-France is the main city and capital of this enticing island in the French West Indies. Visitors can explore architectural sites here and learn about the island's pre-Columbian and colonial past at the city's museums. For a poignant reminder of nature's power, head to Saint-Pierre, a city built among the ruins of Martinique's former capital, which was destroyed by the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée. The volcano's soaring peak provides a dramatic backdrop to the surrounding towns and beaches.Adventures abound on this beguiling island. Martinique has an extensive system of hiking trails leading through tropical forests, past waterfalls, and rugged coastal scenery, and visitors can horseback ride along sweeping stretches of palm-fringed beach. Diving and snorkeling are also popular. Saint-Pierre's harbor has become a popular scuba site, scattered with wrecks from the tidal wave following Mount Pelée's eruption. However, many people simply come to bask on the fabulous beaches, feast on fine French and Creole cuisine, and savor a luscious taste of France in the tropics.
With dramatic views of volcanic Mount Pelée, Saint-Pierre is built among the ruins of old Saint-Pierre. The town was once Martinique's main city and port until Mount Pelée erupted in 1902. The volcanic blast destroyed the town and killed all 30,000 residents with the exception of a prisoner, who was protected by his thick cell walls. Today tourists visiting Saint-Pierre can view some of the ruins, including the survivor's prison cell, the old theatre, "cachot de Cyparis", and the ruins of Le Figuier - a group of single story houses. On the hillside above Le Figuier, the Volcanological Museum (Musée Vulcanologique) displays the charred remains of items salvaged from the old town and harbor and a provides a tangible reminder of the tragedy. All but one of the boats anchored in the harbor sank in the tidal wave that followed the eruption. The area is now popular with scuba divers who come to dive the wrecks. Official site:http://www.martinique.org/discoveries/saint-pierre/

Balata Botanical Gardens
Owned by a passionate horticulturalist, the Balata Botanical Gardens (Jardin de Balata) near Fort-de-France, feature more than 3,000 species of tropical plants and flowers as well as ponds punctuated with water lilies and lotus blossoms. Raised wooden rope bridges suspended amid the treetops give visitors an aerial view over the lush gardens while hummingbirds buzz in the fragrant air. Visitors will find plenty of benches tucked amid the foliage to relax and admire the beautiful mountain and garden views. Address: Km 10, Route de Balata, Fort-de-France, Official site: http://www.jardindebalata.fr/

Mount Pelée 
An active volcano, Mount Pelée erupted on May 8, 1902, destroying the nearby city of Saint-Pierre and killing thousands of people. The volcano is currently in a quiet phase and visitors can hike to the summit and enjoy spectacular views of the Atlantic and the surrounding mountains on clear days. A paved road leads from Morne Rouge for two kilometers to the trailhead. Early hikes are usually rewarded with less cloud cover to obscure the views.
Bustling Fort-de-France is the capital of Martinique, the main port, and a launching point for island adventures. The city is laid out around Place de la Savane, a central park punctuated with palms, pathways, and statues, including one of Empress Josephine. Architectural attractions of the city include Fort Royal (Fort Saint Louis), dating from 1638; the Palais de Justice, and the Cathédrale Saint-Louis with its distinctive spire. The intricate Romanesque Bibliothèque Schoelcher is a highlight. Named for Victor Schoelcher, an activist for the abolition of slavery in the French colonies, the building was dismantled and shipped to Martinique from Paris in 1893. The Musée Départemental d'Archéologie in Fort-de-France displays the island's pre-Columbian history while the Musée Regional d'Histoire et d'Ethnographie features Creole furnishings, clothing, jewelry, and musical instruments. Official site:http://www.martinique.org/discoveries/fort-de-france/
Route de la Trace
Scenic Route de la Trace (highway N3) runs north from Fort-de-France through the lush interior rainforest to Mount Pelée. Cut by the Jesuits in the 1600s, the road winds along the volcanic Pitons du Carbet with sign-posted hiking trails radiating off the main route to their peaks. Just north of Fort-de-France, on a hillside, Balata Church is a small size replica of Sacré-Coeur Basilica in France with beautiful views over the city and surrounds. The popular Balata Botanical Gardens (Jardin de Balata) are also near here. Continuing north, the route passes through Morne Rouge, the highest town in Martinique near Mount Pelée. On August 30, 1902 a large pyroclastic flow buried Morne Rouge killing almost 1,500 people only months after the volcanic blast at Saint-Pierre. Named for its red-hued volcanic soil, Morne Rouge is now a pilgrimage site. Once at Mount Pelée, visitors can hike a rocky trail to its summit.
Musée de la Pagerie
A former sugar estate, the Musée de la Pagerie was the birthplace of Marie Joseph Rose Tascher de la Pagerie who would later become Napoleon's Empress Josephine. The quaint stone cottage has been partially restored and contains some of Josephine's personal items including a marriage certificate and love letters from Napoleon. Guides speak French and English and divulge some fascinating stories about Josephine's childhood and her arranged marriage to the famous French Emperor.
Address: Quartier Pagerie, Trois-Ilets
Pointe Du Bout
On a promontory south of Fort-de-France, Pointe du Bout is one of Martinique's main resort areas. Boutiques, ice-cream parlors, and restaurants sprout along the streets of this tourist hotspot, and the waterfront resorts patrol their own patches of replenished beach. A ferry service operates from the marina, whisking visitors across the bay to Fort-de-France. West of Pointe du Bout, tourists flock to the creamy sands of Anse Mitan, one of the best beaches on the island, with snorkeling opportunities just offshore.
Address: Pointe du Bout, Les Trois-Ilets
Sainte-Anne, Martinique
Sprinkled with palm-fringed coves, Sainte-Anne has the distinction of being the island's southernmost village and one of its prettiest. Visitors will find shops, restaurants, and a craft market here, but the main attractions are the beaches. Nearby Les Salines is one of the most heavenly stretches of sand and sea in Martinique.
Les Salines
A short distance south of Sainte-Anne, Les Salines is one of the most popular beaches on Martinique. Named for the nearby salt pond, this one-kilometer stretch of coast at the southern tip of Martinique boasts classic Caribbean scenery with calm waters and soft, white sand. Arching coconut palms frame views of the sea and provide perfect patches of shade for beach lovers to plonk down a towel and bask in all the beauty. Les Saline can be crowded with families on the weekend, but tends to be a little more tranquil during the week. Vendors sell lunch and drinks behind the beach.Address: Ste-Anne

Ajoupa-Bouillon, at the base of Mount Pelee, is known for the colorful flowers adorning the little village and its river crayfish farming. Near the village, visitors will find a few worthwhile attractions including Les Ombrages, a botanical trail through tropical forest along a lush ravine, and Gorges de la Falaise, a series of small gorges along the Falaise River, which lead to a beautiful waterfall. Official site:http://www.martinique.org/discoveries/ajoupa-bouillon/
Caravelle Peninsula
Nature lovers will find many things to see and do at the Caravelle Peninsula in eastern Martinique. La Caravelle Nature Trail near la Trinite is a one-hour hike through mangrove forest with views over the rugged eastern coastline. Near the entrance to the hike are the ruins of Dubuc Castle (Château Dubuc), the former home of the wealthy Dubuc family who owned the peninsula during the 18th century. Guides share the family's fascinating history. After the hike, sightseers can stroll down to Tartane Beach for a refreshing swim. Surfers will find some of Martinique's best swells nearby. Address: Tartane, La Trinité, East Martinique

Diamond Rock
Lying 3 kilometers from mainland Martinique, Diamond Rock is the site of an unusual slice of naval history. In 1804 the British dropped sailors on the volcanic island and registered the rock as a ship, the HMS Diamond Rock. After 17 months of unsuccessful attacks, the French used a creative strategy to overpower the sailors and take back the rock. Today this volcanic mound marks one of the island's best dive sites. Visitors can learn all about its intriguing history at the nearby town of Le Diamant. Address: Southwest Martinique
Le Carbet
Le Carbet, which became a parish as early as 1645, is the supposed landing site of Christopher Columbus on June 15, 1502 and the town where Gauguin lived and painted in 1887. The Butterfly Garden, at Father Jean Baptiste du Tertre in La Carbet, is a popular attraction here and also serves as a venue for local artists, musicians, and other entertainers. Also in Le Carbet, Latouche's Creek Garden lies on the site of a former sugar factory, which was destroyed with the eruption of Mt. Pelée. Some of the ruins still stand, but the gardens are the highlight with more than 200 species of tropical plants and flowers.
Grand-Riviere, Martinique
Charming Grand-Rivière is a small and sleepy fishing village on the northern tip of Martinique. At the waterfront, visitors will find a fish market and black sand beach while to the north, Dominica is visible in the distance. Creole restaurants in town serve fresh seafood, and visitors looking for things to do can arrange trips in town such as hiking and water sports.
Fort St-Louis, built in the Vauban style on a rocky promontory, guards the port. Fort Tartenson and Fort Desaix also stand on hills overlooking the port.
Musée Departemental d'Archeologie et de Prehistoire de la Martinique, 9 rue de la Liberté (tel. 596/71-57-05), has preserved Martinique's pre-Columbian past and has relics from the early settlers, the Arawaks and the Caribs. The museum has exhibits from the years from 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1635, but stops shortly after the arrival of the first French colonials in the early 1600s. In other words, it's mostly an ethnological museum. The museum faces La Savane and is open Monday 1 to 5pm, Tuesday to Friday 8am to 5pm, and on Saturday 9am to noon. Admission is 3.05€ for adults, 1.52€ for children 3 to 11 and 2.29€ students.
Le Musée Régional d'Histoire et d'Ethnographie, 10 bd. de Général-de-Gaulle, in Fort-de-France (tel. 596/72-81-87), is devoted to an illumination of the island's agrarian past (and the slave culture that made it possible). Expositions showcase the early-20th-century volcanic eruption that leveled St-Pierre, slavery and its effects on the island's society, and explorations of the sugar-cane industry. It's open Tuesday from 2 to 5pm; Saturday from 8:30am to noon; and Monday and Wednesday to Friday from 8:30am to 5pm. Entrance costs 3€ for adults and .75€ for children 11 and under. Entrance is free for anyone with a valid student ID.
Sacré-Coeur de Balata Cathedral, at Balata, overlooking Fort-de-France, is a copy of the one looking down from Montmartre upon Paris -- and this one is just as incongruous, maybe more so. It's reached by going along route de la Trace (Rte. N3). Balata is 10km (6 1/4 miles) northwest of Fort-de-France.
A few minutes away on Route N3, Jardin de Balata (tel. 596/64-48-73) is a tropical botanical park created by Jean-Philippe Thoze on land that the jungle was rapidly reclaiming around a Creole house that belonged to his grandmother. He restored the house, furnishing it with antiques and engravings. The garden contains a profusion of flowers, shrubs, and trees. It's open daily from 9am to 6pm. Admission is 12.50€ for adults, 7€ for children 3 to 12, and free for children 6 and under.
If you're lucky enough to get be going to Martinique in January or February, you'll enjoy the miracle of Circus. Referred to as "vaval" in your area, Circus starts immediately after New Year's Day. Every weekend is really a parade of floats and dancing within the roads. On Ash Wednesday, the next day of Carnival, a funeral procession travels within the streets of Fort-p-France. The spirit of Circus dies on Ash Wednesday, although not before one further celebration, like a huge fire is lit in La Savane, the city center. "Diablesses," or female demons, dance more anxiously before finally restraining. This is actually the official finish of Circus, a minimum of before the the coming year.
The ornate Bibliothèque Schoelcher, at 1 Rue p la Liberté, may be the island's central library, however your visit there's much more about the architecture compared to books, that are mostly in French. Take notice of the beautiful turquoise tile and hands-created posts and bear in mind the library has peculiar occasions, contact ahead if you're planning a trip.
The iron St. Louis Roman Catholic Cathedral was built-in 1875. The enormous chapel stands tall on rue Victor-Schoelcher and is essential visit.
Fort fans could be more than taken proper care of on Martinique. Besides Fort St. Louis, which pads the main harbour, you will find also two forts, Fort Desaix and Fort Tartenson, on hillsides looking over Fort-p-France.
Museum enthusiasts will delight in the Musée Departemental p la Martinique, at 9 Rue p la Liberté that has items that go as far back centuries. The museum is next to La Savane while offering artefacts in the Arawaks and Caribs, Martinique's original settlers. The museum is open every single day except Sunday.
Martinique is especially interesting since it sits in the confluence of two major physiques water. The Atlantic Sea jams into its northern and eastern shores, as the much calmer Caribbean Ocean edges Martinique's southern and western shores. Fort-p-France is around the Caribbean therefore you'll find tranquil seas ideal for swimming.
The very best beaches are located on the southern tip from the island. Ste-Anne is to will discover postcard-perfect whitened-sand beaches and palms. Diamant and Plage des Salines are here, and you'll certainly not be disappointed. Anse Mitan is yet another beautiful place. Generally, the southern beaches are more delightful than the northern shoreline.
Eating Out
Martinique's cuisine combines the very best of France's highly refined tastes using the Caribbean's flair for that exotic to create maui among the best eateries on the planet.
La Plantation is an ideal example. A varied French menu that rivals anything you will probably find around the Champs-Elysèes, combined with herbal treatments and spices or herbs you will simply get in the Antilles. For those who have only one meal here, make certain it is the lobster. Le Dôme follows this trend perfectly, offering intriguing mixtures of the region and also the Caribbean.
Night life
When sunset over this beautiful tropical island, mind to La Bodega. Here there is also a festive atmosphere along with a wonderful range of drinks, using the periodic live band carrying out.
The most exciting after-dark activity is seeing a performance of the folkloric troupe Les Grands Ballets Martiniquais.
The popularity of individual bars and dance clubs in Martinique rises and falls almost monthly. Many of them charge a cover between 10€ and 15€, although that's often ignored if business is slow -- and if you're an appealing physical specimen. A nightclub and restaurant where anyone can be a star, at least for a few minutes, is Maximus, Immeuble Les Corneaux, Le Lamentin (tel. 596/50-16-37).
If you're on the party circuit around Martinique, you are likely to find the most action at Crazy Nights, Ste-Luce (tel. 596/68-56-68), a wild dance parlor that on weekends can attract hundreds of patrons, each bent on having one "crazy night." Jazz is showcased at the Calebasse Café, 19 bd. Allègre, Le Marin (tel. 596/74-69-27), which sometimes features its own Billie Holiday clone. Meals are served, and the place is packed on Saturday nights. Live performances on Thursday around 10:30pm are a regular feature at Les Soirees de l'Amphore, Anse-Mitan (tel. 596/66-03-09), a small restaurant and minibar. Funk, disco, and soul are all featured.
If you want to gamble, head for Martinique's major casino, Casino Bâtelière Plaza, at Schoelcher (tel. 596/61-73-23), a 10-minute drive from the center of Fort-de-France. You'll need a passport; men do not need a jacket or tie. A special area reserved just for slot machines is open daily, without charge, from 10am to 3 or 4am. A more formal gambling area, with poker, roulette, and blackjack, is open from 8pm to 3am. There's a restaurant on-site. This is the larger, newer, and more crowded of the two casinos in Martinique, with 140 slot machines, compared to the 40 slots at the Casino des Trois-Ilets. But that might change if and when the new casino at Trois-Ilets opens.
On a cultural note, L'Atrium, boulevard Général-de-Gaulle, Fort-de-France (tel. 596/60-78-78), is the venue for major island cultural events, including dance and music. The theatrical presentations, of course, are in French. You can ask on island what might be happening at the time of your visit. For a not-always-up-to-date rundown on what's cooking entertainment-wise, click on www.martinique.no-scoop.com.
Martinique's Traditional Dances
The sexy and rhythmic beguine was not an invention of Cole Porter. It's a dance of the islands -- though exactly which island depends on whom you ask. Popular wisdom and the encyclopedia give the nod to Martinique, though Guadeloupeans claim it as their own, too.
Everybody who goes to Martinique wants to see the show performed by Les Grands Ballets Martiniquais, a troupe of about two dozen dancers, along with musicians, singers, and choreographers, who tour the island regularly. Their performances of the traditional dances of Martinique have been acclaimed in both Europe and the United States. With a swoosh of gaily striped skirts and clever acting, the dancers capture all the exuberance of the island's soul. The group has toured abroad with great success, but they perform best on their home ground, presenting tableaux that tell of jealous brides and faithless husbands, demanding overseers and toiling cane cutters. Dressed in traditional costumes, the islanders dance the spirited mazurka, which was brought from the 18th- and 19th-century ballrooms of Europe, and, of course, the exotic beguine.
Les Grands Ballets Martiniquais usually perform at area hotels, but schedules vary, so check locally. The cost of dinner and the show is from 50€. Most performances are at 8:30pm, with dinners at the hotels beginning at 7:30pm. The show is free for guests of the hotel where the troupe is performing. In addition, the troupe gives miniperformances aboard visiting cruise ships.
French imports are fabulously affordable on Martinique, especially in comparison to prices in the United States. So you can stock up on those designer perfumes here.
La Galleria, on Route p Lamentin, is extremely chic. Over fifty suppliers peddle their wares here, and you'll have little difficulty finding exquisite clothes or souvenirs. There's additionally a fine assortment of restaurants nearby should you prefer a break in the shopping.
La Situation à Rhum is the greatest spot to get Martinique rum. The store offers free product samples of a few of the merchandise, and you'll immediately taste the main difference between Martinique rum and it is lesser cousins that you simply might be more familiar with.

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