Travel to Martinique is probably not at the top of your bucket list. The French Caribbean island was under the radar until now. Formerly a holiday hideaway for Europeans and Canadians, currently the destination coming up in plenty state-side travel conversations. About time. Martinique is delightful. Black sand beaches and plush rainforest punctuate the north, while peaceful bays and chic oceanside eateries chill out down south. From Saint-Pierre’s decrepit beauty to easy luxury done well at Cap Est Lagoon, the country’s a stunner. And since Norwegian announced it’s $79 one-way flights from NYC to the French West Indies last December, why not check it out? If nothing else, the island’s natural wonders will leave you in awe—steel blue waters evoke memories of summer life on the Adriatic Sea, while dramatic views of volcano Mount Pelée is one of many reasons why travelers adore this place. And the natives— mad Caribbean with a distinctive French flair. Visit before the masses come and tamper with Martinique’s charm. Because trust they’re coming.
Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa
Tucked away on Martinique’s east coast, relaxed elegance meets luxuriant nature at Cap Est Lagoon. To-date, there are only two five-star properties on the island and this 50-room resort is one of them. The private beach, tranquil lagoon and full-service spa may attract a sophisticated crop of travelers, but Cap Est’s suites are what make this spot extra special. Each comes equipped with a personal pool, outdoor rain shower, private terrace and a large open-air living room that will force you to chill (even if you’re not trying to). Ignore the reviews and stay here. You’ll appreciate the serenity.
La Suite Villa
The trend on the island is boutique hotels and La Suite Villa is the most popular of the bunch. The moment you enter the restaurant-art gallery-hotel you’ll understand why. From cutting-edge architecture, to eclectic interiors curated by the property’s husband/wife owners, La Suite is oozing with character. Rooms are limited (six guest rooms and nine villas) so if interested, act fast. Go with the option that offers a graffitied jacuzzi overlooking the Fort de France bay—the view is flawless.
Massage at Club Med
Exploring a country’s landscape and spending time at popular cultural sites is essential, however, treating your body to a relaxing rub down while on vacation is important too. So when you’re done unveiling why Martinique is currently the place to be, schedule a massage at Club Med’s Spa Payot, the masseuse are damn good. If you’re interested in more than just relieving muscle tension, reserve a customized wellness package that offers up to six hours of pampering over a five-day period. Think facial, skin scrub, multiple body treatments and more. Sweet, right?
There’s something to be said about a country that celebrates their history, both the triumph and the pain with a sincere sense of pride. Candid conversations about slavery are not socially acceptable in some parts of the world but down in Martinique they tackle the subject with dignity. Tucked miles away from the capital on the island’s countryside stands La Savane Des Esclaves (The Savannah of The Slaves), a gripping replica of a “free” slave village, circa 1848 following the abolition of slavery in Martinique. Gilbert Larose, the force behind one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions, created this settlement because it tells a compelling story about Martinique’s culture. With cassava demonstration/tasting, multiple living quarter recreations and a modest art gallery serving as an additional source of education, set aside a few hours to kick it, there’s ’nuff to absorb.
My white fringe frock and ankle-tie sandals compliment Larose’s replica sleeping quarters. It’s tough to imagine a family of four living in a cramped space that I could barely stand up straight in.
If you’ve never tried cassava (nutty flavored root native to the Caribbean and Latin America) you’ll want to give it a taste following the elaborate demonstration at La Savane. The aroma and presentation make it hard to resist.
Charter a Catamaran
You don’t have to fly to Europe for a taste of costal France. When you’re in Martinique, link up with Kata Mambo, request Captain Jimmy Mirta and crew, then set sail on a catamaran for a full day at sea. 80 Euros per person will earn you unlimited drinks, down home cooking, a tour of San Pierre, snorkeling, smiles and irie vibes (if you cruise with Captain Jimmy, who’s worked with the company for more than 20 years). Look out for colorful homes that punctuate the coastline and the perfect panorama of Tour de France en route to San Pierre (Pompei of the Caribbean). Oh, and have your camera ready to capture semi-active volcano Mount Pelée, her presence from the middle of the ocean is surreal. Told you the island’s natural wonders will leave you in awe.
That’s Mount Pelée behind me. As for the lip color, Kat Von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in L.U.V. Sunglasses are by Illesteva and the Swavorski crystal starfish pendant necklace I purchased in Turks & Caicos from a local jewelry designer, Atelys Adrian.
Cocktails w/ a view at Le Bakoua Hotel
You could island hop while in Martinique—an express ferry will get you to neighboring Dominica and Guadeloupe in less than two hours—but don’t ditch the spot until you’ve fully digested what it has to offer. When you’re through site-seeing, spend a few hours enjoying tropical cocktails and good convo at Hotel Bakoua. The property faces one of the most beautiful bays in the Caribbean (Bay of Flemings) so whether you choose to chill out by the infinity pool and catch the sunset, or stroll over to Coco Bar, a hut built on stilts that sits in the middle of the ocean, you’ll love it all.
Grand Anse d’Arlet in the south of Martinique
If you stay at La Suite Villa, you will eat at Le Zandol. The fine French dining experience compliments the property’s eclectic atmosphere. Executive Chef, Ivan Duchene, excels at mixing local products with international culinary techniques.
Sword fish ceviche, fennel and pastis panacotta alongside a crunchy grapefruit salad
Breakfast at Bakoua Hotel
Cocktails and views aren’t the only things buzzing at Bakoua, their breakfast is worth talking about too. A nice selection of fresh fruit and pastries are up for grabs but it’s the parsley and cheese omelette that’s most memorable. Try it and you’ll understand why.
Cane Juice & Cassava at La Pagerie Museum
Empress Josephine grew up on this sugarcane estate in Les Trois-Îlets, circa 1760. Fast-forward a few decades and the crop is still a main attraction.
When you visit La Pagerie Museum, adjacent to Empress Josephine’s stone house, there’s an enclave in the garden with a man juicing sugarcane mixed with crushed ice and a lime.
Fresh coconut water and cassava are on the menu too. Do indulge.
Aboard the Catamaran
You’ll eat well aboard Kata Mambo. Authentic Martiniquean meals are prepared in a small kitchen on the boat’s lower level, think yellow rice dressed with sweet plantains, smoked chicken and avocado salad. Seconds are mandatory.
The face you make when you know you’re food taste good.
Saint-Pierre was once the ‘Little Paris of the Caribbean,’ then a volcano erupted in 1902 transforming the fabric of the city forever. Sadly, Saint-Pierre never regained its glory but a decrepit sense of beauty still exists that’s worth seeing. People come for the history which dates back to the 18th century, providing snapshot of a time when the port-town was booming and a lot less spooky. If old world charm with subtle sprinkles of modernity is your thing, spend a few hours wandering through the cobble stone alleys of Saint-Pierre .
People come to Saint-Pierre for its history and charm. Peeks of modern influences exist but the city is holding on to its past.
Peasant chic in Saint-Pierre. Decrepit beauty.
Tour Fort-de-France, Martinique’s capital city. The town is small so in 60 minutes you can cover cool sites like: Saint Louis’s Cathedral, the Covered Market and Aime Césaire’s Theater Museum, all in the midst of seeing how locals move about their day, which is actually quite fascinating. Lastly, don’t leave the island without passing through La Savané park, located along the city’s bustling downtown waterfront. The area is still under development, however, when complete this fall, it’s poised to be the Central Park of the Caribbean featuring restaurants, family activities, live concerts and more.
Photos by Metanoya Z. Webb and Marc Enette Exclusively for Globetrotting Stiletto.