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Published: December 27th 2017
Martinique is a single large island situated in the Windward Island group, north of St Lucia and south of Dominica (pronounced 'Dom-in-EE-ka'). It is in fact an outlying state of France (sometimes called an Overseas Department), rather than a separate country, and is seen by many as a slice of France set down in the tropics, with many islanders often copying the mainland styles. But the music pouring out of the bars and nightclubs is very much Western Indian Creole traditions. Although French is the official language, most locals speak Creole and try to maintain some of the culture of the African slaves. Martinique has a population around 400,000 and while its large towns are relatively modern, over a third of the island is forested. We actually had a visit there on each of our cruises - for a full day on the first cruise and just a morning for the second.
Our first stay over in Martinique comprised two quite different environments. The morning stop was in the capital of Fort-de-France, where we took the time to have a decent stroll around a typical Caribbean capital city. This port location had the added benefit of an atmosphere which
was an enticing clash of French and Caribbean, with some attractive buildings and houses. However, if you really want to destroy the initial impression of a city, build a huge modern hotel right on the harbour so that it takes the focus away from everything else (see pic).The architectural highlights were the Bibliotheque Schoelcher, an art nouveau masterpiece that was built in Paris and shipped over in pieces, and the St Louis Cathedral, which has needed to be rebuilt a number of times over the years as a result of multiple natural disasters. The design of the former is a wild medley of the Byzantine, Egyptian, western classical and art nouveau. There is also an impressive fortress called Fort-Saint-Louis , on the headland overlooking the city, but this could only be viewed from the outside as it is still in use by the French navy. Finally, we stopped off at the Grand Marche, the indoor Creole markets, which focussed on the tropical flavours and fragrances, as well as offering a wide variety of white rums, produced in its own distillery (clearly no licensing constraints here!).
Over lunch, the ship moved from the capital down south to a beach called
Les Anses d’Arlet (how’s your French?). This was a longer beach than the others we had visited, flanked by a range of bars and cafes. It had been a hot day, so we waited until the cool of the afternoon to make it over there, in the company of a charming Scottish couple we have befriended. We strolled along the waters edge, just chatting and taking in the environment, before retiring to one of said bars for a quiet couple of rum punches while photographing firstly our clipper at sunset and then with its lights on once it got dark. Not much excitement you might say, but a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing couple of hours out of the fierce sun in the Caribbean. It really doesn’t get much better than this!
Somewhat surprisingly, our second cruise delivered us to the same beach, albeit in the morning. So apart from visiting it in the heat of the day and missing out on the rum punches and the sunset pics, there was nothing extra to add.
Our next location after Martinique, moving further north, is the collection of islands of Guadeloupe, another Overseas Department of France.
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