From the white-sand beach of Grande Anse des Salines, located on the southern tip of Martinique at Sainte-Anne, you cannot help but admire the hazy peaks of Saint Lucia in the distance. But don't let the palm trees fool you. This is the Caribbean, but as you explore beyond the beaches you'll never quite be able to forget that Martinique is also very much part of France.
The Martinique islanders are officially as French as their compatriots in Versailles, and it's not hard to believe it when you see them strolling beneath the coconuts and bougainvillea, with baguettes bought from the boulangerie under their arms. And as part of the European Union, albeit a far-flung part, your European Health Insurance Card works here too.
While we're on the subject of health, a quick word on the Zika virus. There have been cases of the virus, which is spread by mosquitos, on the island, but the government isn't warning against travel. Take the usual measures to avoid being bitten, particularly at sunset when the mozzies come out. The virus can have serious effects on unborn babies, so pregnant women might want to steer clear for the moment.
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There are no direct flights from the UK, so you need to travel to France first the one on the continent that is. That's just fine by me. After all, what more romantic way is there than to start your holiday with dinner out in Paris? (See below.) In the morning, wake up refreshed and stress-free for the eight-and-a-half-hour flight to the island's capital, Fort-de-France.
On arrival, a short half-hour drive tookus to our rented villa, complete with private swimming pool, in the hills overlooking the small fishing town of Le Vauclin. From ten o'clock in the morning, you can buy your supper right off the beach from the fishermen, who are happy to clean and fillet the fish, ready for the barbecue.
If that all sounds like too much hard work, there is no shortage of restaurants in Martinique, serving up traditional Creole cuisine, reflecting the island's French, Indian and African influences. At the excellent L'Oxygne, a little restaurant located just outside Le Vauclin, my gros (fat) tuna steak was meaty and moist, and paired perfectly with the sauce chien, made, I'm pleased to say, from shallots, and not from dog, as the name suggests. Another local favourite is accras de morue, which are salt-cod fritters, best devoured with an ice-cold beer at La Dunettein Sainte-Anne, close to the best beaches, and where the warm water almost laps at your table.
Just north of Le Vauclin (pictured above) is the Habitation Clment. This former rum distillery is now a museum set in tropical gardens and adorned with modern art. It's the perfect place to walk off lunch. Clment rum is still made down the road, which you can sample in the shop on your way out as well as pick up a bottle or two. But there is more to Martinique than rum.
In the north, the dramatic volcano, Mont Pele, the eruption of which in 1902 destroyed the original capital, Saint-Pierre, provides a brooding backdrop to much of the island. You can go trekking through the currently parched mangroves (it is presently the dry season) on the narrow peninsula of Presqu'le de la Caravelle, surrounded on both sides by the Atlantic Ocean.
While you're in the area, the Muse de la Bananeis worth a visit. The museum, dedicated to all things banana, offers a fascinating insight into Martinique's long love affair with the fruit, the many varieties of which you can see dangling in the gardens in shades of yellow, but also grey, red, black and even pink. Call in at La Bananeraie, which is a cut above your average museum eatery. This is France, after all.
While you're in Paris
Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.
Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.
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