It’s almost guaranteed Martinique will surprise you in an intoxicating way, leaving you wondering what took you so long to visit this true Caribbean gem.
Since I travel for a living hosting ABC’s new travel show and working as a lifestyle correspondent for various outlets, I research places extensively before I visit so I usually have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Yet, in Martinique I was constantly discovering new exciting ways to appreciate this unique and authentic French Caribbean island.
From the history, scenery, culture and cuisine Martinique delivers a priceless vacation experience that goes far beyond just sipping an umbrella drink and getting a suntan.
Nestled between the islands of Dominica and St. Lucia, Martinique is a lush and mountainous island that’s a treasure trove of diversity and natural beauty. One of the first surprises, almost two thirds of the island is protected parkland and there are more than 80 miles of hiking trails.
Only about fifty miles long and twenty miles wide in Martinique, you have everything from a majestic volcano and tropical rain forest in the north to quaint fishing villages and beautiful beaches in the south.
The childhood home of Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte Martinique is French down to its chocolate croissants. Everyone on the island speaks French, uses the Euro and dishes up a delicious French Creole cuisine that’s pleasure on a plate!
The first thing you’ll want to do when you arrive is to get a rental car for around $50 dollars a day because it’s the best way to see the island.
The city of Francois is a great place to start. It’s just outside the bustling capitol of Fort de France, in the center of the island, and is home to two of Martinique’s top hotels. On this island you won’t find huge hotel chains stacked up next to each other on the beach. Instead, Martinique specializes in laid-back boutique properties where luxury comes in the form of award-winning dining and peaceful settings, giving you a chance to truly relax and unwind.
A favorite place to stay is Plein Soleil, with eleven Asian inspired rooms and five villas, perched high on a hillside, surrounded by banana plantations overlooking the Bay of Francois. I stayed in the striking Jardin Suite, a honeymoon favorite because you have complete privacy to enjoy your own pool and large sprawling deck.
Owner Jean-Christophe Yoyo grew up in Martinique and moved to Paris to work in advertising before the island beckoned him back. He says he created Plein Soleil so his guests would feel at home and to decorate this “home” he has collected treasures from his travels around the world that include striking paintings, exotic furniture and eclectic knickknacks.
Plein Soleil also has one of the top restaurants in Martinique that at night turns into a magical fairytale with twinkling white lights strung in the trees and tables set around a pond and soothing bubbling fountain. You’re in for a real treat here because Chef Nathanael Ducteil, trained with famed French chef Alaine Decase. Don’t miss dishes including the creamy rich lobster and mussels bisque and the succulent lobster flambed in Martiniquan rum.
Another superstar is the island’s only five-star property, Relais & Chateaux Cap Est Lagoon Resort and Spa. More than half of the suites at this fifty-suite hotel have their own private plunge pools and outdoor showers and every single suite has a water view.
Throughout the property, the architecture and dcor have a distinctive Thai flair where gleaming dark rich woods compliment a deep jeweled tone color palate radiating a feeling of richness and comfort.
Highlights at Cap Est include a pretty little beach, a sensational swimming pool, windsurfing, sea kayaks and a petite exclusive Guerlain spa where you have the entire spa to yourself when you book an appointment, including your own steam room and Jacuzzi.
You’ll also find two top restaurants at Cap Est, La Campeche and Le Belem and a chic bar serving up vintage rums and unique wines from their own wine cellar.
La Campeche is down by the beach and the more casual of the two where the Tuna Tartar is as pretty to look at as it is delicious. For a special dining experience head to Le Belem, top rated on the island for its brilliant gourmet cuisine and impeccable service. Some favorites include the fresh lobster from their own lobster tank, Beef Tartar and the Spicy Rack of Lamb. The creamy Banana Tart with a flaky homemade crust is phenomenal and perfect for sharing.
When it comes to planning your sightseeing, it’s smart to break the island up in sections. Highlights in the north include the rainforest, Balta Botantical Gardens, and hiking up Mount Pelee, a 4,500 foot high active volcano that in 1902 erupted killing 30,000 people in the town of St.
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