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Martinique – An Island Full Of Surprises

Our week on the French island of Martinique has been full of surprises.

The small towns and fishing villages we visited on the south and west coast had a backdrop of the most magnificent scenery.  Volcanic in places, but the most part is startlingly lush and bright green with forest-covered mountains and tall verdant palm trees set on small stretches of beautiful beaches.

Away from the water, there are miles upon miles of trails and hikes to explore across the island taking you through mangrove walkways, mountainous terrains and rain forests.  We enjoyed a hilltop hike between two bays, and although it was well-signposted, we still managed to get a little lost.

But what has surprised the most has been the total lack of tourism. Don’t come to this side of the island expecting a glitzy hotel in acres of beach-front setting.  Instead, enjoy accommodation in small guest houses and apartments, many with amazing sea views.

And the lack of tourism doesn’t stop there.  The restaurants and bars won’t open just because there’s a bay of hungry yachties who might want breakfast.  Nor will they make any extra effort for a small visiting cruise ship in the bay whose penny-pinching passengers might stretch to a coffee and pastry in exchange for using the free wifi.  Nope, they will only open and serve when they feel like it.  And if your face doesn’t fit in an empty restaurant, they will tell you they’re full or simply just ignore you!

But when you do get served, the local Creole food is delicious.  We particularly liked the acras – a starter of fish, seafood or vegetable tempura; as well as crabs farcis, which are crabs stuffed with a spicy mixture of crabmeat, garlic, shallots and parsley and cooked in their shells.  However, the Ti-punch, a rum, lime and cane syrup cocktail was one to miss for being too strong and sickly.

Martinique is extremely proud to be a department of France.  And it very much shows as French (French Creole) is the only language they like to use, to the point of intimidation for those of us who can’t converse in it.  They use the Euro, drive on the right side of the road and there are several Carrefour supermarkets across the island.  Even the dog felt the benefits as she was welcomed in on her European Pet Passport!  As for us, being on a boat and checking into the island in Marin was a doddle using a self-service computer and paying just €5.  Checking out by computer on a Saturday afternoon at L’Alsace restaurant in St Pierre was free and very easy.

On the downside, the amount of boats was staggering. Anchor in some bays and you could feel like you were in a complete boat park.  The town of Marin being one.  But stick to the back of the pack and you’ll get a totally different experience with peace, quiet and lovely clear water to swim in, let alone benefiting from the most jaw-dropping sunsets.

Snorkelling, especially off the fishing villages of Grande Anse and Les Anses D’Arlet was amazing.  Here you are swimming with sea turtles and brushing past brightly coloured fish and corals.  Dive down and you’ll find sand dollars and lobsters in abundance.

The seaside fishing villages of Grande Anses, Les Anses D’Arlet and Ste-Anne were like stepping back in time and seemed so unlike the rest of the Caribbean.  Long stretches of beach with a few deckchairs scattered among the towels with kids playing and parents sunbathing and chatting well past sunset.  It all felt very safe and free of touts and I wouldn’t think there are many places like this still left in the Caribbean.

Time a visit in with one of the many carnivals that take place during February and March and you won’t be disappointed.  They may be French, but the party is very much Caribbean when it comes to carnival.

carnival-at-ste-annes

From a personal point of view, as we toured the island it was lovely to catch up and share a sunset drink or two with so many of our friends from the sailing rally including the wonderful J-Squared, Sacre Bleu and Paulaur.

© Two Drifters Travel

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