DREAMSCAPES SPRING/SUMMER 2024
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FORCE OF NATURE IN MARTINIQUE
 
(2024 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: GRACE TOBY



The fast-warming sun casts a heat blanket over the island as we wind our way north from Fort-de-France, the centrally located capital. Once near the top, through verdant hills and tropical jungle, we spot Mount Pelée, the island’s only active volcano and tallest point on the island. Along the way, we pass Saint-Pierre, once known as the “Paris of the West Indies,” until a deadly volcano eruption in 1902 wiped out all but one sole resident. Today, lush greenery coats nearly every surface with the occasional sprinkling of a stunning waterfall. Before sunset, we descend back down to town on a paved road that hugs the coast, tracing the shoreline and chasing the candy-coloured skies before the sun falls into the sea. After our jungle-to-beach day trip, we’re rewarded with a dip in the balmy water, and in one day go from forest bathing to beach bathing.

In Full Bloom

Nestled in the Caribbean Sea in the southern part of the Lesser Antilles lies the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Known as the “Isle of Flowers,” this overseas region of France is also the birthplace of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine Bonaparte, the French Empress.

Triple Threat

Although among the smaller of the overseas French territories, Martinique has earned three prestigious UNESCO designations: Most recently, the volcanoes and forests of Mount Pelée and the pitons in the northern region made the list. As did the traditional Yole sailboat noted for its cultural heritage significance. Thirdly, a bold and all-encompassing declaration now includes the entire island of Martinique and its surrounding waters to the World Biosphere Reserve, which promotes conservation and sustainable development. Recognized as a global biodiversity hotspot bursting with endemic species, this acknowledgment represents both environments that cradle the terrestrial and marine life.

Crown Jewel

On a hot and humid blue-sky morning, we set sail aboard a catamaran to spend the day at sea. Martinique has the most moorings of any island in the Lesser Antilles. You can easily rent a boat, kitted with a skipper and cook who can prepare a Caribbean feast that draws on African, Indian and French influences and Creole ingredients, paired with Ti-Punch (a cocktail with the island’s infamous rum). We head straight to Diamond Rock, an uninhabited basalt island that’s the striking remnant of a one-million-year-old volcano. Anchored in the Caribbean Sea, just three kilometres off the coast, snorkellers and scuba divers circle the aquamarine perimeter. Remnants of boats from the eruption sit at the bottom of this bay attracting explorers and making this one of the richest diving sites in the Caribbean. This stunning landmark joins nearly two dozen other sites considered premiere scuba diving locales. While aboard, pods of dolphins swim alongside, playing hide and seek and criss-crossing in the wake. We approach the opening of a bat cave to track several colonies hanging along the perimeter. There are no designated private beaches on the island, making every bit of coastline available to visitors. This access makes exploring the unspoiled coast and its waters a breeze, with activities like kitesurfing, windsurfing, diving, SUP, flyboarding, fishing and horseback riding. If you’re seeking a surf scene, head east and hit the Atlantic coast where the conditions are ripe for catching waves.

Go Green

Its natural beauty isn’t limited to the coastline with a rainforest that runs through the north and two sprawling nature parks—the Jardin de Balata and the Domaine d’Émeraude (home to more than 3,000 species, including 1,220 native plants and 500 species of trees)—that make up part of the two-thirds of the island that’s protected parkland. For those looking to gain a front-row seat to the Mount Pelée volcano, you can walk, climb or hike it. Allow yourself several hours for the roundtrip and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views once you reach the summit. Otherwise, a well-maintained network of more than 250 kilometres of hiking trails will take you through tropical rainforests, beaches and waterfalls. A must-visit for nature lovers is Habitation Céron, a sprawling property that once housed a sugar plantation. Stepping onto the grand estate, preserved by a multi-generational French family, is like being transported to the magical garden from a fairy tale. At its centre sits the three-century-old majestic Zamana tree. It’s one of the largest trees in the Lesser Antilles, covering almost a hectare and was voted “the most beautiful tree in France.” The eco-friendly tropical garden encourages visitors to immerse and connect with nature through its activities and exploration.

Tour de France, Island Edition

I hop on my ATV and zip over hills and through fields of sugarcane on my tour of Trois Rivières—the island’s oldest and largest sugarcane estate. As we reach an opening, my guide points to the protected mangroves which act as a nursery for the fish, fauna and flora, highlighting how intertwined and important both its land and water are to not only this property but to all Martinicans. We cap off our tour with a “rhum” tasting; after all, Martinique is known as the rum capital of the world.

Beach Day — or Night

Along with adventuring, indulge in unique local fare made easily accessible at beach clubs equipped with kitchens turning out exceptional meals. They’re a great way to combine the best of both worlds—enjoy traditional dishes in an oceanside setting. Martinican cuisine is a delightful blend of French, African, Indian and Creole that combine to make one of the most distinct flavours of the islands. Book a lounger at Bao Beach along Pointe Marin Beach. Lined with sea grape trees, this stretch of coast offers views of the Caribbean Sea. The seafood offerings vary daily, yet one staple on every menu is salt cod fritters, a Creole classic that’s widely considered the national dish. Enjoy your rum-based cocktail in the mild waters where tables have been set up in the sea. Then head further north to Carbet au Petibonum, an idyllic spot to watch the sunset. Order the crayfish that arrives flambé tableside. Stay for the live music, which has made this place an institution for residents and visitors.

Travel Planner

Air Canada and Martinique have launched five-hour non-stop flights aboard an Airbus A220 from Toronto to Fort-de-France. For more travel information on Martinique, visit Martinique.org

 
 
 
 
Rodd
Antigua & Barbuda
Panama City
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