“Martinique is not for tourists; it is for travellers.” says our guide as we make our way through the winding, hilly roads of this French/Caribbean island.
Martinique is to France, as Hawaii is to the U.S. This island “outpost” is a district of France, and its approximately 400,000 inhabitants live under French law. Proud to have been anointed the safest Caribbean island in recent years, the island has a distinctive French flair which is uniquely blended with the island culture.
Peak travel times from Canada are December to March. Flights are direct from Montreal (Air Canada), or through Miami (American Airlines). The island is also busy during July and August, when French families take their summer break holidays. French is the official language of Martinique, with Creole as the unofficial, more casual language.
Most cruise lines visit Martinique, with Disney the latest to announce their Wonder ship will begin stopping there early 2016. Entering Martinique is a breeze compared to many Caribbean islands. Passport control is quick and easy and there is only one luggage belt. Upon leaving the airport, you can either rent a car, or take a “Collective Taxi.” Many people rent as cars drive on the North American side, but due to the extremely hilly roads, it is recommended that you hire an automatic transmission car.
There is surprisingly only one resort chain in Martinique; Club Med, who established their first club here in the 1969. Throughout the island there are locally owned, smaller hotels and boutique resorts, all of whom have their own particular charm.
An additional option in Martinique is the over 500 units available for rental through Airbnb. There are many vacation home options available on the island.
There are fantastic natural and historic sites for families to visit, including the Emerald Estates, which is a natural regional park, opened just five years ago, as a “Green educational tool.” Its goal is to preserve and promote the natural and cultural history and conservation of the island.
Fort St. Louis is a working military fort located in Fort de France. Opened to the public only since July 2014, guided tours take visitors through the working fort which was built originally in the 1600s, but added to in the 1800s. A special feature of the fort is the hundreds of iguanas, who originated there due to a zoo which was built in the fort in the 1950s. The zoo was dismantled, but 30 of the iguanas escaped and have continued to add to their numbers.
No trip to Martinique is complete without trying the local specialties. A spice mixture called “Colombo” is a blend of seven different spices and has the taste of a rich, milder curry. It is used predominantly on chicken, but you can also find it on shellfish and other dishes. Bite-sized fried cod fritters are a typical appetizer before a meal, and octopus is served frequently, either grilled or deep fried. Cod came to Martinique originally from Canada, who was trading it for sugar cane. Thanks to the French influence, desserts are chocolate, whipped cream pastries and other confectionaries. Bananas au gratin (banana served with melted Swiss cheese) is tasty alternative.
There are 11 rum distilleries on the island, and of particular note is the Clement, where guests can stroll through displays, homesteads and working machinery, as well as inhale the scent of thousands of barrels aging rum, soaking in a big part of Martinique’s history. Martinique, c’est magnifique.
Anguilla Luxury seekers, look no further than the Viceroy Anguilla for all your posh needs. Overlooking the sands of stunning Meads Bay, this fashionable property features five restaurants, a full spa, gym, yoga center, tons of activities, and a camp-like program for kids. All lodging options here are “wow”-inducing, but none more so than the private villas, which come equipped with private infinity pools and hot tubs, indoor-outdoor showers, tons of electronics, a professional kitchen that’s fully stocked, and even a house manager to run the show.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Anguilla Travel Guide
St. Lucia Want to wake up to stunning views of the Pitons and the Caribbean Sea? Then book a stay at Jade Mountain, where the rooms are so luxurious that they’re called “sanctuaries,” each of which features an infinity plunge pool in the sitting area. With a minimum of 1,400 square feet of open-concept living space in each sanctuary, including an entire wall that’s open to the sea, there’s hardly any reason to leave your private abode. If you do, however, the adults-only property is home to a bar, restaurant, spa, fitness center, and sky-top terrace. For all these reasons and more, Jade Mountain no doubt earns “trip of a lifetime” status.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s St. Lucia Travel Guide
Antigua With a loyal following of guests who return year after year, Curtain Bluff stands out for its dramatic beachfront setting, fine dining (there’s a 25,000-bottle wine cellar), waterfront spa, and superb activities like free scuba-diving and deep-sea fishing. Unlike some other properties in the Caribbean, this all-inclusive resort doesn’t shy away from families; in fact, multigenerational groups are quite common here. One thing to note: Curtain Bluff closes in late July and doesn’t reopen until October.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Antigua and Barbuda Travel Guide
EDEN ROC AT CAP CANA
Dominican Republic It may be located in the Caribbean, but Eden Roc at Cap Cana’s look is all French Riviera. A member of the elite Relais & Chateaux portfolio, it features 34 suites that come equipped with glamorous interiors and private pools. You’ll also find LCD TVs, iPads that control everything in the room, luxurious beds, and indoor and outdoor showers. The in-demand one-bedroom suites are perfect for honeymooners, but there are only eight of them, so book far in advance if you’re interested. One fun perk here: You get your own golf cart to drive between your suite and reception.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Dominican Republic Travel Guide
THE ROYAL PALMS
Bermuda Named after two on-site specimens that tower over the property, The Royal Palms offers a classic Bermudian experience with its colonial architecture and coral-colored walls. With only 32 rooms housed in two 19th-century manor houses, each guest receives a lot of attention, and the service here is known for being top-notch. Days spent here begin in the sunny, all-grass breakfast room, where you dine at 90-year-old Bermudian cedar tables. The property also features lush gardens that are home to a variety of local fruit trees and an herb garden that supplies Ascots Restaurant.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Bermuda Travel Guide
HOTEL GUANAHANI AND SPA
St. Barthélemy The largest full-service resort on St. Barts, Hotel Guanahani and Spa appeals to those looking to stay active—with tennis courts, a beachside fitness pavilion, and a large roster of water sports—or chill out—in the Frédéric Fekkai hair salon or at the serene Clarins Spa—on this landscaped beach peninsula. In addition to impeccable personalized service, Hotel Guanahani offers one of the island’s only children’s programs. The most luxurious suites here come with butler service and other creature comforts, but there are a variety of rooms and rates to choose from.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s St. Barthélemy Travel Guide
Turks and Caicos Islands Do you need to de-stress in a timeless environment? Look no further than the Meridien Club, which hasn’t changed much since opening in the 1970s—in a good way. That helps explain why the resort sees so many repeat visitors, who are drawn by staying on the prettiest beach in Turks and Caicos as well as the lack of phones and TVs here. Off the property there’s a 2.5-mile-long deserted stretch of beach to enjoy, in addition to nature trails that can be explored by bike or on foot. When you’re at The Meridien Club, you’ll find a communal vibe, as well as some of the finest meals on the islands (which are covered by the room rates).Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Turks and Caicos Islands Travel Guide
St. Lucia Top-tier service is what you get at Cap Maison, where you can have a doting staffer unpack your bags or ring your personal butler for anything you need. Perched on a seaside cliff, this resort (which offers all-inclusive packages) is made up of 22 villas featuring Spanish Caribbean architecture, large private balconies, and huge rooftop terraces, nine of which have a private plunge pool. For pampering, there’s a full service spa and a Zen garden plus the beach, but note the latter requires going down (and then back up) 92 stairs to get to.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s St. Lucia Travel Guide
Jamaica A throwback to a bygone era of elegance and luxury, the Jamaica Inn, which once welcomed the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Winston Churchill, still reigns supreme as the island’s grand dame hotel. Located in Ocho Rios on one of Jamaica’s premier private beaches, the hotel features 52 suites and cottages, each with a view of the Caribbean Sea. All-inclusive packages are available here, as are waterfront treatments at the Ocean Spa. You won’t find a TV in your room, but that’s the point: You’re supposed to spend your evenings have dinner al fresco on the gorgeous terrace before dancing to music provided by a live band.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Jamaica Travel Guide
Harbour Island Undoubtedly the most luxurious boutique hotel on Harbour Island, the Rock House attracts a discriminating international clientele. With a clubby atmosphere, this adults-only property features just seven rooms and three suites that blend a well-curated mix of island and contemporary furnishings. The Rock House isn’t on the beach, but you can spend your days splashing around in the courtyard pool or lounging in the private cabanas that line its perimeter.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Eleuthera and Harbour Island Travel Guide
LE PETIT HOTEL
St. Martin If you think smaller is better, consider a stay at accurately named Le Petit Hotel, which has just nine rooms plus a one-bedroom suite. There’s no pool here, but the beach is great and you’re also within walking distance to all that Grand Case has to offer, including some of the finest restaurants in the Caribbean. In the mornings, you can take the basket in your room to go stock up on croissants, coffee, and juice at the breakfast buffet, then bring them back to your private terrace.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s St. Martin Travel Guide
NISBET PLANTATION BEACH CLUB
Nevis With a magnificent view of a palm-tree-studded lawn that sweeps toward a gorgeous beach, Nisbet Plantation Beach Club offers a picturesque setting in unspoiled Nevis. Its 36 rooms all feature vaulted ceilings, graceful patios, gleaming tile floors, granite accents, and such whimsical touches as trompe l’oeil jungle murals. You’ll need to rent a car if you want to explore the rest of the island, but you could happily spend your days here at the spa and the deck bar for sundowners.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s St. Kitts and Nevis Travel Guide
BEACHES TURKS & CAICOS
Turks and Caicos Islands The largest resort in Turks and Caicos, Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa is one of the Caribbean’s best options for families traveling on vacation. For the younger set, there’s a kids’ park, a water park, a swim-up soda bar, and a teen disco; for adults, there’s the extensive spa plus the pretty beach and scuba diving. The resort is also home to some gorgeous pools as well as dining options that include a 1950s-style diner and a Japanese restaurant.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Turks and Caicos Islands Travel Guide
CORAL REEF CLUB
Barbados Upscale yet informal, the Coral Reef Club offers beautiful suites, an inviting atmosphere, and a chance to unplug (most rooms don’t have TVs). Families are of course welcome, but kids aren’t allowed in the dining room after 7:30 pm, and property stays completely child-free between mid-January and late February, making this an ideal option for travelers seeking an adults-only experience. All rooms and suites feature a patio or balcony, but the Coral Reef Club is also home to 12½ acres of flower-filled gardens, a beach, and a pool for you to enjoy during your stay.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Barbados Travel Guide
This article first appeared in www.huffingtonpost.ca and can be found at this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/kathy-buckworth/travel-to-martinique_b_6293464.html