Martinique -- Its France with palm trees, Gallic to its soul, and
it is the Cote dAzur of the tropics. A melange, Martinique has
bistros, baguettes, bougainvillaea and beaches, flowers, flame
trees, a famous volcano, madras-clad townspeople, codfish fritters
and Creole coffees.
And, for the
first time, Martinique has nonstop American Eagle service from San
Juan four days a week and a reinvented and renovated Club Med
resort. It has also launched a $1.2 million branding and promotion
campaign targeted at the U.S. market.
Creole corner of France, a stepping stone between the Atlantic
Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, blends cuisine, art and ambience with
rum and its own brand of joie de vivre.
Known as the Isle
of Flowers, Martinique, an overseas department of France, was the
birthplace of Napoleons Empress Josephine and served as the
inspiration for Paul Gauguins first tropical scenes, painted during
a stay in 1887, just before the artists departure for
welcomed more than 444,000 visitors last year (mostly French), a
slight increase over 2004. Officials are optimistic regarding
Eagle flights and Club Meds return have had an effect already, with
U.S. arrival figures in January well above the same month last
year, according to Muriel Wiltord, director of the U.S. and Latin
America for the Martinique Promotion Bureau.
entry into Martinique and Club Meds reopening will put us on the
map as never before, she said.
Tourism is not
the islands lifeblood. Martiniques economy depends primarily on
bananas, pineapples, sugarcane, rum and fishing -- followed by
Martinique has never figured heavily into the travel plans of
Americans in the past, due in part to a lack of air connections
from the U.S. mainland and within the Caribbean, all that is
beginning to change. Several hotels are offering U.S. tour
operators an equal euro-to-dollar exchange rate on their programs
this winter, a very clear signal that Martinique is ready and
willing to work with U.S. operators, Wiltord said.
Theres a range of
accommodations, from budget to deluxe, with more than 6,000 rooms
in outlets as small as the tiny inns called relais creoles and as
large as restored plantation houses.
nestled between Dominica to the north and St. Lucia to the south,
offers far more to see and do than a weeks time allows. Some
Pierre/Mont Pelee: Rent a car (reserve in advance for an
automatic-transmission vehicle) or book a guided tour to St.
Pierre, the martyred city whose 30,000 inhabitants perished when
Mont Pelee erupted on May 8, 1902. Climb the volcanic cones to view
the rebuilt town, once designated as the islands City of Art and
Ajoupa-Bouillon: A short drive east of Mont Pelee
is the 17th-century village of Ajoupa-Bouillon, the jumping-off
point for several sights, including Les Ombrages, a botanical
garden on the site of a former rum distillery; hiking trails; a
40-foot waterfall; and a river gorge for swimming.
Fort-de-France: Gallery-crawl through
Fort-de-France, now undergoing an ambitious redevelopment program
that includes renovation of La Savane, a 12-acre park, and the
construction of a waterfront promenade, a new business and tourist
center and a shopping mall.
" V. T.
Tilt: Hire Jacques at V. T. Tilt in Les Trois Islets on
the southern tip of Martinique. His nature-adventure firm has been
in business for 16 years, offering mountain bike tours to Grande
Anse des Salines beach, across the parched flats of a former salt
lake, through the savannah grasses and melon fields to the
Petrified Forest, once a swampland.
Marin: Book a ride on a yole, a hand-carved boat found
only on Martinique, at Le Marin. Yoles
resemble long canoes with sails and a rudder. Balance is maintained
by riders who perch precariously on long, wooden sticks. Hotels in
the area, including Club Med, can arrange yole
reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].
article: Multimillion-dollar makeover updates Club Med on