Saturday, 14 April 2018

Caribbean Creole Paradise in Martinique

It's not for nothing that this lush, tropical island is called the isle of flowers - it's positively teeming with colour. It's not surprising that the Parisian running the local art gallery described his former home city to me as 'too grey.' Anything would seem diluted in comparison to Martinique...

This was a trip mainly for indulging and relaxing. But (of course), most definitely not in a commercial all-you-can-eat style. We stayed in Sainte Luce fishing village - on the South coast, at the Brise Marine serviced apartments right on the beach. Hummingbirds darted between hibiscuses, green lizards basked in the sun, and the waves lapped the shore metres from us. I also chose Brise Marine for other reasons; Richard has to be kept happy with a big French breakfast, and this was not a compromise here. Every morning a big tray of fresh Croissants, pineapple and more, arrived at our door. We shared breakfast in the bigger bungalow my Mum and Aunty were staying in. It was simply priceless to roll out of bed, walk through the garden, and sit on the veranda by the beach, eating pains-au-chocolats! 

My favourite things about this beautiful island in particular are: hummingbirds and flowers, food and spices, and of course, the beach.

The gardens of Balata were a stunning place to visit. Popular but spacious, the artistic and immaculate displays can be enjoyed from all sorts of perspectives, including a treetop walk which I was gutted to miss! (We forgot about it, and would have needed to take turns as the little monkey wasn't allowed to go up. Children over 8 are allowed only). I was cautious to stick to the paths here and keep my hand clasped around the sweaty little paw of a certain little girl, as there are poisonous snakes in Martinique. Unlikely to cause a problem, but still... 

In the fishing village of Sainte Luce, locals go about their daily lives in the sunshine, with occasional but sudden random tropical downpours providing a welcome break from the heat. The restaurants are mainly informal beach-side grills with similar menus, mainly consisting of local fish and seafood. E.g. swordfish, crab, red snapper, and conch/lambi. Grilled and curried chicken and pork, and steak also find themselves onto most menus and everything is cooked beautifully in traditional creole spices on the barbecue. My favourite (it was hard to choose) is the red snapper, especially when one evening I was warned 'it is big tonight!' and ate the lot. I also loved the crab fritters which I tried on the last day. What was I missing. Why didn't I order them sooner! 

There are a whole load of beach choices in Martinique, like anywhere in the Caribbean. The beaches along our part of the coast had very soft white/golden sand and were reasonably shallow, with beautiful clear aqua waters. I loved the local low-key vibe on the beaches by our hotel, and the handful of relaxed bars and cafes available for 'ti-punch' and fishy/meaty snacks. There was a beachside path just outside our hotel that people use for jogging in the early morning, and some exercise equipment dotted around. 

Les Salines is also a beautiful beach to visit and swim in, just further south of Sainte Anne. It is a wide arc of golden sand backed by palm trees, and local vendors sell traditional spices, clothes, and souvenirs behind the trees in the shade (none of which seemed plastic or tacky and are all handmade locally). There is also a walkway through the mangroves behind the beach. 

Martinique, like many Caribbean islands, has a rich slave trade history. The sculpture at Diamant (pictured) is an interesting and historic monument to commemorate the slaves who died on a slave ship, which sunk in the beautiful panoramic bay it overlooks. 

We learned a great deal about the slavery, at the 'Savane des Esclaves' in Trois Ilets. Interesting displays show detailed timelines and events, and reconstructions of early dwellings after liberation are set amongst the colourful grounds. It was here that our little treasure decided to wake from her nap in one of the worst moods ever, and screamed her way around the place, wailing for 'juice' and refusing to drink water. It was very hot, and Richard kindly took her off so my Mum, Aunty and I could take in this fascinating place in peace.

The wonderful gift shop (with a chicken asleep in a box amongst other things) was a good distraction for little Klowski. Despite her behaviour I couldn't resist buying some pretty handmade hairclips for her, made of the colourful local 'madras' fabric. On the journey back to the hotel, it took her 3 minutes to break one. She really is such a good girl, but there are rare and specific occasions when she becomes an utter, utter monster.

Practical information:

Martinique is an overseas French territory and unlike many British ones, it is truly part of France. French laws apply, and the currency is the Euro. This makes the island very wealthy and developed. Although speaking a little French is an advantage at times as not everyone speaks English, there is usually someone around who does. Very few Brits come to Martinique, and few Americans. Especially away from the port town of Fort-de-France, where the cruise ships dock.

As well as Creole, the culture in Martinique is very French, and this can affect meal times, which are rather specific like the mainland. For mid-morning snacks, bakeries were a good option. 

Our flight to Martinique involved changing flights - and airports - in Paris. This was made easier with a free coach trip provided by Air France.

We hired a car through our hotel Brise Marine. The owner had his own fleet of hire cars which made it easy, as we didn't feel we needed a car from the start to end of our holiday, only for a few days in the middle. We mainly used it to get to the gardens of Balata, and to the main town, Fort-de-France. The owner also kindly gave us a lift back to airport when it was time to go home. 

There are some creatures to be wary of, although I never saw any. The poisonous snakes are only really a potential hazard if you stray from marked paths, go into the vegetation, and go crashing around in the sugarcane fields - which I am happy to say was not on my agenda. I felt perfectly safe in Martinique, and that's including having a toddler with me.