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krisek Fort-de-France - A travel report by Krys
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Fort-de-France,  Martinique - flag Martinique -  Martinique
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krisek's travel reports

Is it constrained or liberated? Pretty Martinique.

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The island, one of many around the world, remains the French colony. And it seems that the population wants it to be that way. Rolling green hills, turquoise Caribbean waters, rustic French architecture, rhum, limes and sugar. It is a paradise!

Sacré Coeur de Martinique
Sacré Coeur de Martinique
The island of Martinique remains the colony of France, and is in fact a Department of the republic. Martinique’s official flag is the French flag, although the island flies its own as well. I really liked that! Originally, I did not plan to go to Martinique on my Caribbean trip in 2006 however, due to bad weather on Saint Lucia, I was bored enormously. I could not go hiking, cycling, wandering around, fishing or photographing. Beaches were not an option either, obviously. So, when I found this fast French boat service (L'Express des Îles connecting Saint Lucia, Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe), I decided to go. And it was a good decision.

The boats were small catamaran pedestrians-only jet vessels. They had two sitting decks and a small outside area for standing and... taking pictures of course. I heard that the company was planning to buy (or already had) boats with business and economy class cabins or decks. Well, that would significantly increase the comfort and hygiene of the crossings. The one and half hour trip was very rough. The vessel flew on the waves throwing water on people standing in the smoking area at the back of the ship. The haphazard free falling on large waves made the boat jump high in the air and kept more sensitive people puking dramatically. And a lot! I have never seen so much puke in my life. Fortunately, the waves were washing almost everything out straight away. Nevertheless I enjoyed the ride very much. I kept my iPod on and read the guide book figuring out what I should be visiting on the island. I was also quite impressed how fast the boat managed to go on such a rough sea without breaking up. I did try to step outside, avoid the salty spray, stand on the slippery deck, navigate between the vomit everywhere to take some pictures. The boat was passing by a fair length of the island and the views were rather good. Many passengers thought that I must have been nuts risking those various hazards, just to take a few photographs.

Favourite spots:
Sacré Coeur de Martinique
Sacré Coeur de Martinique
I came up to a taxi driver and asked him what he would charge me for an hours drive around the city. He surprised me with a very reasonable quote and I immediately agreed. I told him what I wanted to do on Martinique and why I was there. He then surprised me again by taking me beyond the capital city and actually giving me a tour. Told me stories. Drove me through the posh districts. Showed me view points. It was great.

I was amazed how much Martinique resembled France - the architecture, the cars, the fashion. There was even a not very faithful mini-copy of the Parisian Basilique du Sacré Coeur. It was called the Sacré Coeur de Martinique and was located at the foothills of handsome mountains - Pitons du Carbet. It was a miniature, well not a miniature, but significantly smaller version. Well, it looked great with the triangle-cone-like mountains. It was visible from quite a distance. The interior was however totally different.

What's really great:
In the centre of Fort-de-France
In the centre of Fort-de-France
Then, the taxi took me back to the city. I prompted the guy what I was interested in seeing and the traffic was so bad, that I could jump out of a barely moving vehicle, take my pictures and hop back on. We did not have to park anywhere! It was almost surreal.

I found Fort-de-France an attractive, modern and busy city. It most definitely looked like a French town in southern France, Provence for instance. The architecture of the old district was the same as many older town in France. The shops looked very similar, the windows had shutters, the streets were narrow, the cafes had little tables lined up in the pavements, etc.

the Schoelcher Library
the Schoelcher Library
One of the more famous buildings was the Schoelcher Library right at the city's main square. It had an interesting dome (which you cannot see on the picture), typical for a train station (like the one in Maputo, Mozambique by Mr. Eiffel) and not typical for a library.

I also liked the Palace of Justice on one of the other squares. It was large and very classical.

There was also a poorer part of the city (called slums), which was unique to the island, since France does not really have such poor areas. An American touch to this pretty island. The French government once called the Martinicans the French-Americans. So now some of them fly both the French and the United States flags. Just like the taxi driver who took me on this great tour. He had two mini flags inside the car. We laughed about it!

The colour green was abundant on the island. In impossible shades...
The colour green was abundant on the island. In impossible shades...
I did not stay on Martinique, as I was sailing back to Saint Lucia on the same day to catch my flight to Barbados. There were many, very many accommodation options in Fort-de-France and its suburbs. Most of them were top end hotels catering for wealthy French holidaymakers, descending to the island for some great rhum-lime-and-sugar, the turquoise warm waters of the Caribbean sea and those magnificent rolling hills, so green that it did beggar belief the colour was real.

Fort-de-France did not boast a big number of otherwise budget accommodation, unfortunately. One of the cheaper options was the Centre International de Séjour Martinique (at the Etang Z'Abricots, on the outskirts of Fort de France, 10 km from the airport Aimé Césaire, and 2 km from the harbour). It offered single private ensuite rooms for about €50, which was still not a bargain at all, but considering the quality of the island's sights, it was close to reasonable.

Palais de Justice
Palais de Justice
According to my information, Fort-de-France had a few good places offering a good night out. Apart from the everpresent Caribbean casinos, the capital of Martinique provided at least two great places to boogie. One was the popular disco - the Xenakis Club, and the other was a place offering the eclectic form of nightlife - the Karaoke Cafe. It was a bar that transformed into a restaurant, and then in turn, was becoming a spot to sing along the famous tracks, only to become an excellent disco. Apparently, one had to dress smartly. There was rather strict door policy. However, as I heard, some of the other clubs were simply too close to the risky drugs dealings area of town, so the owners of Karaoke Cafe were just making sure, that their place looked smart and felt safe.

Martinique also offered the show performed by Les Grands Ballets Martiniquais, a troupe of about 20 dancers, along with musicians, singers, and choreographers, who perform traditional dances of Martinique.

A small beach near the capital - an alternative hangout activity, although not for me...
A small beach near the capital - an alternative hangout activity, although not for me...
In their bright striped skirts and intriguing acting, the dancers try to capture all the abundance of Martinique's spirit. Dressed in traditional costumes, the island women and men dance the uptempo mazurkas, Polish traditional folk dance, brought to the saloons of France by Fryderyk Chopin and then in turn, by the dance-hungry upper class to the other ballrooms of Europe. The troop, of course, added the exotic beguine, a sort of Caribbean foxtrot, creating an infatuating mix.

Those, who prefer Jazz had the Calebesse Cafe, (19 Boulevard Allegre Le Marin), which apparently invited a musician, who could do a great Billie Holiday, playing live into the night. The cafe also served meals, and bookings were essential on Saturdays. Piano bar lovers also had their own spot in Fort-de-France - a very animated Le Club Piano-bar Prive (24 Boulevard Allegre), a lovely and atmospheric place.

Travellers Tree
Travellers Tree
If one would expect a nice, light French cuisine to dominate the island, then one was heading into a great disappointment. Martinique is best known for its big, hearty stews and curries loaded with spices, coconut milk and hot peppers. They were all prepared in a way that they could be shared with people around the table - not individual dishes, but a common dish. Fresh fish was abundant in many recipes as well as fruit, which were on the lighter side of the traditional cuisine. But Fort-de-France seemed to prefer the heavy starchy vegetables.

I also found that Martinique had its own drink. It was rhum with sugar and crushed limes. Nothing more and nothing less. No soda water, no juice, no coke. One poured just a little (perhaps 25ml) rhum into a short glass, added about two teaspoons of cane sugar, and crushed it with a couple of large wedges of lime, until the last drop of juice is sucked out of the fruit, and there it was. It was great and, surprisingly, fresh!

Other recommendations:
The harbour in the distance.
The harbour in the distance.
Martinique is amongst the few Caribbean islands, which can be reached also by regular boat service from other islands, on the L'Express des Îles connecting Saint Lucia, Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe - as mentioned above. The boat was fast, but the disembarkation was always taking really, really long. I had to negotiate with the crew that I would jump off the boat as soon as it docked (I think they were taking off the luggage and cargo first, very oddly), so I would not miss my Barbados flight.

The majority of visitors, however reach the island by air either on a long haul flight (a number of pricey connections with France) or a short haul flight (LIAT and a couple of other small Caribbean carriers) from neighbouring Antilles. And of course by massive cruise ships, visiting Martinique en route.

Since the island is part of the European Union, the EU citizens did not need a passport to travel there. A national ID was sufficient. I tested it myself! There were no questions asked.

Published on Sunday February 21th, 2010

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Mon, Apr 19 2010 - 09:12 PM rating by ashkan

A very beautiful scene ,I 'd like to be there!

Mon, Feb 22 2010 - 05:56 AM rating by pesu

You collected so many infos spending just one day on this pretty island! Constrained or liberated - is this a big question for the Martinicans? And thanks for risking all those various hazards ever to provide us with your marvellous photos! :)

Sun, Feb 21 2010 - 06:09 PM rating by bineba

Quite a day trip and I see the weather was much better than on Saint Lucia

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