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Martinique is the definition of a refined French-Caribbean island – fashionable and elegant, with an abundance of flora. Filled with ruins and monuments, Martinique has been French, with few interruptions, since 1635, and offers gorgeous beaches, great food and a live volcano. Banana farming, cane raising, the rum business and tourism are all important to the island.
Napoleon’s empress Josephine hailed from Martinique, as did Aimée Dubuc de Rivery, who was kidnapped at sea and made Sultana Validé, mother of Turkey’s Sultan Mahmoud II. Its many small museums focus on curiosities such as dolls, banana farming and ancient island civilizations. Hikers and horseback riders will find plenty of guided adventures among the steep, lush hillsides. Windsurfers and board surfers will welcome the challenges of the choppy Atlantic side of the island.
The capital, Fort-de-France, offers chic shops, the flowered Park Savanne, the Bibliothèque Schoelcher, and the Saint-Louis Cathedral, built in 1895. Restaurants are among the best in the islands. Pointe du Bout is the island’s main resort area, offering hotels, golf, shopping and casino nightlife. North along the coast is St. Pierre, which was destroyed, along with its 30,000 residents, in 1902 when Mont Pelée erupted. The Museum of Vulcanology there displays chilling lava-coated mementoes. Carbet, a quaint fishing village, was briefly home for French painter Paul Gauguin, and inland is Morne Rouge, site of MacIntosh Plantation, cultivator of Martinique’s well-known flower, the anthurium. Be sure to tour one of Martinique’s 12 fine rum distilleries. The island boasts France’s official appellation for producing agricultural Rhum (a label like Cognac or Champagne).