Caribbean Cruising '22: Marvellous Martinique

Suzanna Pinder on 07 March 2022
My first visit to a French Caribbean island and what a delight. I love France and I love the Caribbean, so a combo of the two is a real treat!

Although I have known of Marin from my yacht charter days, having arranged many bareboat holidays for clients from here, I had not quite appreciated the full size and beauty of ‘Cul-de-sac du Marin’. A huge bay lined with mangroves, surrounded by hills, with some lovely beaches and creeks to explore, plus the pretty little seaside town of Ste. Anne. We were told there are often over 3,000 boats in the bay, which I guess explains why the local supermarkets even have their own trolley accessible dinghy docks!

Sailing through the Caribbean is proving an interesting history lesson, particularly regarding the various battles for control of the islands. Passing Diamond Rock we learnt how in the early 1800’s the British, being short of ships in the Caribbean, commissioned ‘HMS Diamond Rock’, hauling cannons and supplies up the steep, barren, snake infested pinnacle. For 18 months they used this to surprise unsuspecting ships sailing into Martinique, before finally loosing control in a battle under Napoleon’s orders. Sailing close past the island, we were wondering exactly which side of this sheer rock would be the easiest route up, especially hauling cannons!

Grande Anse D’Arlet and Les Anses D’Arlet are two neighbouring bays with white sand beaches and chilled holiday vibes. Spending the night at Les Anses D’Arlet, we were welcomed ashore to the pretty little town by joyful singing from the evening church service, mixed with families enjoying the last few rays of sunshine in the beach bars - a lovely scene. The following morning we were up bright and early to walk over the headland to Grande Anse D’Arlet, watching the sun rise as we scrambled up the rocky path, before dropping down into the little fishing village for a welcomed coffee and croissant. Being a Sunday, there was much activity from locals arriving to spend the day at the beach and dive boats preparing for their early morning guests.

Fort de France is the capital of Martinique and despite being a large city (by Caribbean standards!), has a pleasant waterfront overlooking the bay, which comes to life in the late afternoon with locals strolling and kids playing in the park, all under the watchful eye of Fort St Louis. The town has an interesting mix of markets, independent shops, big department stores and some lovely old buildings, all making for an interesting place to wonder.

St Pierre lies at the foot of Mt Pelee volcano and has a sad, yet fascinating history. In 1902 it was known as the Paris of the Caribbean, being a thriving commercial, cultural and social centre but following a series of volcanic eruptions, nearly all of the 30,000 inhabitants were killed and many ships sunk in the bay. Today St Pierre is a very pleasant town, with a great market, shops and some fabulous restaurants. Many of the old ruins remain, with some of the more iconic buildings being informatively presented, such as the theatre and prison, where one of the very few survivors kept their life thanks to the thick stone walls.

No visit to Martinique would be complete without popping to a local rum distillery and our choice was Distillerie Depaz, on the slopes of Mt Pelee. Set in beautiful grounds, we saw the steam powered machinery in action and learnt how to make the perfect Ti’ Punch with French white rum (a recipe we have since been practicing!). We also visited the magnificent plantation house, once home to Victor Depaz and his family and now an interesting museum about the Depaz family and Martinique.

We will soon be moving back into the French Caribbean but before we do, the mystical island of Dominica awaits, some say one of last untouched Caribbean islands and somewhere I have wanted to visit for many years.

This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2022’:

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