January 03, 2011

Hmmmmmmmartinique

“Bonjour, madame et monsieur,” says the driver, and on the way to the house he regales us with the latest island gossip.



More champagne is consumed here than in all of France. It is the Birthplace of Napoleon’s Empress Josephine and the site of Gauguin’s famous landscape paintings. Martinique is a sensory paradise with its white sandy beaches and verdant rainforests. On the way to the house I see beautiful blue water as well as lush countryside with banana plantations, pineapple and sugarcane fields. The road twists through villages whose charming streets are lined with little shops and outdoor cafes filled with people.




Brightly colored bougainvilla, hibiscus and poinsettias grow alongside mango trees, papaya, and coconut palms.

Part of France, and as Gallic as Bordeaux with women who look like they’ve just left Paris; superb French–Creole cuisine and eclectic music–this place is tres, tres chic.

Photo David Sanger
The friendly people are of African, French, Asian, and Middle Eastern ancestry whose credo is joie de vivre. They have created a vibrant culture with a unique cachet. Martinican Cuisine is culinary heaven. Combine French cooking (without the heavy sauce) with fragrant Creole spices that enhance the flavor of local fish, meat, fruits and vegetables– the result is simply delectable.

I could forever float in the crystalline waters of Josephine’s Bathtub, savoring the turquoise hues that surround me. With picture-perfect beaches and coves, Martinique is a playground for blue water adventures, including swimming in the legendary shallows (La Baignoire de Josephine) where Napoleon’s empress reputedly liked to bathe as a young girl.  A full day excursion aboard a sailboat is one of my favorite things. I sunbath, swim, snorkel, explore, and revel in the glory of nature.



 
Martinique was named the “Best Eco Island” by Caribbean World magazine. Two thirds of the island is protected parkland, where visitors can experience the diverse natural habitat through rainforest and mangrove tours, botanic garden walks, or climbing Mont Pelée.

Through a network of entrepreneurs called Tak-Tak Martinique, visitors can tour farms and artisan producers and see how various products ranging from chocolates to herbal medicine have been made on the island for many generations.

Since “all roads lead to Rhum” in Martinique, I went on a tour of the Depaz Distillery, one of several rum producers on the island. Martinique’s distinctive rums are made in the agricole method, from sugar cane juice instead of molasses. Sugar cane, grown primarily for rum production today, has been the island’s most important crop, but much of it has been replaced with banana plantations.
 
The world’s most popular fruit is featured in a unique Banana Museum in a former plantation home. Exhibits on banana production are creatively presented and include a garden pathway through many species of banana trees. The museum offers products such as banana liqueurs, chips, soaps and even a piquant banana ketchup made on neighboring St. Lucia.

The colorful Fort de France Market hums with women in bright madras selling an array of fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers and jewelry made of coconut shells. My favorite drink, passion fruit with the top cut off, a little cane sugar stirred in, eaten with a spoon – seeds and all.

Colombo is the Creole equivalent of Indian curry. Typically made with meat, Colombo dishes vary widely, but the cook here described it simply as a blend of “the generosity of Africa, French savoir-faire, Indian spice, and Caribbean love.” The metaphor sums up nicely the spirit of Martinique.

Along with a taste for Creole cuisine, the view from the hilltop house is heavenly. I look out on the lush, hilly plantations nestled beside an inlet bay and see the nature of this vibrant island, shaped by its colorful landscape and rich heritage.

Bonne nuit friends...

Felix and Mona

4 comments:

frenchtoast said...

Caribbean islands tend to blend together with their all inclusive resorts and beautiful beaches—unless of course you’re on the seductive French island of Martinique.
When we visited and sailed the island, we were greeted with a string of dockside parties where sailors and spectators enjoyed music, dancing, food and lots of local rum. We also got a taste, or two, of the delicious Creole/French/Caribbean blend cuisine that the island is known for.
Thanks Mona for the post. Have a lovely vacation.

Anja and Clive xoxo

Charles said...

Hi!
Thanks for the post.
I love to travel anywhere in the world where I can go scuba diving, snorkling or body surfing and one of my most favorite spot is Martinique.
O, and of course, always beaucoup de Rhum!
Enjoy...

Ms. Edna (squared) said...

Lovely post Mona, thank you.
Btw, how did you lure Felix to come along?
Could it be all those delicious offshore banking opportunities?
Have a wonderful vacation.

Anonymous said...

Ms.Edna,
Je vous souhaite une excellente année 2011.