The Martinique Mystique

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia - - THE PRIMER - BY

Long ignored by many travelers, the French Caribbean island is finally enjoying its moment in the sun.

TONY PERROTTET THE PARK RANGER ROBERT RéGINA and I were hiking along a ridge in the Caravelle Peninsula, high above the sparkling Atlantic Ocean, when he asked me, “What do you know about Martinique?” Then he answered for me with perverse Gallic pride: “Rien, je crois! Nothing, I think!”

Well, not quite nothing. I once wrote a book involving Napoleon Bonaparte’s romantic life, so I knew that his legendary amour—MarieJosèphe-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, better known as Empress Josephine—was born and raised on Martinique. But Régina was pretty close, which I knew after one look at the lavish beauty of this spectacular nature preserve, where lovely forest cascades down mountainsides to white-sand beaches. I had never heard of the Caravelle Peninsula before. My knowledge of Martinique was indeed almost rien.

Régina and I eventually made our way to the ruins of the Château Dubuc, an enormous sugar plantation and today a stark example of Martinique’s complicated history. The French first settled on the island in the 17th century, and quickly set up many plantations like the Dubuc, all worked by slave labor. (Slavery was outlawed in 1848.) Currently an overseas department of France, Martinique remains closely bound to la patrie: in its language, its use of the euro, its cuisine, and its openness to progressive ideas unusual for the region. This Franco-centric worldview—and the fact that many international flights used to involve so many stopovers that it sometimes seemed faster to go via Paris—has long kept Martinique off the radar of most foreign travelers.

All that changed over the past few years, when Norwegian Airlines started offering affordable direct flights from New York, Boston and Fort Lauderdale. Some friends who had made it to Martinique told me about the

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