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DeSoto Magazine – Discover Martinique - Ann Yungmeyer

DeSoto Magazine – Discover Martinique - Ann Yungmeyer

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■ great destinationsDiscover Martiniqueflora, fauna and Creole flavorText and photography by Ann N. YungmeyerJust off the coast of Martinique, I float in thecrystalline waters of Josephine’s Bathtub, savoring theturquoise hues that surround me. With its pictureperfectbeaches and coves, the French Antilles islandoffers a playground for blue-water adventurers,including swimming in the legendary shallows (LaBaignore de Josephine) where Napoleon's empressreputedly liked to bathe as a young girl.Flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea,the tropical island boasts equally alluring ‘green’environs, having recently been named “Best EcoIsland” by Caribbean World magazine. Two-thirds ofthe island is protected parkland, where visitors canexperience the diverse natural habitat throughrainforest and mangrove tours, botanic garden walksor climbing Mount Pelee, a dormant volcano.Curious to explore beyond the beach, our foursometook the upland route to the verdant central andnorthern areas of the island, in addition toexperiencing a day on the water. With a bona fide‘foodie’ among us, our ventures included a quest forCreole cuisine and the best tasting accras, an islandspecialty of codfish fritters. Little did I know we’d findthe crispy fritters at every turn — from resort toroadside menus, in lively markets and even on asailboat.ISLET HOPPINGWe set sail from the Atlantic coast marina at LeFrancois on a day-long catamaran cruise with Balladesdu Delphis. A crew of three catered to 20 passengersas we navigated northward among many offshoreislets. We anchored at Martinique’s biggest islet,Chancel, to see iguanas, giant fig and pear trees, andthe ruins of an 18th-century brickworks. Aftersnorkeling near a shallow reef, we swam back to theboat to find rum punch and accras being served beforea lunch of octopus stew, Creole-style fish, friedplantain and pineapple for dessert.22 DeSoto


HIKINGMartinique covers an area of 425square miles and offers 31 marked hikingtrails along coastal paths and tropicalforests. For those who prefer not to ventureout on their own, professional guides canbe hired through Martinique’s tourismoffice. Our guide, who also leads Jeep toursthrough the rainforest, shared hisknowledge of the ecosystem and explainedthe importance of the mountainous,tropical terrain that serves as a windstopper and protects against hurricanes.Auberge Mont Pelee, at the base ofMartinique’s highest mountain, is thebest place to stay for climbing thevolcanic mountain and exploring thenearby rainforest. Trails for various levelsof hiking expertise lead to the caldera orthe 4,500 ft. summit, where hikers arerewarded with coast-to-coast views on aclear day. Mont Pelee is often in theclouds, however, and rain can make thepath too slippery to hike.ISLAND CULTUREFrom island art to the early plantationeconomy, Martinique offers a score ofsmall museums depicting its traditions andhistory, including the Volcano Museum inSaint-Pierre that tells the story of theeruption of Pelee in 1902, when the townwas destroyed and only one man survived.On the south shore, the Anse CafardMemorial sculpture near the famousDiamond Rock is one of the most visitedcultural sites, a poignant tribute to victimsof the slave trade.DeSoto 23


(above) Cruise catamarans anchor for exploring nearby islets (Below) Chef Ferdinand inhis beach kitchen at Le Petibonum.Through a network of entrepreneurs called Tak-Tak Martinique, visitors cantour farms and artisan producers and see how various products ranging fromchocolates to herbal medicine have been made on the island for many generations.Since “all roads lead to rum” in Martinique, we included a tour of the DepazDistillery, one of several rum producers on the island. Martinique’s distinctive rumsare made in the agricole method; that is, from sugar cane juice instead of molasses.Sugar cane, grown primarily for rum production today, has been the island’s mostimportant 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 aformer plantation home. Exhibits on banana production are creatively presentedand include a garden pathway through many species of banana trees. The museum24 DeSoto


offers products such as banana liqueurs,chips, soaps and even a piquant bananaketchup made on neighboring St. Lucia.THE BEST EATS, MADE WITH LOVEThe colorful Fort de France Marketbuzzes with ladies in bright madras sellingan array of fruits, vegetables, spices, flowersand jewelry made of coconut shells. Ourbest discovery: passion fruit with the top cutoff, a little cane sugar stirred in, eaten witha spoon — seeds and all. It pays to arrivehungry because authentic home-stylecooking can be found at Chez Carole, arestaurant at the back of the market. Iwashed down a spicy lambi fricasse (a dishmade with conch) with a refreshingA tour guide shows the flower of a bananatree at Martinique's Banana Museumcoconut and guava fruit shake, and did Imention accras? Carole’s recipe has anextra kick, perhaps the best on the island.For a unique dining experience, ChefGuy Ferdinand cooks over coals in hisnewly built beach kitchen at Le Petibonumin Carbet. The restaurant’s laid-backatmosphere — with beach canopy andmist from les bromisteurs, lounge-chair wifiand island music — defies the artisanal,gourmet cuisine and impressivechalkboard list of French wines. Guycreates recipes such as his signaturecrayfish flambéed in rum and simmered increamy vanilla sauce.I first tasted Columbo — the Creoleequivalent of Indian curry — in a richDeSoto 25


26 DeSotostew-like shrimp and vegetable dish at Le Belem Restaurant in Martinique’sprestigious five-star resort, Cap Est. Typically made with meat, Columbo dishesvary widely, but the waiter here described it simply as a blend of “thegenerosity 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 my hilltop cottage atHotel Plein Soleil stays with me. I look out on the lush, hilly plantations nestledbeside an inlet bay and see the nature of this vibrant island, shaped by itscolorful landscape and rich heritage.Getting there: American Airlines has twice-daily service from Puerto Rico withconnections to U.S. cities. For travel planning, visit www.martinique.org. ■

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