Paradise is not some fantasy whipped up in old world mythology. There is a place in the Caribbean that is as close to perfection as there has ever been, and her name is Martinique.
On a Thursday afternoon along the shore of the southern province of Saint-Anne, my feet were met with the caress of the perfect temperature of water and a moderate ocean breeze as I strolled along looking for the a nesting place to spend a little time to relax. The midday tide was still and inviting. I hadn’t carried a proper bathing suit for the afternoon. I had not planned on getting wet at all. Besides, once you’ve been to one beach you’ve been to them all, right? Absolutely wrong!
The beaches on Martinique are not just breathtaking. Which in itself is an understatement. They are a place of tranquility and visceral engagement with all the senses of the human body present. The water soothes. The breeze cools. And the raindrops (because people still go to the beach in the rain on this island) dance on your skin like a ballerina at recital.
Within minutes of my stroll, the rain began to fall denser. My instinct told me to run for shelter under a tree or the canopy of one of the food vendors dotted along the road leading to the beach. However, I was the only one running for cover. As the rain fell everyone around continued on their way as if there was no reason to break plans for a day on the beach. By this point, my shorts, which had no intent of experiencing H₂O that afternoon, were drenched from the downpour. So I uncharacteristically followed the crowd and reversed my route and headed toward the shoreline. A little Bo Derek in 10, a little Halle Berry in 007, and all David Hasselhoff in the original Baywatch, I removed my shirt and accepted that my Top Shop shorts were now swimming trunks and belly-flopped into the bay.
I would love to say that this is something I do all of the time. But that would be a huge mischaracterization of who I am. The truth is this has never happened before and there was no way to predict its presence in the near future. But yet, it happened. For all the caveats to what personally defines a great experience, Martinique has her own magical agenda. Things you would never do- happen here.
“The Island of Flowers,” or Madinina which it was called by its original inhabitants, the Carib, has maintained its beauty since Columbus sighted it. Though the government has changed hands from France to Great Britian and back to France again, this place is very French. The British took an interest in Martinique, invaded, and held the island from 1794 to 1815. Unlike other islands of the Caribbean, the British occupation of Martinique, kept her out of the turmoil of the French Revolution and into a period of relative prosperity. Columbus was actually the first European to visit the island in 1502, although he spotted the island in 1493 during one of his expeditions. The Spanish did not colonize the island however. It seems they were preoccupied with pillaging other islands along their journey of “discovery”. The truth is the island was not of any value to the Europeans until the development of the sugar plantation culture nearly a century later. A determining factor in why the ethnic combination of the island is 90% of mixed race, primarily African.
Although France claimed Martinique in 1635 and officially annexed in 1674, France and Britain fought over the island until 1815. In 1946, Martinique became a Department of France and in 1974 a Region of France, its current status. Modern day Martinique is undoubtedly France in the Caribbean. It conveys a captivating and markedly French receptivity. The exquisite culinary technique and presentation, the sophistication and flare of its residents, and the meticulous attention to detail in every aspect of everyday life exude the influence of European norms. In the excellence of its cuisine, the superb accommodations like French Coco, to the sensuality of its language. For a moment you may find yourself asking the locals for the best route to the Eifel tower. Yes, its that French. But unfortunately, that commute is 4,253 miles east, far from walking distance.
The victor of the battle to claim this beautiful vista was worth every yellow mangrove, gum tree, magnolia, and mahogany and all other vegetation. To think about it, paradise is not good enough of a word. Martinique is greater and more magical than even those most divine descriptions of grandeur. Martinique ç’est Magnifique!
It has never been easier to get to Martinique, even if you can’t find it on a map. Norwegian Airlines has direct flights from the East Coast of the United States. Grab your swim trunks, download a French to English translation app, and an empty stomach and have an experience of a lifetime.