We've all heard of Martinique. It's that Lesser Antilles French island in the Caribbean that most cruise lines stop at. It has all the usual stuff going for it from beautiful beaches to resort hotels. It has it all from local Carnival traditions to great shopping to helicopter tours and beyond. It's a great fun in the sun stop on any cruise with water, flowers, sand and booze galore. What I didn't know about this fabulous little French island was that it was the birthplace of the Empress Josephine. That's right, there's a historical connection for people like me who study Napoleonic history. It's Josephine's childhood home.
Our journey probably starts in Miami, Florida. Let's be honest. Most of us take a cruise to go to a place like Martinique. Fort de France is the spot where you would probably turn up on a cruise. They have a large port and many cruise ships stop there. They have beautiful beaches and great hotels. They have amazing restaurants and a bunch of activities that cater to cruise people. So, while in Fort de France you can swim in the water, boat on it, shop for souvenirs, stay in a fancy hotel, fly over it, lay on the beach and party. It's a great place. It also is about the same as most other cruise stops in the French part of the Caribbean.
Now, don't get me wrong. The view along the shore is amazing. It's worth the stop just for that. The hotels are amazing and it's worth a stay just for that. But, as usual, I implore you to look for the unique, the historic, the native, the special. Run away from the beaten path. And in the case of Martinique, there are lots of places to run. The locals have special traditions when it comes to their Carnival celebrations. They are tailored to meet that cross rep of Carib and Catholic traditions. You throw in the Caribbean flair for partying and you will have one great time whether it be mud covered or what. There's some great hiking in the area with mountains and waterfalls. Can't miss that. You can go and see the volcano...that's right Mount Pelee wiped out a whole town not long ago. There are churches, and museums and many many factory and distillery tours. You can learn how it's made and then drink it or buy it or buy it and drink it. There are many ways to learn about actual life on Martinique.
But, if you have the time, toddle off to Trois Ilets. This is a colorful and smaller coastal town where you have a chance to see a little more of real life. It's still beautiful and they have beaches, but it's just a little different. There are artist colonies there and the whole town just exudes it's own flavor. And when you're done with that, move on to history.
The Domaine de la Pagerie is the plantation where the Empress Josephine lived as a child. She was born in Trois Ilets. You would think that after she went away and lived an amazing life as the wife of Napoleon and beyond that she would be all but forgotten on this tiny island so far from France. No. Her childhood home was destroyed by weather, and has been rebuilt and turned into a museum in her honor. A bust of her stands in the beautifully maintained gardens on the grounds. All these years later, she is still honored by the French in the Caribbean. Isn't that something?
So, there it is. That little something that you probably didn't know about Martinique. So, take that cruise and get off the boat to learn about the locals. Celebrate Carnival Martinique style. Check out the beaches, factories, distilleries and the shopping. But remember, there is more of Josephine's history on Martinique than that statue in Fort de France of her after decapitation. There is a history of her family and childhood right up the coast in Trois Ilets. So, get off that cruise beaten path and go study some history. And if you study Napoleon, this is the next stop on my tour for you. Enjoy!