The small village of Les Trois-Ilets, across the bay from Fort-de-France, has a charming main square and is surrounded by tourist attractions. Empress Josephine, born Marie Josèph Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, was baptized in the church on the square. Her mother is buried here and the church, restored with money from Napoléon III, is rather a shrine to the Napoleonic legend.
Even more so is Le domaine de la Pagerie, the family’s sugar plantation, about 4 km from the village. Josephine was probably born here in 1763, and lived here until she was 16. In 1766 a hurricane blew away the graceful plantation house and the family lived above the sugar boiling house. Now an attractive evocation of that time, the ruins can be seen and, in the renovated kitchen, a stone building, there is an excellent collection of furniture, documents and portraits. Tue-Fri 0900-1730, Sat-Sun 0900-1300, 1430-1730, 20F, children 5F. T683455, F683841. At Pointe Vatable, 2 km east of Trois-Ilets, is the sugar cane museum (La Maison de la Canne) which uses documents, machinery and superb models of sugar processing plant to illustrate the history of the Martiniquan sugar industry. Recommended. Guided tours are available. 0900-1700 daily except Mon, 15F, children 5F. T683204.
A short bus ride from Trois-Ilets is the tourist complex of Pointe du Bout, directly opposite Fort-de-France, and linked by vedettes (regular ferries) every 15 minutes. Three companies operate the service. Return tickets cost 32F and are valid on all ferries (bicycles at no extra charge). There is a marina, a créole village, where some of the shops, cafés, bars, restaurants and souvenir stands can be found, discothèques, sport facilities and a conglomeration of luxury hotels. There is plenty of evening entertainment. The first beach after stepping off the ferry is a crowded strip of sand in front of the Hotel Meridien, almost completely covered with deckchairs for hire. Perhaps preferable is the beach at Anse Mitan, a five-minute walk away, where there are numerous reasonably priced restaurants and bars. There is a direct ferry from the capital every 15 minutes. Anse a lAne, a little way along the coast to the west is quieter than Anse Mitan and Pointe du Bout and has a pleasant atmosphere.
At Grande Anse is a magnificent beach, less frequented by tourists than the beaches at Pointe du Bout, although it does get more crowded at weekends. The pretty village of Anse d’Arlets is nearby. Direct ferry from Fort-de-France.
Just south of Anse d’Arlets and around the Pointe du Diamant is Le Diamant. This is an idyllic golden sand beach stretching for 4 km along the south coast and dominated by the famous Rocher du Diamant (Diamond Rock). This huge 176 m rock, of volcanic origin, is about 4 km out to sea and was occupied by the English during the Napoleonic Wars. They stationed four cannons and about 20 sailors there in 1804 before the French reconquered it a year and a half later. British ships passing it still salute “Her Majesty’s Ship Diamond Rock”. Negotiate with a fisherman if you want to visit.
Inland and to the east of Diamant is the town of Riviere-Pilote, the largest settlement in the south of the island. The Mauny Rum distillery is located here, where free guided tours are available. Mon-Fri 0930-1730, Sat 0900-1300. T626208. The famous Clery cock-fighting pit stages regular mongoose-snake fights. Sun afternoon, T626169. From the town of Le Marin, southwards are long white sand beaches lined with palm groves, and calm clear sea which epitomize the classic image of the Caribbean. Marin itself boasts a very fine 18th-century Jesuit church. The largest marina on the island is here.
At Ste-Anne is the extensive Club Méditerranée complex. It has its own section of beach adjacent to the long public beach, which has a spectacular view along the southwest coast, including Rocher du Diamant. Ste-Anne beach is picturesque and shady with trees that overhang the sea in some places. The water is calm, ideal for toddlers. There is a wide selection of lively bars and restaurants, some selling snacks or menu du jour, others more expensive. You can rent all types of watersports equipment: windsurfers, catamarans, seedoos, kayaks, sunfish, or take a sea plane ride. The swimming area is marked off with yellow buoys. Irregular ferries sail from Fort-de-France, 2½-3½ hours. There is a fine Jesuit church of 1766 opposite the jetty. T767272 for an all-inclusive day pass.
The road heading east from Marin leads to the beach at Cap Chevalier, a popular family beach at weekends, but choppy, as it faces the Atlantic. Among others along the barrier reef, the Ilet Chevalier, a bird sanctuary, is visible from here.
From the Caravelle peninsula the Atlantic coast is characterized by deep, protected, shallow, sandy bays, good for swimming, surfing and sailing. The road runs southeast through Le Robert and Le François to the more mountainous area around Le Vauclin where the main activity is fishing. There are some interesting art-deco buildings from the 1920s on its steep streets. There are innumerable islets offshore. The Baignoire de Josephine has sand-banks and is featured on local boat trips. Pointe Faula is a very safe beach here, with dazzling white sand and shallow water. To the south of Vauclin a road leads to Anse Macabou, a group of impressive white sand beaches.
At the southernmost tip of the island is the famous Grande Anse des Salines and the beaches of Dunkerque, Baham and Anse Trabaud, all of which are remarkably attractive. Inland from Anse Trabaud lies the salt marsh and the forest petrified by former lava flow. The forest is now sadly diminished thanks to the efforts of museums and souvenir hunters. Birdwatching is good at the Etang des Salines and in the sandy marshes around the Baie des Anglais.