La Route de la Trace winds through the tropical rainforest on the slopes of the Pitons du Carbet from Fort-de-France to Morne Rouge on the southern slope of Montagne Pelée. The town was hit by a second eruption of Pelée on 20 August 1902.
A new park has been opened, called Le Jardin de la Pelee, on the hill above the town, where there is a fine display of local flora, well labelled, and information on the volcano (T524251). From Morne Rouge there is a road to St-Pierre on the coast, so a circuit is possible. The forest itself is truly magnificent, covering the sides of the steep, inland mountains (Les Pitons de Carbet and Pelée) with a bewildering array of lush, green vegetation that stretches for miles. Giant bamboo, mountain palms, chestnut and mahogany trees, over a thousand species of fern and many climbing and hanging parasitic plants and orchids are examples of rainforest vegetation. The forest is protected as part of Martinique’s Parc Naturel and makes interesting walking country (see Tourist Information).
At Balata, not far from the capital along the Route de la Trace is the bizarre building of Sacre Coeur, a smaller version of Paris’s votive Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, perched high up in the forest. A little further along the road is the Le Jardin de Balata with superb views across the Baie de Fort-de-France to Trois-Ilets. The gardens feature a collection of 3,000 species with magnificent anthuriums, ranging from dark maroon, crimson and pink to white. Look out for the numerous hummingbirds and brilliant green lizards. Umbrellas are provided if it is raining and the foliage gleams impressively when wet. 0900-1700 daily. 40F, children aged 7-12, 15F, includes entry to Habitation Anse Latouche. T644873, F647340. Signs are in French.
As the Route de la Trace winds its way through the rainforest, the flanks of the surrounding mountains are clearly visible, covered with cultivated tropical flowers such as anthuriums and ginger lilies.
Montagne Pelee is reached via a track branching off the Route de la Trace, between Morne Rouge and Ajoupa-Bouillon, where there is a delightful garden-park, Les Ombrages Botaniques. 0900-1700. 20F, children 10F. From the car park at the foot of the volcano there is a view of the Atlantic Coast, Morne Rouge and the bay of St-Pierre. The mountain air is deliciously fresh and cool even at the foot of the volcano. Not far away are Les Gorges de la Falaise, a series of small gorges along 3 km of the Falaise River, wonderful for swimming in, accessible only by following the course of the river on foot. Much of the walk is actually wading in the water and you clamber over waterfalls, making the carrying of cameras impractical. The local Syndicat d’Initiative in Ajoupa-Bouillon organizes guided tours up the river, T533287. 45F including waterproof pack and fruit juice.