The area of Basse-Pointe is the pineapple cultivation area of the island, where huge fields of spikey pineapple tops can be seen. Basse-Pointe is an old settlement with a late 17th-century church and a good view of the cliffs from the cemetery.
Inland from here is Plantation Leyritz, a former plantation complex, complete with slave houses and machinery. The restored 18th-century owner’s house is now an elegant hotel where the French government has entertained the presidents of the USA and Senegal. You can walk round the gardens and eat in what was once the sugar boiling house. There is an exhibition of tiny tableaux featuring dolls made from plants and vegetables, exploiting the colours and textures of tropical leaves. 1000-1830 daily, T785392. The coast road continues from Basse-Pointe to Macouba (see above) and Père Labat’s church. Bananas grow all the way from here to Grand Rivière, where the road ends.
From the N1 road along the northeast coast of the island tempting beaches with crashing waves are visible, but the Atlantic Coast is too dangerous for swimming. However, there is a safe beach at Anse Azérot, just south of Ste-Marie. To the north is Fond St-Jacques, a cultural centre which used to be a Dominican monastery and sugar plantation. Buildings date from 1689 and at its height the Dominicans utilized 1,000 slaves. It was here that Père Labat perfected the distilling of rum. His memoirs are a prime source of information on plantation life. Modern exhibitions are also held at the centre. Mon-Fri 0800-1700, adults 15F, children 5F. T691012. Nearby, Musee du Rhum Saint-James in the St James Distillery, includes an explanation of the process of rum production and its history, and rum tasting. Mon-Fri, 0900-1700 and Sat, Sun 0900-1200, admission and tour free. T693002.
The seafront at La Trinite is a grand promenade with modern and 19th-century buildings and monuments, which looks out onto the Presqu’île de la Caravelle, where the vegetation is scrubby but the scenery is gently interesting. The peninsula has beaches at Tartane (the only village on the Caravelle), Anse l’Etang (the best, surfing possible) and Anse du Bout. It is an area protected by the Parc Naturel of Martinique; several well-marked paths criss-cross the peninsula so that visitors can enjoy the varied flora and fauna. It is also possible to visit the historic ruins of the Château Dubuc and various buildings that belonged to the Dubuc family, including slave smugglers and privateers. 0830-1730 daily. 15F, children 6F. T474548
The coastal road heading north through Schoelcher from Fort-de-France hugs the coast, zigzagging north through Case-Pilote (named after a friendly Carib chief) where there is a 17th-century church. It then passes through several fishing villages and is flanked by beaches that gradually become blacker with volcanic sand. Le Carbet is where Columbus is presumed to have landed (monument). A carbet was the great meeting house of the Caribs. There are several good restaurants, mostly fish, on the beach. Habitation Anse Latouche is at the end of Carbet village on the coast. The ruins of a 17th-century sugar plantation are surrounded by a beautiful garden focusing on local flowers and shrubs. Mon-Sat 1000-1600. Entry 15F, children 7-12 10F, or 40F and 15F for joint entry to Balata Gardens. T781919. At the popular beach of Anse Turin just north of Le Carbet, is the small Gauguin Museum. The artist stayed at Anse Turin during 1887 before he went to Tahiti. The museum has letters, sketches and some reproductions of his work. Local artists’ paintings and ceramics are sometimes on sale. There is an interesting section on the local traditional women’s costume and its elements, la grande robe, le madras, le foulard. 0900-1730 daily. 20F. T782266.
To the north of Carbet is the famous St-Pierre. The town is well worth a visit and is an eerie reminder of destructive natural forces that dominate life in the Caribbean. The modern village is built on the ruins of the former capital of Martinique, which was destroyed by a cloud of molten volcanic ash when Montagne Pelée erupted on 8 May 1902. As the cultural and economic capital, the town was known as the ‘Petit Paris’ of the West Indies. Out of 30,000 inhabitants there was only one survivor, named Auguste Cyparis, an illiterate casual labourer who had been thrown drunk into a cell for the night. Today his small cell is one of the ruins that visitors can still see. The prison is beside the remains of the once splendid and celebrated theatre of St-Pierre on Rue Victor Hugo. You can see the broad sweep of steps up to the entrance, the huge stage area, the first floor boxes and the rusting remains of the electric stage lighting. In the Musée Volcanologique Franck-Perret, Museum of Vulcanology is an interesting collection of objects (mostly by Perret, an American) and documents evoking life before 1902 and remains from the disaster: household metal and glass objects charred and deformed by the extreme heat, photographs and volcanology displays. 0900-1700 daily. 10F. T781516. The bridge over the Rivière Roxelane, built in 1766, leads to the oldest part of the town, the Quartier du Fort. The ruins of the church are among the most moving. The Rue Levassor leads to the Maison Coloniale de Santé, beside the river, with interesting insights into treatment for the mentally ill at the time. All sites free admission, information in French and English. Visit early before the cruise ship parties, or after they leave for lunch.
The next village on the coastal road is the picturesque fishing village of Le Precheur. Madame de Maintenon, who married Louis XIV lived here. The three bells outside the church date from that time. The road then continues towards the spectacular beach of Anse Ceron where the sand seems to be at its blackest. A rock called the Pearl juts out from the sea which is roughish but swimming is possible. It is a wild and beautiful beach, a pleasant change from the calm, white sand tourist beaches in the south. Turn inland to Habitation Ceron, a plantation where the early sugar buildings are largely intact and there is an attractive botanic walk. There are huge ponds where succulent crayfish are raised. These, with homegrown fruit and vegetables make an excellent three-course lunch for 170F including a rum punch. 0930-1700 daily. T529453. The coastal road ends a mile or two further on at another beach, Anse Couleuvre.
It is possible to follow a track 18 km through the rainforest around the northern coast, but a guide is essential (see directory, page 747). The first 20 minutes on a concrete road are discouraging, but once in the forest the path is cooler and the views beautiful. At the extreme north of the island is another small fishing village, Grande Riviere set in breathtaking scenery characteristic of this part of the island; plunging cliffs covered with the lush vegetation of the rainforest. The island of Dominica faces the village from across the sea. Winding roads lead through the mountains to the next village, Macouba, perched on top of a cliff. Care must be taken to avoid the fer-de- lance snake & bilharzia in the streams.