Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com is pleased to have as our guests, Roger and Mala Burt.
The Burts were owners of a Caribbean travel business, and they have built a second home in St. Lucia. They are also the authors of two novels, Circle of Dreams and Dream Across Time
Mala and Roger are here today to talk to us about Martinique.
Good day Mala and Roger and thank you for agreeing to participate in our interview.
Where is Martinique and why is it referred to as a little bit of France in the Caribbean?
Mala and Roger:
Martinique is in the Eastern Caribbean chain of islands about 250 miles north of South America. It is a little bit of France because it is actually a departement (provine) of France. It is not viewed as a colony and has all the benefits which a province of France would expect. The villages tend to be picturesque bits of France transported to the Caribbean.
If you had to select 6 of the most romantic venues in Martinique, which ones would you opt for and why?
Mala and Roger:
We have a lot of favorites and as always with romance it is essential to willingly involve yourself in a place to fully bring out the romance. Here are some of our favorites.
***Habitation Lagrange: In the north of La Martinique is a restored 18th. Century planter's house on the edge of the rain forest. It is now a small resort which is the most romantic resort we have ever stayed in. In the first book of the Demontagne Saga, A Dream Across Time, when it is time for our couple to fulfill their romantic desires it is to this resort that we take them. Except that we call it L'Habitation. There are some caveats about the resort, however. The road in is kept poor quite deliberately. As you creep across the uneven cobblestone road you climb through hanging vines. At last at the top of a hill you burst forth into the wonder of the house. It is for the traveler not the inexperienced tourist. It is at the edge of a rain forest and as such there may be incursions of frogs or palmetto bugs. If you are accepting of being in the real world, it is a magical place with birds calling and shimmering light.
***Mt. Pelee: Bring your backpack and strong lungs and lunch from a patisserie. At the northern end of La Martinique is this huge volcano. It is quiet now but still wondrous. In 1903 it came to life, exploded and sent a pyroclastic flow down its slopes to destroy the town of Fort Royal. Now know as St. Pierre, Fort Royal was the capital and known as the Paris of the Caribbean. Thirty thousand people were killed. Why is this romantic? Together with your imagination you can feel the wonder and the power of this mountain. Especially when shared, the views are striking and the climb exhilarating.
***Diamant Les Bains: This is a small inn run by the Andrieu family in the village of Diamant on the southern coast. It is inexpensive, right on the beach and has good food. The family is very friendly, attentive and charming. One of the major attractions of this romantic setting is that there are very few tourists around. Diamant is, by and large, a French village not a tourist area. The beach is quiet and never crowded. There are little local restaurants in town. The inn is well maintained and unpretentious. You can lie on a chaise on the lawn by the sea or go out on the beach.
***Plantation Leyritz: A moderately priced resort in the north of La Martinique. It has preserved the character of the plantation. All of the slave quarters are still there and the original working buildings where cane was milled are there and are now meeting rooms and a restaurant. Your room may well be a former slave quarter but has been updated and the rooms are now much more comfortable you can be sure. If you walk through the lovely landscaped grounds to the top of the hill you will find the original planter's house. It is in very bad shape but still could be restored. Let your imagination go and feel the mystery of the place. We did and it has been included in the story of the third book of the Demontagne Saga which we are now working on.
***Habitation Clement: We favor history on Martinique and like to project ourselves into these places and feel the romance of them. The Clement family has preserved one of the plantation houses at one of their rum distilleries. It is in excellent shape and fully furnished. Enter the house and go back in time.
***Josephine's Bath and Islet Oscar: Martinique is unusual in that the southeastern Atlantic coast is quiet. In the northeast the Atlantic pounds the coast but in the south there are reefs which calm the waters. This area is heavily populated by the Beke, the descendants of the original planter families. Madame Yveline de Lucy runs a small family inn called Fregate Bleue in this area. It looks out to what is called Josephine's Bath. That is the Josephine of Napoleon and Josephine. It is not truly a bath but refers to the area offshore that is sandy and shallow. People anchor their boats there and drink rum punch while sitting in the water. It is to this place that we brought our loving couple in the first novel in the Demontagne Saga, A Dream Across Time. If you would like, Madame de Lucy will arrange transportation to this area and to Islet Oscar which is a very primitive inn where a lunch of fresh caught fish or lobster can be had.
When is the best time to visit Martinique and why?
Mala and Roger:
We favor Martinique in the spring. The winter high season is, of course, quite busy and the French islands have another high season in the summer. Everyone returns from France to visit family in late July and throughout August. Then in exhaustion and just in case a hurricane comes by the French virtually close the island for September.
Could you briefly tell our readers something about the history of Martinique?
Mala and Roger:
We got to know Beke families who told us of fascinating history. The port of Nantes in France was the place of origin for people coming to the French islands. That is why in A Dream Across Time we had Anne-Cecille leave from that port. Generally they sailed to Africa to pick up slaves but at times they sailed directly to the Caribbean. The French Revolution was not confined to Metro France. It came to the Caribbean as well. Royalty and nobility were often slaughtered on St. Lucia although many escaped to hide in the rain forest. Almost all of them were slaughtered on Guadeloupe but the Martiniquans formed an alliance with the British and saved themselves. Thus, you can still meet the descendants of French nobility. Many of them proudly told us that some of their ancestors came to the United States to fight in our revolution.
Rhum was king on Martinique and still is important. The southern part of the island has enough flat lands to support the growing of sugar cane. In the early days they tried to grow as much as they could in the north so they could use the water power from the streams flowing down the slopes of Mt. Pelee and Mt. Vert.
How safe is travel in Martinique?
Mala and Roger:
As anywhere it is best to use your head. Don't do things you wouldn't do at home. Beyond that, we found it safe.
Being part of France, Martinique has a lot of social benefits and therefore less poverty. The roads are excellent, health care good. We found the people extremely helpful. If we sat by the side of the road looking at a map someone would immediately stop to consult with us. Even if they spoke little English. Incidentally, the French like to play a game with English speakers. If you speak no French, they speak no English. If you try even rudimentary French then you find that they often speak excellent English. Eventually, after having some fun with you, they will relent and be very helpful.
What activities is there to do in Martinique?
Mala and Roger:
Martinique has the full catalogue of activities you would expect to find on a Caribbean island. In addition, there are ample opportunities to swim in special places such as in St. Anne or the beaches which wend through the southeast coast. The golf is quite good as is the sailing. For the truly venturesome the French have a special treat. It is called canyoning. We could not even imagine ourselves doing this. Evidently they rope themselves together, don hardhats and they descend together through rushing rivers and streams from the upper reaches of the mountains. Some call it fun. We call it terror.
Is there anything else you wish to share with our readers concerning Martinique?
Mala and Roger:
A couple of thoughts. If you don't speak French, not to worry. There is almost always someone nearby who speaks English. When renting a car stay with the Class B cars which are small and peppy. One time, we made the mistake of renting one of the larger cars which would have been great for the Peage (toll road) in France but had poor low end power. It was a problem on the steep hills and in the narrow roads.
We should mention the Thomas Crown Affair. Much of it was set on Martinique and when we still had the travel business people would call us up and want to rent the house. Sad to say, it does not exist. Pure Hollywood. Location shots put together with sound stage shots. The setting was in the Beke area on the southeastern coast. One of the shots from the sea was actually of St. Lucia. When she is standing in the Jeep with ruins in the background the shots were of St. Pierre. The movie did give some of the character of Martinique but much of it was sheer invention.
It is a shame that Martinique is not visited more often by North Americans. It is a beautiful island with some of the most exotic and beautiful women in the world.
Thanks once again