At the end of December, in anticipation of a “new year, new me” mentality that was already starting to kick in, I booked a three-day solo trip to Martinique. Flights were super inexpensive ($180 roundtrip!) and while I had never heard of Martinique, I figured a) it would be an adventure; and b) it’s the Caribbean, so what could go wrong? (My parents immediately came up with a long list of things … )
Martinique is a small island in the Caribbean, near St. Lucia and Barbados. It is technically a department of France, and luckily for me and the leftover cash I had from my Paris trip, on the Euro. People speak mostly French and Creole, but I speak neither and didn’t have much trouble getting around. Despite reading warnings about the locals having very “French” attitudes, I found them to be extremely warm, friendly and eager to help — they were lovely! There are also clear French influences in the food and culture of Martinique, including delicious patisserie, incredible style and a very welcome embrace of the apéritif. (More on Martinique’s rich and fascinating history here.)
Martinican rum is serious business — one of the most important industries on the island (the first being banana production). Rum is made with sugar cane instead of the molasses found in most of the world’s rum, and the sugar cane imparts a distinct terroir to the rhum agricole, as it’s called on the island. (Here’s a great explainer on how terroir comes into play with rum.)
Most people drink rum straight in Martinique, but another common use for it is in ‘ti punch (short for petit punch). Made with white or aged rum, it’s a simple cocktail that really allows the flavors of the rum to shine: simply muddle a bit of cane sugar and a wedge of lime in the bottom of a glass, then add a finger (usually two) of rum. Between the heat of the rum and the heat of the Caribbean, I’d add an ice cube as well, but that’s literally all you need for a delicious drink to sip while you watch the waves lap the gorgeous white sand beaches.
I also really loved the planteur punch, which surprised me a bit — I’m not usually one for fruity drinks. (Or for rum drinks, really — Martinique was full of surprises!) Planteur involves rum, mango, guava, passionfruit and pineapple juices, a bit of lime and some vanilla and cinnamon. It’s surprisingly not too sweet, given all of that fruit, and instead a well-balanced cocktail that’s perfect for beach-side sipping.
If you try only one thing in Martinique, try the accras, which are fried salt cod fritters. They’re often made with a bit of green onions, parsley and, most importantly, some spice, which cuts through some of the richness and makes them insanely snackable, especially with a side of ‘ti punch. People sell them in stalls right on most of the major beaches, and I obviously tried all of them. I wasn’t disappointed.
The other must-have in Martinique is the seafood. Whether it’s lobster, conch, octopus or a whole grilled snapper, the fish is usually just caught and delicious. My first night, I had a whole grilled snapper served with the most delicious chien sauce, a hot pepper-onion-vinegar-garlic concoction that I want to put on EVERYTHING. My second night, I had a very traditional Creole dish, fricasee de chatrou, a tomato-based stew that was pleasantly spicy and studded with plump tender pieces of octopus. Everything was incredibly fresh and often plucked directly from the ocean.
Given its ties to France, it’s no surprise that the patisserie in Martinique is delicious. I had an impossibly flaky guava paste-filled pastry for breakfast every day, sometimes multiple in a day, because they were so light and barely sweet and amazing. Seriously, I haven’t had patisserie this good in half the cafés in Paris. They were perfect, and I wish I could have stuffed some in my bag to bring back.
But perhaps the most perfect thing I ate was peanut ice cream on one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, Les Salines. I was lucky enough to get a private tour of the southern part of Martinique, and Miriam, my tour guide, said that Les Salines was her favorite beach. The sand is powdery soft, the water a perfect Caribbean blue, and the water is calm enough that you can just float for a bit. In short, it was idyllic. The best part is when coming out of the water and hearing the tell-tale bike bell of the ice cream lady. I didn’t catch her name, but she makes homemade ice cream and sells her wares all along the beach. A local recommended the peanut ice cream, which was creamy and nutty and just what I needed in that moment.
I did minimal research for this trip, so I didn’t really know what to expect upon landing in Martinique. I was a bit of a lazy tourist (I didn’t even go into the main city, Fort-de-France, preferring to spend a whole day lounging on the beach instead #roughlife), but what I did see of Martinique was incredibly lively: colorful and vibrant and full of joie de vivre. I can’t wait to go back!