On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, France has an exotic air. As one of its overseas regions, you'll find French chatter and French laws, punctuated by the sweet smell of the Caribbean and the rhythmic beat of Zouk music.Beaches vs nature
You may be one of those attracted by Martinique's paradisiacal beaches and lagoons, the post-card coves at Les Salines or L'Arlet, or the black sands of Céron and Couleuvre at the bottom of the slopes of volcanic Mount Pelée. Or perhaps you are one of the many to fall under the charms of the hiking trails through the Piton Mountains, or the routes over the grand volcano and into the waterfall-filled jungle beyond. But in the end, it's for other things entirely that all return.Cultural delight
You'll often hear people say that Martinique is above all a cultural destination. With its divine aged rums and its dark history of slave-driven plantations, with its astonishing and widely disregarded tradition of devilish Bèlè music, with its yoles - elegant sailing boats used for sport and fishing - which stand as a testament to its island ways, with its markets too, open doors to a rich gastronomy and a warmth which forms the heart of this Caribbean destination.The touristic south
The southern coast of the island holds its main tourist spots and beach resorts, encompassing the areas of Les Trois Ilets, Sainte-Luce and Le Diamant on one side and Sainte-Anne on the other. Here you'll find the most iconic beaches, with their pristine sands and calm waters. But take a trip to the southern Atlantic coast around Vauclin, Francois and Robert and you'll also find beautiful bathing spots, protected from the heavy swell by coral reefs.The jewel-studded north
But those who return to the island time and time again will tell you that you'll find the real Martinique in the North. Whether you take in the almost-island of La Trinité, the Route de la Trace, the bay at Saint-Pierre or the end-of-the-world surroundings of the Grand'Rivière, an entirely different side to Martinique emerges - more rugged and less touristic.Behind the scenes
Often misunderstood from this side of the Atlantic, the French Caribbean deserves to be fully explored and shared. Behind the picture-postcard views hide a complex and passionate society which defines the Martinique of yesterday and today. There may be a language barrier but don't let this put you off getting to know the people themselves, as all is forgotten in a sip of ti-punch or guava juice and the stories flow easily late into the night.
Spring and early summer provide the best time to visit Martinique, before temperatures become too overbearing in late summer and hurricane season hits in. This time of the year also means you'll miss the crowds and marked-up prices of peak season which runs from December to April.
The island has three main beach resorts: 'Diamant' and 'Trois-Ilets' in the west and 'Sainte-Anne' in the east, all three of them on the Caribbean coast. This is where most of the tourist hotels are concentrated, and more particularly at Trois-Ilets. The most common hotels are 3 or 4 star and provide various daily or night activities. You will also find rooms and apartments equipped with a small kitchen area for self-catered holidays.
The beaches on the Caribbean Sea side (Trois-Ilets, Sainte-Anne), on Côte-sous-le-vent, are better sheltered from trade winds than the beaches on the Atlantic Coast (Caravelle Peninsula, Le François), which are permanently windy.
If you want to know when the festivals are on, get the 'Choubouloute', a free monthly magazine available at tourist offices and some shops. If you need help choosing a restaurant or some shop addresses, ask for the 'Ti Gourmet', a pocket-size booklet, also available from tourist offices, shops, hotels and restaurants.
The most important celebration in Martinique is undoubtedly Carnival which takes place from the Sunday after the Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. It is the best opportunity to see the island in resplendent party mode, with parades, dancing, beauty and costume contests in each and every village.
Sunday mass is still an important moment of the week for many Martiniquais, both from a spritiual and a social point of view. Everyone gets out their Sunday best, women parade in white dresses and parasols and men lounge in suits and ties.
The Martiniquais are not afraid of showing a little skin during festive evenings of drinking and dancing. But for the rest of the time, visitors should respect a comparably modest dress code, even on the beaches.
Martinique cuisine consists of spicy products imported from every corner of the world, and is therefore rich in exotic flavours. The favourites remain the famous 'accras' or cod fritters, served with ti punch as an aperitif. Food lovers should also get a taste of sugar cane juice, fish blaff, colombo (pork, goat or chicken curry stew), gumbo salad, chayote gratin and 'z'habitants' soup (with crayfish).
For visitors of age, don't forget to try the local rum, which has the reputation of being the best in the West Indies. A trip out to the plantations will offer you the chance to taste quality rums, remarkable in their diversity, as well as a deeper understanding of Martiniquais history, from the prominent role played by slavery to the present day.
Find weekly weather forecasts for Martinique . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Martinique . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Martinique .
The souvenir shops on Savane square, in Fort de France, display wicker work, straw hats, sea shells, hand-made jewels and the whole range of rum varieties.
'Bucher' is the place to go to buy genuine madras, the colourful chequered fabric used to make traditional head wraps and skirts.
Shops are open on week days from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm and shut on Saturday afternoons and Sundays except for the shopping centres in and around Fort de France.?