Martinique - A slice of France set down in the tropics, with shops full of Paris fashions, a corner pâtisserie selling freshly baked baguettes and croissants in each village, and resorts crowded with holiday-makers from mainland France - this is the popular image of Martinique. However, there are some still untouched sleepy fishing villages and remote beaches for those unimpressed by French ambience. The coastline is cut by deep bays and coves, while the interior contains mountainous rainforests inhabited by opossums, mongooses and venomous snakes. Rare birds include the Martinique trembler and the white-breasted trembler and thrasher. The population of around 340,000 is mainly of French and Creole descent. Only citizens of North America can holiday here without a visa.
The bustling capital of Fort-de-France is the French West Indies' largest and most cosmopolitan city, home to 100,000 people. It has a pretty, park-filled harbourside setting, offset by colonial buildings, cafés and boutiques which creep up the narrow side streets and bring left-bank Paris to mind. Nature-lovers will enjoy the drive north of Fort-de-France known as the Route de la Trace - a beautiful, winding road through lush rainforest, running past the mountain peaks of the Pitons du Carbet and the Jardin de Balata (botanical gardens). The island's biggest tourist attraction, however, is the ruined site of Saint-Pierre, destroyed by the volcanic eruption of nearby Mont Pelée in 1902. The former capital of the island, and so cosmopolitan it was dubbed the 'Little Paris of the West Indies', Saint-Pierre's population of 30,000 was reduced to just one by the disaster. The survivor, who owed his life to his bad behaviour (he was incarcerated at the time), was later employed by P T Barnum to tour the world as a sideshow act. Despite the fact that the volcano is still active, people have built homes amongst the rubble, incorporating some of the remaining period features and creating a unique town.
On the northern tip of the island, Grand-Rivière is an unspoiled fishing village tucked beneath coastal cliffs. Martinique's best beaches and resort hotels are found on the island's south coast, around the pretty village of Trois-Ilets, the yachting resort of Pointe du Bout and the cheaper and more casual Anse Mitan. The very best beach is widely considered to be Les Salines, near the southernmost, low-key village of Sainte-Anne.