Les Anses d’Arlet, Martinique

by Laura Albritton
photos by Zickie Allgrove

When you’re headed to the Caribbean for much-needed tropication, it’s always great to get a local’s advice. Before we arrived in Martinique, my journalist friend Pascale told me that some of her island’s most unspoiled beaches – with authentic Martinican flavor — lay in Les Anses d’Arlet. After unpacking our bags, my family couldn’t wait to head there and get some warm sand between our toes.

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Swimming at Petite Anse

Les Anses d’Arlet is actually what’s called a commune in French, like a county, on the southwestern coast of Martinique. Known for its rustic fishing villages, this hilly, natural area doesn’t offer big hotels or splashy resorts, but you do find irresistible Caribbean ocean with a seriously laid-back attitude.

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View of Petite Anse from the pier

We first explored Petite Anse (meaning “little cove”), a small village with loads of colorfully painted Creole houses, the striking historic church Saint-Henri, and a pier where you can capture unbelievable photographs. A seafront meal at Le Littoral left us happily relaxed. The beach lies right in front of town, which means you can swim in clear-as-glass water, then pop over to the bakery for a treat.

The next day, we headed just a few minutes further north to Grande Anse, a fishing village that is truly tiny by comparison, with a single main street and one souvenir shop, Kay Zaza. But that’s what we loved about it. While the town seems miniature, the cove curves in one long, unending stretch of soft sand. Bright blue and red fishing boats get dragged onto shore after the day’s catch, while sailboats gently rock at anchor in the calm, turquoise sea.

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The long Grande Anse Cove

For lunch, we ate at a “lolo” (a Creole beach restaurant) called Bidjoul, where you can sit with your feet literally in the sand. Crayfish in a Creole sauce and whole fried snapper (what they call vivaneau) made for an amazing feast. What a great place to chill out with a crisp, local Lorraine beer.

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A Creole Lolo in Grande Anse

Facing the ocean, you’ll need to head right to reach a beautiful stretch of beach that almost feels like your own private paradise. With only a few rental houses set back from the water, the vibe is peaceful and the view perfectly soothing. The lone bar down this side, Ti Sable (or “little sand”) offers comfortable chaises, a cool island soundtrack, and drinks concocted of fabulous Martinican rhum – for some blissful Rum Therapy.

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Hanging out by Ti Sable Bar

Another cool find? Just in front of Ti Sable, underwater rocks are home to a host of small tropical fish. Don’t forget the masks and snorkels, or buy goggles at Kay Zaza, to see this delightful micro-reef.

Thanks to my friend Pascale, we didn’t miss out on two of Martinique’s most unforgettable beaches, along with the charming Creole atmosphere of Les Anses d’Arlet.

Guidebook author Laura Albritton and her husband Zickie have just debuted their blog Island Runaways (www.islandrunaways.com).

Le Diamant Beach, Martinique

Le Diamant Beach, Martiniquea guest post by author Laura Albritton

“Martinique.” Even this island’s name sounds sexy on the lips – the long drawn out ahhhh, followed by that final, clipped French eeeque. It’s not a place many English-speakers journey to, so maybe it was fate that prodded me to rent a cottage on the southern side of the island in Le Diamant, beside one of the most intoxicating stretches of waterfront I’ve ever experienced. 

A view of Le Diamant Beach with the “Sleeping woman” hills in the background

Photo Credit: Zickie Allgrove

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Le Diamant Beach looking to the east

Photo Credit: Zickie Allgrove

A little background: As you might guess, “diamant” means diamond in English, and the 2 ½ mile expanse of beach overlooks le Rocher du Diamant, a.k.a. Diamond Rock, with a swashbuckling history. You see, back in 1804 during the Napoleonic Wars, the English decided that this tiny volcanic island held the key to wresting Martinique away from the French. In a move right out of Monty Python, the British dubbed the rock a Royal Naval vessel, the H.M.S. Diamond Rock, and positioned cannon and some 107 soldiers to defend this inhospitable, stony key.

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A view of Diamond Rock from the beach

Photo Credit: Zickie Allgrove

As I gazed at the steep face of le Rocher du Diamant, I wondered how in the world anyone could survive a single night out there….much less 17 months, which is how long the British lasted before surrender.

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Le Rocher du Diamant, or Diamond Rock, which the British claimed as a naval war ship

Photo Credit: Zickie Allgrove

These days you can take a dive boat out to explore the incredible sea life that clusters at its base. Or just remain onshore, amid swaths of sand where coconut palms bend low over the Caribbean. Sometimes you sit and see no one, like you’re on a desert island. The surf grows rambunctious in places, tumbling to shore in a dramatic rush of azure and aqua. Perfect for body surfing.

If you come to watch the spectacular sunrise, you may later need a little sustenance. Just across the road, the village’s Boulangerie du Rocher bakes authentic French croissants, with a hundred flaky layers of buttery goodness. A breakfast of chocolate croissants as you’re lounging in the sand? Yes, please!

Around cocktail hour – to indulge in a little rum therapy — head over to New Cap Bar and Restaurant. Sip a ‘Ti Punch as the sun sets over this hypnotic scenery: the Caribbean ocean punctuated by Diamond Rock, glowing in the half light like a brilliant, faceted gem. As they say in French, “La vie est bon.”

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Looking out on Diamond Beach from New Cap restaurant and bar

 

Laura writes about travel, books, and art for publications like The Miami Herald, Sculpture magazine, Harvard Review, The Florida Keys Weekly, and UncommonCaribbean.com. Check out her new guidebook Miami for Families on her website.

Habitation Clément, Martinique

Habitation Clément, Martiniquea guest post by author Laura Albritton

If you like rum – no, make that love rum – and lush, green Caribbean islands with soft sand beaches, it’s worth sailing or flying into the French Antillean paradise of Martinique. Connoisseurs know that Martinican rum ranks among the best; one of my favorites, the award-winning Rhum Clément, will make your taste buds sing.

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Clément Rhum Agricole

Photo Credit: Zickie Allgrove

My husband, daughter, and I recently made the pilgrimage to the historic Habitation Clément estate, in Le François on the eastern side of this gorgeous tropical island. Fortunately, they offer a self-guided audio tour in English.

This isn’t just a little rum factory: you’ve got a veritable Garden of Eden with scarlet, purple, and hot pink flowers and beautiful trees to wander through. (The audio tells you what you’re seeing.)

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A vista of the estate grounds

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A distillery tank at Habitation Clément

Photo Credits: Zickie Allgrove

Then there’s the “maison de maître” or the master’s house, where the land-owning family once dwelled. Although full of West Indian antiques, hand-crafted in the islands, the house itself is endearingly homey rather than grand.

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The maison de maître or master’s house

Photo Credit: Zickie Allgrove

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An antique West Indian bed inside the maison de maître

Photo Credit: Laura Albritton

My mechanically-minded husband really dug the vintage factory with its steam powered equipment, while I oohed and ahhed in their two art galleries, including Fondation Clément, with world-class paintings and sculpture.

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Clement Wheel – antique distillery equipment

Photo Credit: Zickie Allgrove

But the real Rum Therapy reward was saved ‘til last – the tasting room. Here the staff wasn’t stingy with samples – even of the expensive stuff. We had to try the 10 year-old Rhum Agricole, a beautifully golden sipping rum.

Unlike most rum, which is produced from molasses, rhum agricole is made using freshly-pressed sugarcane juice. The result: sublimely delicious. During our tour I discovered that Homère Clément, the Martinican gentleman who bought the property in 1887, is credited with developing this unusually fine type of tipple.

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Vintage rum barrels inside a storeroom

Photo Credit: Zickie Allgrove

In the tasting room, there’s also fiery white rum to a make ‘Ti Punch (the traditional cocktail with squeezed lime and sugar). And finally, flavored punches that you can drink without mixing: Punch Coco with coconut, Punch Passion with passion fruit, and even Punch Café with a hint of coffee.

After tasting these delicious elixirs, of course I bought a few bottles. Although we weren’t lounging on the beach with the Caribbean lapping at our toes, Habitation Clément was definitely one of our favorite stops on enchanting Martinique.

A special thanks to Laura Albritton for sharing some of her wonderful Martinique travel experiences with us. Laura writes about travel, books, and art for publications like The Miami Herald, Sculpture magazine, Harvard Review, and The Florida Keys Weekly. Check out her new guidebook Miami for Families on her website and her new blog, Island Runaways.