A European Vacation…In the Caribbean - Page 2

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Club Med, Martinique
MARTINIQUE MED: Relax and rejuvenate at Club Med’s slice of heaven in Martinique  (courtesy, Club Med)

Every afternoon, small passenger boats set sail from the harbors of Le Francois or Le Robert to a calm lagoon on the Atlantic side of the island, where, like the finest of indolent royalty, tourists and locals mix and mingle in the warm, inviting, waist-high waters of Josephine's Bathtub, sipping rum punch, nibbling on hors d'oeuvres, and wishing the day would never end. Refreshments (non-alcoholic for the children, of course) float out to the merrymakers on "drink boats," little brightly painted vessels bearing cocktails and local delicacies.

No ordinary rum sails on those drink boats. Martinique is home to rhum agricole, distilled from sugar cane juice freshly squeezed from ripe stalks; this refinement yields a product a cut above most Caribbean rums, which use less expensive molasses. As befits French tradition, this distinctive process produces premium rums bestowed with the designation Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, previously reserved only for the most exclusive wines. Connoisseurs can savor aged rums as smooth as the finest cognacs, and the adventurous can taste flavored rum mente or rum poivre on the rum route—a tour of the island's leading distilleries—yet another highlight of any visit to Martinique. Some of the designer bottles in distillery gift shops can be classified as works of art.

Distilleries don't usually draw children, but the St. James Distillery operates a narrow gauge, steam engine, plantation train—a fun ride for the whole family through sugar cane fields and banana orchards. Opportunities for additional family fun abound on the island, from horseback riding at the Ranch Jack or Black Horse Ranch to swinging through rainforest treetops on the Mangofil or Domaine Sigy Adventure Park's multiple zip-line canopy tours (adult and child versions available). Or try frolicking in Aqualand water park, featuring wet and wild rides like the Giant Slalom and Black Hole. A new initiative, Resau Tak-Tak, matches tourists with authentic Martinique experiences, including tambour drumming, waterfall rappelling, coffee farming, and more.

Because the island is small enough to crisscross in a single day, not only are all of these places easily accessible, but family members may also split up and enjoy separate activities during the day, while reuniting for dinner in the evening. Nature lovers will no doubt want to learn why Martinique is known as the Caribbean's Isle of Flowers. Others might prefer to wander Fort de France's covered market, exploring the indigenous fruits, vegetables, spices, and natural remedies.

At the same time, this is France, where all manner of sophisticated indulgences are at hand: pampering spa treatments at the world-class Cap Est Lagoon Resort and Spa, shopping for European fashions and the classiest French brand-name products at local prices, sampling truffles at artisan chocolatiers, or gambling at the new Pointe du Bout casino.

No self-respecting region of France would exist without its gastronomic attributes. In the case of Martinique, enjoying this legacy can be as simple as a family meal in a bistro; as elegant as a banquet prepared by a protégé of renowned chef Alain Ducasse; or as romantic as a dinner on the terrace of Le Domaine St. Aubin, a former country manor transformed into a boutique hotel.

This particular island is an ideal option any time of the year: The prevailing trade winds mean there is only a five-degree variation in temperature between winter and summer, making Martinique an intriguing destination during any season.

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