Don't Miss in Martinique
Fort Saint Louis: Martinique's capital city is marked by the hilltop Fort Saint Louis, which was established in 1638 and has undergone multiple expansions since then. It's been back in service as a French naval base since 2001 so public access is limited, but you can do a guided tour of some of the older sections, learning its history and enjoying gorgeous bay views from atop the outer walls. You'll need to purchase tickets from the kiosk in La Savane park.
Downtown Fort-de-France: The capital city is highlighted by the 12-acre La Savane park, adjacent to the downtown shopping area. Don't miss the statue of Napoleon's Empress Josephine, which was vandalized in 1991, leaving her eerily headless with one hand chopped off and red paint streaks representing blood around her neck. The culprits were never found, and local officials decided to leave the statue without a head. (Rue de la Liberte)
Bibliotheque Schoelcher: Across from the park is Bibliotheque Schoelcher, a striking Byzantine-style library designed by Henri Picq (a contemporary of Gustave Eiffel) and built for the Paris Exposition of 1889. In 1895, it was shipped piece-by-piece to Fort-de-France and reassembled. The interior is striking is well, an active library with walls of shelves bearing historic tomes. (Rue Victor S?v?re, Fort-de-France; +596-596-55-6830; open Monday, 1 to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday to Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to noon. Closed Sunday.)
Cathedrale Saint-Louis: At Place Monseigneur Romero, you'll find Cathedrale Saint-Louis (at Rue Schoelcher), also designed by Henri Picq and erected in 1895 on the site of six previous churches destroyed by fire or natural disasters. The plaza has an outpost of France's Galeries Lafayette department store, and smaller boutiques selling everything from household items to French and local fashion extend down neighboring streets including Rue Victor-Hugo, Rue de la Republique and Place Monsignor Romero. The big duty-free department store is Roger Albert (Rue Victor-Hugo 7-9), which carries all manner of French merchandise from jewelry to cosmetics.
Grand Marche market: The covered Grand Marche is full of vendors selling everything from local foodstuffs and Martiniquan vanilla to straw hats, madras bags and jams. (Rue Antoine Isambert; open Monday to Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Saint-Pierre: Located on Martinique's northwest coast, the island's original settlement was founded in 1635 and remained a flourishing city until nearby volcano Mont Pelee erupted in 1902, killing all 30,000 residents (save for the jail's only prisoner, who was the disaster's lone survivor). The town was rebuilt but never again served as the central city. In addition to the charming waterfront (lots of cafes), you'll find black-sand beaches and the stone remnants of the town's main theater and jail. To get more perspective on the eruption, check out the small Musee Volcanologique (Volcano Museum). (Rue Victor-Hugo)
Habitation Clement: Part art gallery, part museum and part tasting room, this plantation house and distillery in Le Francois offers history alongside well-curated works of contemporary art from France and the Caribbean. The still-working distillery has been producing rhum agricole for more than 125 years, and you can taste and purchase the bounty in the lively tasting room. (Le Francois; +596-596-54-7551; open daily, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
Hit the Galleria: The Galleria is the island's largest mall. It's fun for its foreign feel; you'll see outposts of French boutiques along with an outpost of Galerie Lafeyette. The massive Hyper U supermarket is stocked with both European and local foodstuffs, and is a great place to buy French wines. (Acajou, Le Lamentin 97232; +596-596-50-6663; open Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Balata Gardens: Set in the highlands just north of Fort-de-France, this private botanical enclave features striking bromeliads, heliconia and other tropical plants, along with 300 types of palm trees. Even those not into gardens will enjoy the canopy walk, along a swinging plank walkway strung amid giant mahogany trees. (Route de Balata, 97234 Fort-de-France; +596-596-64-4873; open daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Hire a Private Boat: Venture from Fort-de-France to the marina in Trois-Ilets via the ferry at the Pointe Simon cruise terminal. The ride will take about 20 minutes, and once there, you'll find a number of private boat owners who will take you out swimming, snorkeling or sightseeing, for a fee. One of the top snorkel spots is the bat cave near Anse DuFour, accessible only by boat.