History and Culture in Martinique

A history of settlement that dates back thousands of years; fierce colonial history; plantation homes; colorful pageants and celebrations; centuries-old distilleries; entire cities ravaged by volcanic activity. All this and more make up Martinique’s unique historical and cultural character—much of which can be experienced by visitors to the island.

D38, Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique
Most visitors to Martinique head for sun and sand on the island’s southern coast. Those looking for history should consider a tour of La Pagerie, the plantation home of Napoleon’s Empress Joséphine. An old stone cottage at the site houses a museum, and a massive sugarcane processing plant still stands in ruins. Another good sightseeing stop is the nearby La Savane des Esclaves, a museum in a recreated slave village. The exhibits cover not just the island’s connections with the slave trade, but also Martinique traditions and culture. Founder Gilbert Larose is likely to be in the kitchen, showing visitors how to make cassava bread over a fire. A small shop sells crafts and artworks.

Le Carbet, Martinique
Cruise ships often sail past the village of Le Carbet, near where Christopher Columbus briefly landed in 1502. Nearly three centuries later, the village became the temporary home of French artist Paul Gauguin, who spent six months here painting the volcanic landscapes, just a few years before his first trip to Tahiti. Today, Le Carbet has a small museum focused on Gauguin’s time on Martinique.

Route de Balata, Fort-de-France 97234, Martinique
This botanical wonder is home to thousands of native plant species, including heliconias, hibiscus and bromeliads. Guests enjoy strolling around the three-hectare (seven-acre) grounds, where hundreds of palm trees tower over creeks and tiny hummingbirds flit among the lush foliage. An aerial walkway suspended 15 meters (49 feet) high in the canopy gives visitors views of the Balata Garden, the mountains and Fort-de-France Bay. There’s also a fine old plantation house on the grounds.

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