Northern Caribbean Coast:
Published in the
Fall 2005 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
from Ulysses' travel guide to Martinique, by Claude
Copyright Jean-Marc Lecerf
Other Photos: Courtesy of Martinique Tourism Authority (www.martinique.org
Upon visiting Martinique's northern Caribbean coast,
you'll discover a landscape entirely different from the
idyllic white-sand beaches found in the south. The beaches
seem wilder and their grey and even black sand is a reminder
of the presence of the notorious Montagne Pelée volcano,
which, at 1,397m (4,656ft), is the highest peak on the island.
In 1902, this imposing northern giant unleashed its wrath on
Martinique with an eruption that claimed 30,000 lives and
completely obliterated the city of Saint-Pierre, the little
Paris of the Antilles.
The northern Caribbean coast also has much to offer in
terms of culture, beaches, nature and sports.
and its casino, Le Carbet and its long beach, and Anse Turin,
where Gauguin spent a brief but significant period of his life
as an artist.
There are untouched beaches in the north and
hiking trails that lead through the forests and mountains. The
northern Caribbean coast is the cradle of Martinique.
where Columbus landed in 1502 and French colonisation began in
September of 1635, when the Carib Indians welcomed
d'Esnambuc and his companions with open arms. The villages
on the northern Caribbean (Case-Pilote, Le Carbet,
Saint-Pierre) were thus Martinique's first, and boast the
oldest buildings and most venerable churches on the Island of
According to legend, Christopher Columbus discovered
Martinique when he landed at Le Carbet on June 15, 1502. Le
Carbet's glorious past has helped make it a lively town that
attracts a good number of visitors interested as much in
Martinique's history and heritage as in the area's beautiful
beaches, which stretch nearly 3km (almost 2mi), from Le Coin
to Anse Latouche.
Not to be missed at Le Carbet are the numerous
examples of colourful traditional Creole houses; the Aqualand
water park, that is sure to please the whole family; the Musée
Gauguin, where you can learn about Paul Gauguin’s 1887
sojourn in Martinique; and the Anse Latouche plantation, a
fabulous botanical garden on the site of an authentic 17th
Montagne Pelée, which is at least 400,000 years old,
stands at 1,397m (4,656ft). Since the French first arrived on
the island, there have been four eruptions.
The first, a
small one, was in 1792 and the second in 1851. Then, between
1902 and 1904, fiery clouds wiped out Saint-Pierre and then
Morne Rouge, killing 30,000 people. The volcano's last
rumblings, recorded between 1929 and 1932, fortunately had no
These two major eruptions introduced a new volcanic
phenomenon to observers, involving the expulsion of clouds
of incandescent ash and the formation of viscous domes in
the volcano's crater.
They have since been termed Pelean.
Hiking trails now lead to the volcanic cones that were created
by the 1902 and 1929 eruptions. Though the most direct route
to the deadly volcano is by way of Morne Rouge, some visitors
might prefer tackling its north face, via Grand'Rivière.
The next stop on Martinique’s northern Caribbean
coast is the harbour of Saint-Pierre, the martyred city where
close to the entire population (30,000 people) perished when
Montagne Pelée erupted on May 8, 1902. Before this terrible
catastrophe, Saint-Pierre, with its theatres, beautiful
buildings and imposing residences was nicknamed the petit
Paris des Antilles (the little Paris of the Antilles) and its
bourgeoisie lived a life of luxury.
Today, Saint-Pierre has barely 5,000 inhabitants,
who live on fishing, tourism, agriculture and livestock
breeding. In 1990, Saint-Pierre was proclaimed a French
National Heritage site and dubbed the 101st City of Art and
History, which gave it a much-needed boost.
As far as tourism
is concerned, Saint-Pierre, the true historic capital of
Martinique, is of undeniable interest. One example of the
rich cultural heritage and tapestry that is commemorated by
the residents of Saint-Pierre is the Musée Vulcanologique,
where visitors can discover the countless ruins of significant
monuments and the shipwrecks of vessels that were moored
in the harbour at the time of the tragic eruption.
If you're interested in an easy and unusual way to
discover Saint-Pierre's many sights, climb aboard the Cyparis
Express, a small train that will take you on a 1 hour guided
tour of the city.
Just outside the city is the new Centre de Découverte
des Sciences de la Terre (Earth Sciences Discovery Centre),
located at the foot of Montagne Pelée. Temporary exhibits
cover such topics as bird’s eye views of Martinique and the
history of volcanoes and other natural phenomena such as
earthquakes and cyclones.
The village of Le Prêcheur (The Preacher) is the last
one on the northern Caribbean coast. It was named after a rock
formation, which disappeared when Montagne Pelée erupted and
was reputedly shaped like a preacher.
At nearby Anse Céron, there
is a dirt road leading to Habitation Céron, an interesting
place where visitors can learn more about everyday life during
the island's slavery era.
On the grounds of the former
plantation, where sugar cane, coffee, cocoa, cassava and
bananas were cultivated, you can still see the miserable
wooden shacks that were once crowded with slaves. The main
path, with big ponds on either side, leads to the family
In addition to the numerous swimming and hiking
possibilities the region offers, there are a large number of
diving sites along the northern Caribbean coast, each more
spectacular than the last. For example, Cap Enragé, a
little to the north of Case-Pilote, boats a pretty little
coral garden teeming with colourful marine animals. Right
nearby, you can examine the corals on the sandy sea-bottom
at Fond Boucher, some 6m (20ft) below the surface.
Nevertheless, top billing still goes to Saint-Pierre's
harbour, where you can examine the wreckage of a dozen or so
boats that sank when Montagne Pelée erupted in 1902. The
Roraima (50m/166ft) and the Raisinier (15m/50ft) are the most
Claude Morneau is the author of the Ulysses' travel guide to
Martinique (see cover on left), available in all good bookstores
or on the Web at www.ulyssesguides.com.
For More Info:
Contact the Martinique Tourism Authority
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