I had no idea that yet another island could capture a piece of my soul, but here I am – in love with in love with a destination whose heart is exquisitely French and whose veins pulsate with rich Afro-Caribbean traditions. It’s not a land of contradiction, but one of a unique melding of the best of both worlds.
From the cuisine and cocktails to the je ne sais quoi air of Gallic sophistication, this island offers unique, effortless unpretentious chic.
No high-rise resorts or time-shares for let, but hotels like Le Bakoua where you are checked into your oceanfront rooms by someone who seems more like a local storyteller than a front desk man. His dexterity at multi-tasking lets you know you are in good hands… but there’s something compelling about him that makes you want to ask him a few questions that will lead to reminiscence of days of old. I found him so intriguing that I think I deliberately kept visiting the desk that first evening, hoping he would simply start chatting like an older gentleman sitting on a verandah in a rocking chair, whiling away the hours by recounting stories (with a very heavy accent) on the way things used to be. Alas, he was not my treasure trove of tales of Martinique, but I loved where my imagination took me… must have been his greying beard and kind eyes.
Martinique embodies some of the loveliest aspects of the French countryside, but in tropical form. It feels far removed from the sensibilities of other Caribbean islands in that it is a very grounding place, with so much great food. Wishing the term French-fusion weren’t scorched earth at this stage of the game because that’s exactly the term I would use to describe some of the dishes – very French, infused with a strong Caribbean touch. Island life is nothing if you don’t have a great local beach spot to hang out and amazing views, in my opinion, and when I travel, I love to visit like a native.
So I wound up at a beachfront, toes-in-the-sand restaurant owned and operated by Guy Ferdinand, also known as Chef Hot Pants!
Yep, he wears his chefs coat and hot pants… that is all. His shock of wavy grey and black hair, brilliant smile and hospitable demeanor do not distract you from the fact that he is wearing the shortest shorts and a chefs coat: They simply add to the flair! What may take your eyes upward and perhaps give a light flutter is the fresh food he prepares. You name it, Guy can prepare it, but the trick is to be at his mercy. I opened my mind, eyes ever so slightly squinting so as to not appear rude, as I stared at nothing but his banging shorts. I mean, they’re right at eye-level when you’re seated and he starts to excitedly describe what he’s about to bring to the table… it’s, right, there – but I digress.
Take a day and head over to Le Petibonum, it’s on the beach on the island’s west coast called Carbet. Swim, eat, drink ti’ punch (the local rum “cocktail”…you’ll have it everywhere you stop and it’s potent). Some say drink it warm, others with an ice cube, some say watch out, others slam it back… try it and you decide. I’ll say it again, with feeling: It’s potent!