The Best of Martinique, even during lockdown!

We sailed to Martinique for the first time in January and arrived in the beautiful and crowded bay of St. Anne, in the southern part of the island, after a short but quite choppy passage from Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.

Sunset in St. Anne

Back then our friends Salvo and Patti were still on board of Gladan with us, our Australian friends Steve and Deb would shortly join us to explore the island together and none of us had any idea of what would happen to the entire world a few weeks later….

Balata Botanical Gardens

After four months, we are back in the same bay, St. Anne. While still very crowded, the atmosphere in the bay has entirely changed. Sailors keen to head north to explore the Leeward islands have now been replaced by weary skippers waiting for borders to open up and quarantines to be lifted to be able to head south, away from the hurricane belt. The Club Med resort on the beach is closed, most restaurants and bars are yet to reopen after the lockdown, and the cute little village has got a sleepy and somber look. The virus has brought silence where music and dancing were before, emptiness has replaced people’s buzzing around, face masks are now covering bright smiles and filtering laughter.

Water lilies. Balata Gardens

Despite all, combining our two visits we’ve managed to see quite a lot of this beautiful French island.

Here is a list of my favourite places to visit and things to do in Martinique!

  • Pay a visit to the Balata Botanical Gardens. They are close to Fort-de-France, and high up on the hills so getting there by car is not the easiest task! Once you’ll see the gardens though, you’ll realise it was worth the hassle. Jean-Philippe Thoze’s creation is a real celebration of nature’s beauty. The horticulturist, landscape designer and poet who designed the gardens, mixed together a hundred varieties of palm trees, tropical flowers, giant bamboo, and delicate water lilies – a real blaze of colours and perfumes!

A feeding station by the Creole house at the entrance attracts several hummingbirds, who seem to be welcoming you to this tropical paradise!

Steve and I admiring the gardens!
I was left speechless in front of such delicate beauty..
Tree top walk

Hike from St. Anne to Grande Anse des Salines. Follow the footpath that takes you along the coast through the woods.

Walking through the woods St. Anne to Les Salines

It took us more than an hour to get to Les Salines beach and I would advise anyone willing to embark on such a beautiful adventure to bring a lot of water and wear plenty of sunscreen. Along the way, there are several bays where to stop for a quick dip when it gets too hot! Once we reached our destination, we stopped in one of the bars on the beach (the one selling fresh local fruits) and had a tasty smoothy and a few accras (codfish fritters) to gain some strength back! Beware of their Capirinha though if you want to get back in one piece!

Grande Anse des Salines

Stop in Anse d’Arlet and breathe in the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere of this very picturesque village, with its cute church and long promenade. And don’t forget to do some snorkeling in the area marked by the buoys, on the left-hand side of the dinghy dock. We spent a few nights in this bay and saw beautiful trumpets fish and angelfish amongst many others.

Anse d’Arlet

On our second visit to Martinique, we finally managed to eat at L’Escale which is a gastro bistrot in Grand d’Anse. The place is normally very popular and therefore busy. In these special after-lockdown/Covid-19 times, it was half empty and the food was good but not as special as we expected it to be. Gc’s tuna tataki was definitely tastier than my dorado fillet and I started to fear Gc’s comments might not be so kind. Having insisted on trying this restaurant, I was the one to blame…. Luckily, I was saved by the dessert; a chocolate and toasted hazelnuts core fondant, served with coconut ice cream, which we shared and found rather delicious. Phew!! Gc was in a good mood again!

Grand Anse

The best restaurant in Martinique, in our opinion, remains Zanzibar, in Le Marin. The atmosphere is sophisticated without being pretentious, the service is excellent and the food is top quality. I think Gc said the sea bass he tried there was one of the best he’s ever tasted in his life! Big words :)!

Lunch at l’Escale
  • Visit Habitacion Clement Distillery in Francois. Definitely a must go! The distillery is set in a beautiful parkland with botanical gardens, open air exhibitions, indoor art galleries, an ancient mill, the old distillery, and the Creole house were the doctor and former mayor of Francois, Homare Clement, used to live. We were told the visit would last roughly 2 hours, but we would have spent many more wandering around this incredible mansion if it hadn’t been for the rum calling us! The boutique where the rum tasting takes place closes at 5 and it was 4.45 when we rushed through the doors ready for our shots!
  • Discover a totally unexpected pottery village in the heart of Martinique! We spent one night in Trois islets, a sleepy village around the corner from the much more popular and touristy Anse Mitan. The village itself doesn’t have much to offer and once you’ve visited the mangroves either by dinghy or canoe, you’re left wondering what to do next…that’s when we discovered this village literally in the middle of nowhere!
Trois Islets – Mangroves

We left the dinghy at the floating pontoon hoping to find it again when back and went out exploring. The village is massive with plenty of little shops selling ceramics and a gigantic brick factory. There are also a few restaurants in the village and we ended up having dinner in a very fascinating Thai restaurant, La Case Thai, totally booked up for the night. Our waitress was the kindest and funniest young lady you can possibly meet and the food was not bad! What an interesting discovery!

A random statue in the middle of the brick factory!!

From Saint Martin to Martinique; sailing in times of Corona virus…

Three months and a pandemic later, Gladan was finally able to move again! I have to admit leaving Saint Martin was tough….After spending so long in the same bay (Grand Case), we knew and loved every inch of it, became friendly with the locals and had our pet barracuda “Barry”, hiding under our hulls and making a daily appearance to say hi.

Dandi and James towed by us on their canoe. They showed us the best places where to catch fish in Grand Case…. !!

Before leaving for good, we managed to move from Grand Case to Orient Bay, a wonderful place and number 1 destination for kite surfers.

Simon and GC having a “friendly” race on their hobby cats

Now, Orient Bay is completely different from Grand Case. It is an upmarket touristy resorts with residences, bars, shops and restaurants. The scenery changes completely and the people around do too. Orient Bay has one of the longest beaches in Saint Martin and is quite exposed to the wind as it is on the East side of the island. Approaching the bay could be quite challenging if the weather is not settled as there are breakers forming at the entrance.

My favourite spot in the bay was the yellow beach by Îlet de Pinel. Waters are quite shallow here and anchoring might prove challenging, but if you find the courage to venture in, you’ll be highly rewarded. It is a very sheltered spot, the sea is flat as a lake and you’ll be met by hundreds of conchs when you land on the beach!

Yellow Beach

Because of the Covid 19 virus there were no tourists on the islet; we had it all to ourselves…except for a few iguanas and these friendly and funny looking mollusks!

A conch 🙂

Orient bay was great fun, especially for Gc and Simon who, after patiently waiting for the right weather window, managed to take kitesurfing lessons with Fred from http://www.gokitesurfing.com/ .

By the time Gc managed to stand on the board and actually surf on it for almost 1 minute, it was time to move southward :)!

With the hurricane season having officially started on 1st June, we were constantly on the lookout for islands whose borders would open soon. Towards the end of May, a post appeared on Saint Martin Facebook group saying that the French prefecture had approved a new decree that would allow boats to move freely between French islands, without having to quarantine.

We visited the beautiful little island of Tintamarre, only a few miles away from Orient Bay.

The news of the decree was out there but the authorities of the French islands didn’t seem to be aware of it. It took us some time and many phone calls to get assurance that moving from Saint Martin (French side) to Martinique, another French island, without stopping on the way we wouldn’t need to quarantine upon arrival.

Once we got confirmation from at least two different sources, we checked out of Saint Martin and prepared to sail 237 miles to Martinique.

We left Orient Bay on a Saturday at 4 am with a beautiful full moon and very confused waters. The first half day of sailing was very uncomfortable with steep waves coming from different directions and winds stronger than expected. Things started to improve once we passed St. Kitts and Nevis and Redonda island.

Once in the shadow of Monserrat the sea was much flatter, the wind a perfect 18/20 knots and the sun had just left space to a wonderful full moon fighting with the clouds to show its luminous face.

We could smell the sulphur from Monserrat’s active volcano and tried to keep away from the shore as much as possible not to be covered by its dust. Few squalls formed in the sky and travelled in our direction, but then, last minute, decided to spare us, leaving us to enjoy the beauty of the night with its silver coloured sea and the warm sea breeze.

Sailing with a full moon

Gc and I slept on the flybridge doing short shifts of 30 minutes each at first, then 1 hour, then 2 hours once daylight made its appearance around 5am. By then we had sailed to the southern tip of Guadaloupe.

The second day of navigation saw us sailing from Guadaloupe to Dominica, which being quite mountainous, was engulfed in clouds and difficult to spot. The weather was nice and we kept on sailing with two reefs on our main and the jib fully open. The highlight of the day was the to-date unknown fish we caught and unsuccessfully tried to identify.

This poor soul…whatever its kind… was delicious, thanks for feeding us!

The weather conditions started to deteriorate just before sunset, 30 miles from St. Pierre, Martinique; our final destination. We had the wind on the nose and the waves giving us a good, constant shake.

30 miles away from St. Pierre, Martinique..

We had to roll the sails in and motor all the way to St. Pierre where we got at 10.30 pm, tired and hungry. With only one great regret….We didn’t have any red wine onboard! We anchored in the dark, cooked some dinner and went to sleep.

Mount Pelee – St. Pierre. The volcano exploded in 1902 destroying the entire town and killing most of its inhabitants.

The day after we got in touch with Cross Ag (the coast guard) to inform them of our arrival and to ask permission to go ashore to check in. When they finally answered us, they said they’d send us an email with the health questionnaire to fill in and the instructions to follow re. quarantine.

St. Pierre, town centre

Quarantine? Quarantine?! What quarantine? The following 30 minutes were a whirlpool of thoughts and blame game.

My first thought, believe it or not, was that we didn’t have any red wine onboard!!! How would we survive 14 days without any?! Then I realised we didn’t have that much provisioning either… I quickly went to check the cupboards and found enough pasta for us to last more than a fortnight! Gc’s theory being “if you have pasta and rice in storage you won’t die of starvation”….which he happily remind me of every time we go to the supermarket and I complain about the content of our shopping baskets!

St Pierre, with Gladan resting peacefully after 2 long days of sailing!

Before losing hope, we explained to the authorities that we were told we wouldn’t need to quarantine and that’s why we had travelled 237 miles without ever stopping, and that we were very disappointed to find out the opposite. It took some convincing, but eventually we were given some good news; we wouldn’t need to quarantine and we could go ashore to check in!

After a big sigh of relief, we quickly went ashore, checked in and bought some Bordeaux! You never know what to expect in these difficult times…