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Martinique Essentials

Where to Eat
fish market martiniqueFrench and Creole dishes are the specialty in restaurants all over Martinique. Many are great for romantic dining, with ocean views and plenty of French wines. Others are simple beachfront or roadside shacks offering casual fare. As in France, it's considered gauche to request a doggy bag for your leftovers.

Dining at Le Plein Soleil means enjoying a leisurely meal on a terrace on a hill overlooking the sea. The menu might include dishes like mousseline of yam with parmesan cheese, lobster bisque or giramonade a l'orange. Price-fixe menus are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- just be sure to make reservations at least 24 hours in advance.

If you want to feel like you're in France, the best place in town is La Cave a Vins in Fort-de-France. It's part wine store, part restaurant, and it keeps getting better -- the restaurant recently moved into lofty new digs (ask for a table in the conservatory, with its glass ceiling, in the back; the wall murals of French wine country are delightful). The chef, who hails from the south of France, has been in Martinique for more than a dozen years. The menu features duck, fresh fish and foie gras, and the tarte tatin is, well, ooh-la-la.

Located in the small village of Carbet, the beach restaurant Le Petitbonum is a unique place where you can enjoy fine dining in your bare feet. Dishes emphasize seafood and French dishes, like escargot and foie gras. Don't miss the live music on Saturday nights.

For Caribbean favorites like callaloo soup or grilled lobster, head to Le Colibri, a family restaurant located on the northeastern coast of the island. The ocean views are as good as the food.

If you've maxxed out on sophisticated French fare during your stay on Martinique, get some comfort food at the quirky Soup Bar du Centre Ville in Fort-de-France. As the name suggests, the menu consists of a variety of soups, including both local fare and international favorites (like goulash). It's a venue for live music as well.

Where to Stay
Martinique offers the usual panoply of luxurious resorts, friendly guesthouses and stylish boutique hotels. Don't discount properties that aren't located right on a beach; there are a number of lovely properties located in the hills a little further inland, boasting spectacular sea views. Winter is high season in the Caribbean, so expect rates to go up accordingly (and be sure to book well in advance).

cap est lagoon resort and spa martinique For Martinique's most luxe digs, look no further than the Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa. All of the properties Asian-influenced suites boast plasma televisions and teak terraces; some also have private plunge pools. Activities include tennis, wind- and kitesurfing, kayaking, sailing and deep sea diving; there's also an elegant spa on the premises.

Hotel Plein Soleil is a lovely boutique property with airy rooms and a fine restaurant. Though it's not on the beach, it enjoys a serene location in the hills outside of Le Francois with wonderful views of the sea (and there's a pool if you're looking to swim or get a tan). Accommodations have flat-screen TV's, small refrigerators and Wi-Fi.

Funky contemporary decor and striking sea views make La Suite Villa, in Trois Ilets, one of the island's most stylish places to stay. Its spacious suites and secluded villas are perfect for honeymooners or travelers seeking a little romance (the villas have private hot tubs), and there's a fantastic infinity pool with sun deck (which makes up for the lack of a beach).

If you're looking to stay near the center of Fort-de-France, Le Squash Hotel is a convenient, mid-priced business hotel. Its 105 rooms (spread between two buildings) have been recently renovated and offer televisions and either sea or garden views. If you can, opt for a Lotus room rather than a Hibiscus room; those have a few extras such as minibars and hair dryers.

Domaine de l'Anse Ramier, in Trois Ilets, is a good affordable option for travelers who wish to cook for themselves. Spacious, colorful studios include kitchens, Internet access and sea views.

Where to Shop
Martinique's main shopping district is in Fort-de-France, along streets like Rue Victor-Hugo, Rue de la Republique and Place Monsignor Romero, where you'll find fascinating French-style boutiques. The big "duty-free" department store here is Roger Albert (Rue Victor-Hugo 7 - 9), which carries all manner of French merchandise from jewelry to cosmetics. We also love the city market at Rue Blenac and Rue Isambert; the covered marketplace is full of vendors selling everything from local foodstuffs to Martinique vanilla, straw hats and bags, and jams.

Take a taxi to the Galleria and shop among locals. The island's largest shopping mall (not half as big as typical American mega-malls, however) is fun for its foreign feel -- you'll see outposts of French chains like Kookai, Morgan and Pimkie. There's also a fabulous supermarche; it's huge, and a great place to buy French wines.

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    --written by Carolyn Spencer Brown, with contributions by Sarah Schlichter

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