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Anses-d'Arlets

The scenery is beautiful here. Brightly painted fishing boats known as gommiers draw up on the white-sand beach, and the nets are spread out to dry in the sun. Children swim and adults fish from the good-size pier. The waters off Anses-d'Arlets are a playground for divers, with a wide variety of small tropical fish and colorful corals.

The area has been a choice spot for weekend second homes for many years and is now becoming a destination for tourists. The little village features a pretty steepled church, a bandstand for holiday concerts, and a smattering of modest little dining spots. Aficionados of Martinique come here to see the "way it used to be" on the island. Unspoiled and folkloric, the hamlet still retains its charm typique Martiniquaise.

From Anses-d'Arlets, panoramic Route D37 takes you to Le Diamant.

Le Diamant

Set on the island's southwestern coast, about 40 minutes by taxi from the airport, this village offers a good beach, open to the prevailing southern winds. The village is named after one of Martinique's best-known geological oddities, Le Rocher du Diamant (Diamond Rock), a barren offshore island that juts upward from the sea to a height of 172m (564 ft.). Sometimes referred to as the Gibraltar of the Caribbean, it figured prominently in a daring British invasion in 1804, when British mariners carried a formidable amount of ammunition and 110 sailors to the top. Despite frequent artillery bombardments from the French-held coastline, the garrison held out for 18 months, completely dominating the passageway between the rock and the coast of Martinique. Intrepid foreigners sometimes visit Diamond Rock, but the access across the strong currents of the channel is risky.

Diamond Beach, on the Martinique mainland, offers a sandy bottom, verdant groves of swaying palms, and many different surf and sunbathing possibilities. The district has developed into a resort, scattered with generally small hotels.

Ste-Luce

Between Le Diamant and Ste-Anne lies this sleepy fishing village, which is known for its fine beaches of white sand. Scuba divers flock to the waters at Pointe Figuier to the east of Ste-Luce. Most visitors come here to lodge at the hotel below or just to enjoy the beaches. You can also visit Ecomusée de Martinique, Anse Figuier (tel. 596/62-79-14), which exhibits artifacts unearthed from the days of the earliest settlers, the Carib and Arawak Indians. Entrance is 3€ for adults, .75€ children 5 to 12 and students; hours are Tuesday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:30pm, Friday and Saturday 8:30am to 5pm, and Sunday 9am to 5pm.

Le Marin

This is the yachting capital of Martinique, lying between Ste-Luce and Ste-Anne, about an hour south from the capital of Fort-de-France. Here pleasure boats fill the protected harbor. There is also a Jesuit church from 1766 crowning the hill overlooking town, with a stone ruin next to it. From Le Marin, a signposted narrow road leads to Cap Chevalier (Cape Knight), one of the most panoramic lookout points on Martinique, lying about 1.5km (1 mile) from town. Waterfront restaurants specializing in seafood and clubs fill the town of Le Marin itself.

Ste-Anne

From Le Marin, an 8km (5-mile) drive brings you to Ste-Anne, at the extreme southern tip of Martinique. This sleepy little area is known for the white-sand beaches of Les Salines. (Those to the north are more grayish in color.) In many ways, these are Martinique's finest. The climate is arid, and the beaches are almost always sunny, perhaps too much so at midday. The name comes from Etang des Salines, a large salt pond forming a backdrop to the strip of sand. Manchineel trees are found at the southeastern end of the beach. Warning: Under no circumstances should you go under these trees for protection in a rainfall. When it's sunny you can seek shade here, but when it rains, drops falling from the poisonous tree will be like acid on your skin.

Holidays and weekends tend to be crowded, as many islanders and their families flock to this beach, which is just not big enough to handle the hordes.

Les Salines is also the site of Martinique's only real gay beach. Drive to the far end of the parking lot, near the sign labeled PETITE ANSE DES SALINES. Here you'll find a trail leading through woods to a sun-flooded beach often populated by naked gay men, with an occasional lesbian couple. Technically, there are no legal nudist beaches on Martinique, so it's possible you could be arrested for going nude, although authorities don't seem to enforce this. (Throughout the island, however, the European custom of topless bathing is not uncommon on any of the beaches or even around hotel pools.)

Ste-Anne opens onto views of the Sainte Lucia Canal, and nearby is the Petrified Savanna Forest, which the French call Savane des Petrifications. It's a field of petrified volcanic boulders in the shape of logs. The eerie, desertlike site is studded with cacti.

Le François

Along the east coast of Martinique, you can stop over in Le François to visit the Musée Rhum Clement at the Domaine de l'Acajou (tel. 596/54-62-07), about 2km (1 1/4 miles) south of the village center. The setting for this museum is an outmoded distillery in the cellar of an 18th-century mansion with period furnishings that the Clement Rum Company closed in the early 1990s, when it shifted its production to a newer plant 6km (3 3/4 miles) away (which cannot be visited). A Columbus exhibit is set up in caves, and other exhibits trace the institution of slavery in the islands. Products of the Clement rum distillery are prominently displayed for purchase, and tastings of some of the rums are available. The museum is in a botanic park; you could easily spend 2 or 3 hours exploring the exhibits and grounds. It's open daily from 9am to 5:30pm. Admission is 7€ for adults, 4€ for ages 7 to 18, and free for ages 6 and under.

Directly south of Le François, with Mt. Vauclin looming in the background, is the little fishing village of Vauclin, where you can find a good luncheon stopover, or else a place for a vacation retreat.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.