Living Local in the French Caribbean
Gîtes and Vacation Home Rentals in the Martinique
By Michele Peterson
|Houses in the Martinique.
If you have ever wished you could pack up and escape to a Caribbean island but are not yet ready to make the leap, then a vacation home rental on Martinique could be the perfect solution. Located in the eastern Caribbean, the island is one of the world’s safest tropical destinations and is blessed with clean beaches, dramatic mist-shrouded mountains and a lively Creole culture. An overseas department of France, Martinique also participates in the Gîtes de France program, a vacation home rental service.
“Although popular in Europe for over a decade, the program is still relatively undiscovered by North Americans,” says Sonia Barba, the Sales and Marketing Manager responsible for Martinique’s 200 vacation home properties known as gîtes.
Despite being relatively unknown outside France, the quality of the program is well established.
“Each of the lodgings is fully equipped and classified according to the standards of the National Federation of Gîtes de France.” Barba explains.
Staying in a gîte makes it easy to experience island culture. Rather than being tucked away in a resort enclave, you have the opportunity to stay in a community, mingle with neighbours and shop at local markets.
“Our philosophy is that in order to understand Martinique’s culture, you need to experience life as everyday people do,” says Barba.” When you stay in a hotel, you can’t do that.”
Gîtes are also surprisingly affordable. For example, the directory lists a beach cottage with a fully-equipped kitchen, lush garden patio and two stylish bedrooms for under €700/week.
Here’s an overview of the island:
South-Central Beaches: Whether you hike up steep Morne Larcher or go beachcombing, adventure seekers will appreciate the options at the dramatic southern stretch of the island. Rent Easter-egg hued Gîtes #394, a 2-bedroom cottage just steps to the sandy beaches of Petite Anse and a short drive to the iconic Rocher du Diamant (Diamond Rock).
|A typical beach in the Martinique.
In nearby Les Trois-Ilets, go kayaking or explore island history at the Pagerie Museum, located on the plantation where Empress Josephine (of Napoleon Bonaparte fame) was born. In the capital city of Fort-de France, a short ferry ride away, Le Grand Marche market is crammed with spices, folk art, pistachio nougat and fruit stalls.
Le Carbet and Caribbean West: Here, the road criss-crosses past beaches of black volcanic sand, lush rainforest and deep canyons shadowed by cloud-shrouded Mont Pelee, the devastating volcano that erupted in 1902. Gîtes #94 and #95 are good choices for those interested in exploring Martinique’s cuisine, an inventive blend of French and Creole culinary traditions drawn from a mix of African, Indian and Caribbean influences.
Further north, the TakTak Network, an association of farmers, fishermen, chefs and agri-tourism operators offer a wide selection of learning vacation option such as cooking lessons or swimming with sea turtles.
Le Francois and Atlantic East: The coastal community of Le François is best known for its island archipelagos, coral reefs and pools of clear, warm ocean waters perfect for swimming. In Le Robert, home to popular sailing regattas, several gîtes (such as #334) offer proximity to boating excursions to the environmentally-protected beaches of Ilet Madame. The rum museum at Saint-James Distillery is a must-see in the lively village of Sainte-Marie.
No matter which part of the island you choose, Martinique’s gîtes are ideal for those seeking independence and comfort. Not only are they are a wallet-friendly Caribbean alternative, but you’ll have the satisfaction of living like an island local—even if it’s only temporary.
Michele Peterson is a Toronto-based freelance writer.