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12/09/2014 08:21 EST | Updated 02/08/2015 05:59 EST

Visit Martinique - It's Magnifique!

Martinique is to France, as Hawaii is to the U.S. This island "outpost" is a district of France, and its approximately 400,000 inhabitants live under French law. Proud to have been anointed the safest Caribbean island in recent years, the island has a distinctive French flair which is uniquely blended with the island culture.

Flickr/Luc Viatour

"Martinique is not for tourists; it is for travellers." says our guide as we make our way through the winding, hilly roads of this French/Caribbean island.

Martinique is to France, as Hawaii is to the U.S. This island "outpost" is a district of France, and its approximately 400,000 inhabitants live under French law. Proud to have been anointed the safest Caribbean island in recent years, the island has a distinctive French flair which is uniquely blended with the island culture.

Peak travel times from Canada are December to March. Flights are direct from Montreal (Air Canada), or through Miami (American Airlines). The island is also busy during July and August, when French families take their summer break holidays. French is the official language of Martinique, with Creole as the unofficial, more casual language.

Most cruise lines visit Martinique, with Disney the latest to announce their Wonder ship will begin stopping there early 2016. Entering Martinique is a breeze compared to many Caribbean islands. Passport control is quick and easy and there is only one luggage belt. Upon leaving the airport, you can either rent a car, or take a "Collective Taxi." Many people rent as cars drive on the North American side, but due to the extremely hilly roads, it is recommended that you hire an automatic transmission car.

There is surprisingly only one resort chain in Martinique; Club Med, who established their first club here in the 1969. Throughout the island there are locally owned, smaller hotels and boutique resorts, all of whom have their own particular charm.

An additional option in Martinique is the over 500 units available for rental through Airbnb. There are many vacation home options available on the island.

There are fantastic natural and historic sites for families to visit, including the Emerald Estates, which is a natural regional park, opened just five years ago, as a "Green educational tool." Its goal is to preserve and promote the natural and cultural history and conservation of the island.

Fort St. Louis is a working military fort located in Fort de France. Opened to the public only since July 2014, guided tours take visitors through the working fort which was built originally in the 1600s, but added to in the 1800s. A special feature of the fort is the hundreds of iguanas, who originated there due to a zoo which was built in the fort in the 1950s. The zoo was dismantled, but 30 of the iguanas escaped and have continued to add to their numbers.

No trip to Martinique is complete without trying the local specialties. A spice mixture called "Colombo" is a blend of seven different spices and has the taste of a rich, milder curry. It is used predominantly on chicken, but you can also find it on shellfish and other dishes. Bite-sized fried cod fritters are a typical appetizer before a meal, and octopus is served frequently, either grilled or deep fried. Cod came to Martinique originally from Canada, who was trading it for sugar cane. Thanks to the French influence, desserts are chocolate, whipped cream pastries and other confectionaries. Bananas au gratin (banana served with melted Swiss cheese) is tasty alternative.

There are 11 rum distilleries on the island, and of particular note is the Clement, where guests can stroll through displays, homesteads and working machinery, as well as inhale the scent of thousands of barrels aging rum, soaking in a big part of Martinique's history. Martinique, c'est magnifique.

This article originally ran in the Metro News.

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