Of all the French West Indies, Martinique is the most French, beginning with its capital, Fort-de-France. It is truly France in the Tropics, and we're talking Gauloise cigarettes and gendarmes directing traffic. You can even expect French brusqueness on occasion.
Martinique is one of the Caribbean's most beautiful islands, with its white-sandy beaches and lush rainforests. It is part of the Lesser Antilles and lies in the semitropical zone; the western shore faces the Caribbean, and its eastern shore fronts the more turbulent Atlantic. The island is only 1,088 sq. km (424 sq. miles) -- 81km (50 miles) at its longest point and 34km (21 miles) at its widest.
The terrain is mountainous, especially in the rainforested northern part, where the volcano Montagne Pelée rises to a height of 1,397m (4,582 ft.). In the center of the island, the mountains are smaller, with Carbet Peak reaching a 1,188m (3,897-ft.) summit. The high hills rising among the peaks or mountains are called mornes. The southern part of Martinique has big hills that reach peaks of 350m (1,148 ft.) at Vauclin and 420m (1,378 ft.) at Diamant. The irregular coastline of the island has five bays, dozens of coves, and miles of sandy beaches. Almost a third of the island's year-round population of 360,000 lives in the capital and largest city, Fort-de-France.
The climate is relatively mild, with the average temperature in the 75°F to 85°F (24°C-29°C) range. At higher elevations, it's considerably cooler. The island is cooled by a wind the French called alizé, and rains are frequent but don't last very long. Late August to November is the rainy season. April to September are the hottest months.
The early Carib peoples, who gave Columbus such a hostile reception, called Martinique the "island of flowers," and it has remained so. The vegetation includes hibiscus, poinsettias, bougainvillea, coconut palms, and mango trees. Almost any fruit can sprout from Martinique's soil, including pineapples, avocados, bananas, papayas, and custard apples.
Bird-watchers are often pleased at the number of hummingbirds, and visitors can also see mountain whistlers, blackbirds, and mongooses. Multicolored butterflies flit about, and after sunset, there's a concert of grasshoppers, frogs, and crickets.