On the fun and amiable streets of this port city are landmarks like the wonderful Bibliothèque Schœlcher, an art nouveau masterpiece built in Paris and shipped in pieces to Martinique.
Be tempted by the Creole markets with tropical flavours and fragrances, and find out all you need to know about white rum at a historic distillery.
Then venture out into the island and uncover vast canyons shrouded by tropical vegetation, banana and sugar cane plantations, bounteous botanical gardens and the type of beaches you thought only existed in the movies.
Lets explore the best things to do in Fort-de-France:
1. Jardin de Balata
For two decades from 1982, the horticulturalist Jean-Philippe Thoze curated an incomparable variety of rare tropical plants, including 300 different palm varieties.
They were planted on former farmland with the awesome Carbet Mountains close by.
You’ll be enchanted by the sudden splashes of vivid colour of flowers like hibiscus, begonias, exotic lilies, ginger flowers and heliconias, all jumping out against the garden’s lush greenery.
Birdlife such as hummingbirds are as pleased with the gardens as you and me, and only add to the colour and atmosphere.
2. Bibliothèque Schœlcher
In the late-19th century the abolitionist writer and politician Victor Schœlcher bequeathed his vast library of 10,000 books to the General Council of Martinique.
His condition was that they should be kept in a private library open to all, with the aim of educating former slaves.
Sadly a lot of these volumes were lost to a fire and cyclone before the library was completed, but today there are 300,000 at the library.
The building itself is the star, particularly when viewed in the gorgeous grounds outside: The design is a wild medley of the byzantine, Egyptian, western classical and art nouveau.
Almost everything you see was created in Paris, and then shipped to Martinique in pieces to be assembled.
3. St. Louis Cathedral
Natural disasters have always been routine on Martinique: One fact that proves this more than any is that the current St. Louis Cathedral is the seventh to have been erected at this location.
Which makes it all the more impressive is that the present one was completed as far back as 1895. It was designed by Henri Picq (who had also conceived the Bibliothèque Schœlcher), and the reason for its longevity is an iron frame and reinforced concrete.
Poke around inside for a few minutes to cast your eye over the wooden pulpit, 19 stained glass windows, organ and wrought-iron balustrade, all of which are original.
4. Pitons du Carbet
If you continue on the N3 past the Jardins de Balata you’ll soon come to the turn-off for the Parking du Plateau Boucher, from which you can begin a memorable walk along the Route de la Trace.
The Pitons du Carbet is a massif of five volcanic andesite peaks formed a million years ago and topping out at 1,200 metres.
These peaks are sharp and cloaked with dense tropical vegetation, and within minutes the path gets steep, so it’s only an undertaking for people with all the right gear and information.
But if you have that outward bound spirit you’ll be compensated by those dreamlike vistas from the summit of Piton Lacroix: Moody when the clouds draw in and boundless when the skies are clear.
5. Canyon de l’Alma
For those who want to crank the adrenaline up another notch in the Pitons du Carbet there’s a majestic canyon on the Blanche River.
How you take it on depends on the amount of time and nerve you have.
Many people come for an all-day canyoning adventure, abseiling down waterfalls, rappelling into ravines and jumping from rocks into natural pools.
But if that sounds a bit much you could visit the canyon on a 30-minute looping trail deep into tropical forest.
6. Musée Régional d’Histoire et d’Ethnographie
This museum is in a colonial villa that was built in 1887, making it one of the oldest in Fort-de-France.
It belonged to the director of the artillery and is enveloped in grounds with mango and mahogany trees.
The permanent exhibition is upstairs, where the museum has preserved the living room, dining room, bedroom and bathroom of a bourgeois home in Martinique at the end of the 19th century.
The ground floor puts on temporary exhibitions, with cases displaying ethnological items from the region, like stone carvings and ceramics.
There are also typical West Indian dresses, made with satin and madras cotton, known as douillettes.
The imposing fortress in Fort de France is one of the landmarks that you’ll have to see from the outside, as it is still in use by the French navy.
The only time you can get in for a guided tour, is during the national heritage days in September.
The fact that the stronghold is still a military base shows how well fortifications like this were built in the 1600s and 1700s.
It’s also still a good idea to come and see the walls from the outside.
The fortress is on a headland, affording fabulous views back to the rest of Fort de France with the shadowy mountains in the distance.
8. La Savane
At the base of the headland occupied by Fort Saint-Louis is a five-hectare park with an open green space edged by tamarinds, bishop’s hat and royal palms.
This has been a meeting place for centuries, and where Fort de France’s carnival goes down in February or March.
There are also faint fragments of a fortress that used to be here, and don’t be surprised to come across an iguana or two in the park! But most interesting is the vandalised headless statue of Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife.
She was born on Martinique, just around the bay in Les Trois-Îlets.
But she’s a divisive figure, understandably because the word is that she persuaded Napoleon to reinstate slavery, presumably to help her family’s business interests on Martinique.
9. Distillerie La Favorite
Tucked in the hills between Fort de France and Lamentin, is a white rum distillery within a large sugar cane plantation.
If there’s a time to visit, it’s during the busy season from January to June, when the cane is harvested by hand, crushed , fermented and then distilled in large copper stills.
After this the rum is aged in oak barrels, for as long as 30 years.
A visit here is quite a casual affair as there’s no organised tour, but you will be able to see the how the distillery functions and will even get to taste that smooth 30-year-old rum.
That could be enough incentive to come, as this can retail for several-hundred dollars a bottle.
10. Whale and Dolphin-Watching
Go south, around the Baie de Fort de France to Josephine’s home town of Les Trois-Îlets: This is the point of embarkation for dolphin and whale-watching cruises.
The peak season is roughly from December to March, and there’s a big directory of operators offering this experience here.
If you can you should try to make it luxurious, on a skippered catamaran with cocktails and even a creole lunch as you scan the waters for fins.
Bottlenose, Risso’s and Fraser’s dolphins will most likely be there to greet you at any time of year, but humpback whales are only around the Caribbean Sea in winter to mate.
11. Nearby Beaches
The closest beaches to Fort de France are 10 minutes west of the cathedral, where there’s a string of small, grey sandy coves.
The pick of these is Plage de Madiana, which has a broader patch of sand than most nearby, with a line of palms and smooth waters that are perfectly safe for swimmers.
If you want the most photogenic paradisiacal beaches then you’ll need to travel a little to the south to Les Anses d’Arlets and Le Diamant.
The latter is like a dream, with glowing white sands, sparkling turquoise waters and steep mountains coated with lush forest.
12. Habitation Clément
Touring a “habitation” is one of the classic holiday activities on Martinique.
These stately buildings are like Mexican haciendas, and belonged to banana plantations or rum distilleries.
Inside 20 minutes east of Fort-de-France is one of the oldest and best, with a history that begins in the 1700s.
This estate covers 160 hectares and has a lot to keep you engaged: There’s an 18th-century house in the creole style, made with timber from the wapa tree.
The interior is adorned with authentic fittings and furniture: George H. W. Bush and Mitterand met here in 1991. You can saunter beneath the palms in the botanical garden in the grounds, enter the old rum distillery that is now a museum and explore the old cellars where barrels of rum are still being stored.
13. Habitation Anse Latouche
A 30-minute drive up the coastal N2 with get you to an eerie remnant of Martinique’s early colonial past.
The Habitation Anse Latouche was a plantation for sugar cane, cassava and indigo that was wiped out by a volcanic eruption in 1902, and had been here since the start of the 1700s.
Traces of a mill, pottery, rum distillery, aqueduct, slaves’ quarters and other outbuildings are still visible.
These create a one-off setting for a small zoo that adapts to the ruins and has big cats, monkeys and tropical birds with dazzling plumage.
14. Sainte-Anne Peninsula
A day trip to the southernmost point of Martinque will drop you into the kind of locations reserved for brochures and postcards: White sands, cobalt waters and foreshores of palms and tropical forest abound at Saint-Anne.
Here, Les Salines may be the most beautiful beach on Martinique, arcing gently and with views down to St.
Despite its remote location there’s a fair few beach huts for lunch, as well as vendors selling homemade coconut ice cream.
You won’t regret sticking around in the evening for the amazing sunsets.
15. Creole Food
The local cuisine on Martinique draws from the sea as well as the exotic fruits and vegetables that grow on the island.
Cassava, chayote and breadfruit are all common ingredients, and the main preparation styles are curries (see chicken with coconut milk) and fritters, normally made with cod and served as an appetiser with a chilli sauce known as “chien”. For main courses try stuffed crab, lobster gratin, colombo pork and chicken creole with rice.
Martinique also has its own kind of blood sausage, known as boudin.
The classic beverage here is ti’ punch, composed of five parts white rum to one part sugar cane syrup, with a twist of lime.