Island Secrets


Fantasy Island: St. Vincent 
St. Vincent and the Grenadines are a string of breathtaking cays and a larger forested island in the southeastern Caribbean. Because direct flights from the U.S. to the paradise of St. Vincent are limited, it’s best accessed via island hopping [see “If You Go”]. Once you arrive, enjoy sailing and your pick of classic Caribbean beaches. You’ll soon understand why scenes from Disney’s newest slew of Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed here. 
 
About 18 miles long and 11 miles wide, St. Vincent is a fairly big island — residents of the Grenadines refer to it as “The Mainland.” La Soufrière, an active volcano that last erupted in 1979, dominates the land. As a result, St. Vincent mainland boasts both black-sand and white-sand beaches, most in lush, jungle-like coves. The highway along the windward coast winds above these beaches, past stands of palms, sugar cane, and bananas, which all thrive in the rich soil. Along your hike, listen for the beast itself, La Soufrière, which still occasionally rumbles.
 
Rainforest hiking trails carve through the island’s lush interior. Try a short, scenic hike to see cascading Dark View Falls along the west coast, as well as forest hikes to the island’s interior, such as the Vermont Nature Trail and the Cumberland Nature Trail (both about two miles long and located on the island’s south side). Maps are available from the island’s tourist board. 
 
Kingstown, a bustling throwback to colonial times with cobblestone streets and stone architecture, is also worth exploring. Enjoy a breezy breakfast at Cobblestone Rooftop Bar & Restaurant. Views from this waterfront restaurant are almost as delicious as the food, and the building, an original Georgian once used as a sugar warehouse, reflects the island’s agricultural ties. The Sapodilla Room overlooks the capital city and serves up fine locally sourced fare. The menu always includes a catch of the day, plenty of local produce, and meat and poultry prepared Creole-style. It’s a great place to end the day.
 
A Taste of France: Martinique
This island in the Lesser Antilles is an overseas region of France. French is spoken here; the currency is the euro. Culturally, though, the island is a wonderful mix of French, French Creole, and laid-back Caribbean style. Expect French infrastructure, zouk (fast and rhythmic music originating here), Creole food, and deep cultural ties to the continent — it is, for one, the birthplace of Napoleon’s first wife, Empress Josephine. The city of Saint-Pierre, destroyed by a volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée, was often referred to as the “Paris of the Lesser Antilles.” Following French custom, many businesses close at midday to allow a leisurely lunch, then reopen later in the afternoon.

For a taste of the Creole influence, try any of the family-style restaurants all over the island, such as Chez Malou. A fixed-price menu often includes green salad with cod beignets, fricassee chicken with red beans and rice, and a banana rum flambé.
 
Whether you decide to visit the white coral sands in the south or the dark volcanic sands in the north, all beaches on Martinique are public. Of course, the best-manicured, cleanest beaches are found at high-end resorts. But if you’re looking for something more rustic, head to Les Salines Beach, a mile-long golden crescent of sand on the island’s southeast tip. Here you’ll encounter some locals and sunbathers à la française (topless), but the beach rarely feels crowded. On the north coast, drive to Anse Couleuvre off the northwest slope of Mount Pelée, where you’ll find a quiet cove surrounded by dense jungle vegetation and towering rocky cliffs.
 
Craving adventure? Try canyoning, a sport that takes you down the middle of a river gorge by means of hiking, wading, climbing, jumping, and rappelling. Experienced guides at Le Bureau de la Randonnée provide the expertise and equipment.
 
Although there’s hiking and water sports aplenty, Martinique distinguishes itself with historical monuments such as the Schoelcher Library, designed by a contemporary of Gustave Eiffel, and Le Sacre Coeur de Balata, a 1924 reproduction of Paris’s Montmartre Basilica.
 
For an authentic dinner, try La Villa Créole, an intimate colonial-style eatery with outdoor seating, local art, and live music. Indulge in a late-night snack back in Pointe du Bout at Havana Café, a tiny sidewalk cafe that serves savory crepes until midnight.
 
No matter how you choose to explore these islands, keep one thing in mind: The people who know the land best are the locals. Strike up a conversation and you might just discover more hidden Caribbean secrets. 
 
GINA DEMILLO WAGNER writes about travel for national magazines from her Phoenix home.
For More Information
Call your local AAA Travel professional at 1-888-870-9392 or visit AAA.com.
St. Vincent
St. Vincent
Schoelcher Library
Schoelcher Library
If You Go
Set Your Agenda: Begin on St. Lucia, accessible via several U.S. airlines (direct flights are usually offered from Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and New York). From there, island-hop via plane or ferry to St. Vincent and Martinique. Return to St. Lucia for a little beach time before heading home. Be sure to bring your passport, as new travel rules require it throughout the Caribbean (except for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).
 
Island Hopping: Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) offers flights between St. Lucia and St. Vincent, and St. Lucia and Martinique (but not between St. Vincent and Martinique).
L’Express des Iles runs a high-speed catamaran service between Martinique and St. Lucia, with daily services from Martinique’s capital Fort de France to St. Lucia. The journey takes 80 minutes.
 
Weather: The Caribbean is primarily seen as a winter sunshine destination. High season runs from mid-December to late April, with a price spike around Christmas and New Year (when most hotels impose a minimum stay and rates can double). Most of this region falls within the tropics and average temperatures hover happily between 75 and 85 degrees. 
 
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