Travel to Martinique, West Indies with Alison Stuart

TAKE ME TO MARTINIQUE

Alison Stuart 

Boats at the marina


Thank you, Nasreen, for inviting me to talk about one of my favourite topics… travel!

I have led a peripatetic life – having been born in Kenya and lived in Singapore (as well as my settled life here in Australia). I have hiked in Nepal, visited the ruins of Angkor Wat, reugee camps on the Thai-Burma border, Japanese temples, gorgeous Pacific islands such as Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia and ridden on a float in Mardi Gras Parade in New Orleans. So how do I pick one single ‘exotic’ experience to write about? 

Island interior

If you are reading this from Europe or America, where you can hop on a direct flight, Martinique (a small island in the West Indies) probably does not sound that exotic, but believe me, getting there from Australia is no mean feat!

Firstly, WHY was I, an Australian, going to Martinique, somewhere so far off our beaten path? 

Because I want to write a book (of course!) about my wicked great+ grandmother Helene de Mestre. The wife of a French Army officer, she was widowed when an English cannon ball literally took off her husband’s head at the siege of Fort de France in 1794. Left a widow with 2 children, within a year she married an English Army Officer. When he was presumed killed at the storming of St. Lucia, she married a third time – a French/American trader – and moved to Philadelphia. Unfortunately husband #2 was still very much alive… so her third marriage was bigamous. To cut a very long story short, her son by the French army officer, took to his step father’s trading business and settled in Port Jackson in 1818, having seen an opportunity for tea trading. He married the daughter of a convict… but I digress…

The gaol cell at St. Pierre where the only survivor was found
Headless Josephine on La Sauvane Fort de France

I was going to Martinique in search of the spirit of Helene de Mestre and maybe, just maybe, a trace of her history. 

GETTING THERE (AND BACK)

This was not easy! We approached via New Orleans (where we rode in a float in a Mardi Gras Parade).  Three flights from New Orleans to Fort de France (New Orleans to Miami, Miami to Puerto Rico and PR to FDF in Martinique).  BEST TIP:  Take only carry on luggage… we very nearly missed the connection coming back because you must clear American customs and immigration in Puerto Rico!

 

WHERE TO STAY

L’Habitation Clement

We spent a couple of nights in Fort de France itself (including Valentine’s Day). Personally, I like to stay centrally in older style hotels with character so I booked Hotel L’Imperatrice which could not have been more central – directly opposite the headless statue of the Empress Josephine in the park (La Savane).

Ruins of the sugar mill at the Pagerie Museum

Another interesting fact about Helene was her reputed friendship with the Empress Josephine Bonaparte. This may well date from her time in Martinique where the Tascher (Josephine was born Rose Tascher) family were sugar plantation owners. 

The only drawback to this location – it became extremely noisy as the locals came out to play at all hours of the night! (And we were warned it was unsafe to venture out at night).

If atmospheric hotels opposite headless statues in notorious parks is not your thing, the south of the island is like a mini south of France with expensive yacht marinas and resorts.

From Fort de France we hired a car and decamped to a small hotel on the east coast of the island (L’Hotel Fregate Blue), an unassuming, homely place with a small pool and great food.  No beaches on this side of the island.

WHAT TO SEE

Les Trois Ilets

I was there on a mission but sadly the old forts are not open to the public as they are still used by the French military so seeing the site where my grandfather lost his head or better still finding his grave was out of the question (he was probably dumped in a mass grave anyway) but we enjoyed exploring the old, colonial town of Fort de France and viewed Fort Louis from all angles.

We took a ferry across the harbour to Les Trois Ilets where Josephine’s family plantation still stands.  The house was destroyed by a hurricane in Josephine’s lifetime (the family lived above the sugar mill – the ruins of which can still be seen). There is a small Napoleon/Josephine museum on the estate – The Pagerie Museum.

Driving in Martinique requires nerves of steel. The drivers are shocking! Once we picked up the car we visited a fascinating former sugar plantation (L’Habitation Clement). The old house was open to the public (you can see photos on my Pinterest Board click HERE) and rum tasting was available. 

Chilling at Le Fregate Bleu

The next day we undertook a small circumnavigation north to the town of St. Pierre, once known as the Paris of the Antilles, it boasted an opera house and a lively social scene. All of this was destroyed in 1902 in the eruption of Mt. Pelee. 28,000 people died (the only survivor, a prisoner in the local gaol!). The old town is largely excavated and the ruins are rather Pompeii like. Driving back through the centre of the island, gave us our first real sense of the tropical nature of the island. We enjoyed a lovely stop at a garden (Jardin de Balata). 

WOULD I GO BACK?

I had a specific reason for going (even if that story still has to be written!) but if you are after tropical islands with a French ambience, frankly I would go to Noumea or Vanuatu any day.

Driving was hair raising and we found things operated on ‘island time’ – restaurants that didn’t open were particularly annoying. Not much English is spoken either (it is still very much a Department of France!). Fortunately I speak enough French to get around.

The Opera House at St. Pierre

I went for the history but even that was hard to find (recorded histories are scanty and so much has been destroyed by war and nature). The story of the rum trade (and its links with our recent travels in Louisiana), the connection with Josephine and the experience of St. Pierre brought it alive for me, but if you are wanting the West Indies tropical beach experience I am not sure Martinique is the place to go. (We visited one beach and it was horrible!).

Mind you I haven’t been to any other islands in the West Indies so perhaps you might like to share your thoughts on other islands to visit?

Alison outside Fort Louis (where my grandfather lost his head)

ABOUT ALISON STUART

Award winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion for history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories.  Her disposition for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles (AND tropical islands).

 

Connect with Alison at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or subscribe to her newsletter for exclusive free reads, contests and more…

 

To celebrate the release of her latest book, AND THEN MINE ENEMY,  Alison is giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card. Enter here:

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Or link:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0d923dde9/?

And Then Mine Enemy: A Romantic Saga of the English Civil War (Feathers in the Wind Book 1)

And Then Mine Enemy

 

A family ripped apart in a country divided by war . . .

England 1642: Hardened mercenary, Adam Coulter returns to England sickened by violence, seeking only peace, but he finds England on the brink of civil war. He has seen first hand what that will mean for every man, woman and child and wants no part of it.

King or Parliament? Neutrality is not an option and Adam can only be true to his conscience, not the dictates of his family.
Having escaped a violent marriage, Perdita Gray has found much needed sanctuary and the love of a good man, but her fragile world begins to crumble as Adam Coulter bursts into her life. This stranger brings not only the reality of war to her doorstep but reignites an old family feud, threatening everything and everyone she holds dear.

As the war and the family tensions collide around them, Adam and Perdita are torn between old loyalties and a growing attraction that must be resisted.

 

Buy on:

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77 thoughts on “Travel to Martinique, West Indies with Alison Stuart

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    Wow! What an interesting trip! Thank you so much for sharing with us Alison! Congratulatons on the release of your book, And Then Mine Enemy!

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      I didn’t mention we were both suffering from the flu!
      As for the wicked Helene… that is such a big story but it will cone one day!
      Thanks got stopping by!

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        Oh, no, the flu? Hard to imagine suffering from flu in a different environment from home.

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    Dear friend!

    Great reading about your book and your trip Alison.
    Wishing you a very beautiful safe and healthy new year !

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      And very best wishes to you too, Helen!

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      Apologies, Shabana, I got my replies out of sync. Thank you so much for dropping by and all the best for the new year!

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      Thank you for coming by and reading all about Alison’s adventure and about her book!

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    WOW Alison what a trip that would have been love the photos and well you will always have that memory and what a story about your Great + Grandmother I hope you get it written one day 🙂

    Loved the new story woohoo

    Have Fun
    Helen

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    Hi Nas and Alison – what an interesting read … and I can quite see you’d be surprised at what you couldn’t find or do … still you certainly experienced Martinique. I’m sure you’ve got lots of snippets that can be woven into your stories … or add to your family;s exploits all those years ago. Your great+ grandmother obviously wasn’t terribly loyal or patient …

    Your book joins us in an interesting period … 1640s in England … and sounds an interesting historical read ..

    Cheers and Happy New Year to you both – Hilary

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      Thanks for dropping in Hilary.
      There has been a lot of work on the family story (and sadly some epic legends debunked!) but nothing beat the thrill of finding husband #2 alive and well 20 years after he was said to have died!
      Happy New Year to you.
      A

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      Yes, Hilary. Alison’s book, And Then Mine Enemy is interesting and intriguing. Thank you for coming by and reading all about Alison’s adventure and about her book!

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    Happy New Year Nasreen … I hope this year i’s a wonderful and joyful one xox

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    I’m just calling in to wish Nasreen and all a very Happy New Year. I love looking through the photographs on this blog. The blue skies are very appealing especially as it is raining hard at the moment.
    Alison I loved your post, good luck with your book. Barbara

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      Hi Barbara… thanks for dropping by. No doubt it was a lovely place (particularly away from the tourist spots).
      Happy New Year to you.
      A

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      Happy New Year Barbara! Thank you for coming by and reading all about Alison’s adventure and about her book!

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    Intriguing and interesting. What wonderful experiences. May the new year bring more to you both!

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      It certainly seems so! Thank you for coming by and reading all about Alison’s adventure and about her book!

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    That is quite a fascinating family history! What a neat reason, and connection, to the island. I can imagine travel there was a little interesting, but I do hope you get a chance to write the story 🙂

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      So glad you enjoyed it! There are some great stories on this blog.
      Thank you for dropping by and all the best for 2017

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      Thank you for coming by and reading all about Alison’s adventure and about her book!

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    Thank you for sharing your trip to Martinique. We considered visiting it a few years ago but came to the conclusion that it didn’t seem like an overly friendly island especially for Americans. We have Guadeloupe on our list as it has a similar French culture.

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      Wow! I also have visit to Guadeloupe on my bucket list. Thank you for coming by and reading all about Alison’s adventure and about her book!

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    Looks like such an interesting place to visit. Thanks for sharing about your trip. I enjoyed looking at the photos!

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      Thanks for dropping by, Sherry. Choosing the photos was the hard part! Places like St. Pierre (which really is like Pompeii!) were fascinating.
      Have a wonderful new year.

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      Thanks Sherry for coming by and reading about Alison’s adventure!

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    Haven’t been to Martinique, but by golly, it sounds great! Thanks Alison.

    Happy New Year, ladies!!

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    The book at the top of my TBR pile at the moment is The Alchemist by Paul Coelho.

    Also, thank you so much for sharing about your amazing trip! I love the looks of the place, and it sounds like there is plenty to see and do as well. Just beautiful <3

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      You and me both Kelly! Thank you for coming by and reading all about Alison’s adventure and about her book!

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      You never know… Kelly. I never thought I’d get there but all the stars aligned for me.
      Have a wonderful new year.

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    Oh, lovely. I should travel more. Thank you for this post. I’m glad to have “met” you and found this. Be well!

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      Thank you for coming by and reading all about Alison’s adventure and about her book!

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      A pleasure to meet you too, Darla (love your profile pic).
      I hope your new year brings you some travel opportunities!

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      Hi Gingi… I can’t imagine not travelling but we Aussies have to be travellers! A big trip to the US and Canada this year.

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      Hiya Jemi!

      It is so fascinating to read about Alison’s travel and adventure!

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      The mad drivers certainly put a strain on the marriage but there was no other way to get around. Fun memories.
      Have a wonderful year!

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      Thank you Tamara for coming by and reading about Alison’s adventures!

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      My pleasure, Tamara. I really must get around to writing the family saga but it is a bit daunting!
      Thanks for popping in.

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    Love, love, love the concept for that book, and what an amazing trip! I tell you what, if I could make it happen, I’d be traveling like that pretty much every month of the year.

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      Hi Crystal… thank you for the feedback. I love my stories with a good historical grounding plus a HEA!
      I know I have been very lucky with my travel and a few places still to go. I am ‘retiring’ this year so we will have more time!
      Have a great year.

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    Sounds like an interesting book. Loved hearing about the history that got Alison to go on her adventure. Great inspiration! Martinique looks like a wonderful place to visit. Thanks for sharing and for the chance to win a gift card.

    At the top of my TBR list- Orphan Train. I have had it on my list for a year and just borrowed it from someone, so I will be reading it this week.

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      Yes, it is an interesting book Jess. And Orphan Train sounds intriguing, I need to check it out. Thanks for coming along and reading all about Alison’s adventure!

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