With its first hotel in 15 years, new nonstop flights, and a surge in excellent restaurants, Martinique's capital, Fort-de-France, is about to become a thing.
I arrived in Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, on the Josephine—a weathered maritime shuttle named for Napoleon's first wife, who was born on the island. From the boat, Fort-de-France is clearly framed between history and modernity. On one end is the 17th-century Fort St.-Louis, the oldest building in town and one of the Caribbean's best-preserved forts. An active military base, it houses about 200 members of the French navy. After being closed for renovation, it will reopen to visitors this spring (Blvd. Chevalier Ste.-Marthe). On the other is Pointe Simon, a gleaming business district. It's a visible sign of the changes that have come to the island, which also include a modernized seafront, restaurants from young entrepreneurs, and electric cabs you can hail for exploring the city.
International brands have taken notice—there's been a significant increase in cruising to Martinique, and last December Norwegian Air launched seasonal flights from Boston, Baltimore, and New York City. The town's renaissance can be traced to its longtime mayor, the late poet Aimé Césaire, who oversaw Martinique's evolution from colony to French department in 1946. His office in the former city hall has been converted to a museum in his honor.
There's news on the hotel front, too: surrounded by multicolored houses, the renovated Fort Savane (doubles from $120) is a minimalist boutique property with black and white touches. And the first hotel to be built in the city in 15 years, the 94-room Simon Hotel (doubles from $120), is opening soon. There will be two restaurants led by Martinique native Marcel Ravin—whose Monaco restaurant, Blue Bay, has a Michelin star.
Ravin isn't the only creative chef around. At Yellow (5 Rue Victor Hugo; 596‐596‐75‐03‐59; entrées $18–$24), chef-owner Gabriel Manon cooks French and Creole specialties such as octopus stew and mango tarte Tatin. Yann Chalono has re-created the Brazilian atmosphere and tastes of his youth at Favela (7 Rue de la Libération; 596‐596‐79‐41‐72; entrées $14–$28), where every table is filled with caipirinhas and churrasco. And there's ambitious mixology going on, as well as sorbets made with local fruits, at Le Cloud (Rue Ernest Hemingway; 596‐696‐27‐56‐73), an industrial-looking rooftop bar.
Even the casual spots have upped their game. Bagel Café sells sandwiches like Le Phuket, made with spiced Thai beef. There's a gluten and lactose-free place by Fabrice Birba, called Rest'O Sain (entrées $10–$15). And the best gelato in the area is at Coco Bello (Village Creole), with flavors like tiramisu and velvety cocoa. "The town is waking up," says Mounia, a model and artist who has lived on the island for four decades and was famously one of Yves Saint Laurent's muses. "Young people are finally focusing on their hometown."