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Road tripping, island style: Route de la Trace in Martinique

Our island expert, Frantz François-Haugrin, is back to tell us more about his beautiful island home, Martinique. Today he’s leading us on an exploration through the Island of Flowers' interior.

In Martinique, if there’s a tour not to be missed for anything it’s “la Route de la Trace” (N3), in the heart of the island. It lasts about two hours on a road 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) long that winds through authentic rainforest and the mountainous area of the Pitons Carbet. This amazing journey begins in Martinique’s capital city Fort-de-France, on the west coast, and leads to the town of Morne-Rouge, the starting point for the ascent of the famous volcano Mount-Pelée.

Island Runaways

(On the road in Martinique. Photo by Frantz François-Haugrin.)

“La Route de la Trace” was built on a path opened by the Jesuits in the seventeenth century, and takes its name from the presence of many trails close to it, the most famous of which is "The Trace of the Jesuits." Over the first kilometers or miles, you will drive past the Balata neighborhood and church of the Sacred Heart, which might look strangely familiar. That is because the Sacred Heart or Sacre Cœur is a replica of the famous Sacre Cœur basilica in Paris in Montmarte.

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(Martinique's Sacre Coeur Basilica. Photo by Frantz François-Haugrin.)

Your eyes will immediately be struck by the intensity and variety of the many shades of green in the dense, lush vegetation. Another captivating sight is the diversity of plants and flowers, all characteristic of tropical mountain wetlands (for example, giant trees, lianas, ferns, bamboo, hibiscus, bougainvillea, heliconia, and anthuriums), that you can see up close at the “Jardin de Balata,” Martinique’s beloved botanical garden.

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(Tropical Heliconia. Photo by Frantz François-Haugrin.)

After you drive past La Doni forest and come to the Colson area, the presence of the first giant ferns will signal the relative mildness of the climate. The number of houses thins out dramatically as you pass by places with poetic names like La Médaille (the medal) and Alma (soul). It’s worth stopping in Alma to take a dip in the crystal clear water of the river of the same name.

Martinique vacation

(Clear, cool water. Photo by Frantz François-Haugrin.)

Sometimes the road crosses deep ditches by small narrow bridges, often on a corner, a sight which will remind you of a typical mountain path. On Plateau Boucher, the view of the majestic Pitons Carbet is striking. This is the starting point for a hike to the summit that is frequently covered in fog. In the morning if the conditions are right, a fine mist descends over the treetops and even up the road, which creates a serene, quiet atmosphere.

Martinique Route de la Trace

(Mountain peaks covered in fog. Photo by Frantz François-Haugrin.)

At one junction, you can reach the town of Saint-Denis Fund by heading west and visit the waterfall called "Saut Gendarme.” Here visitors can do canyoning or view the volcano observatory Morne-des-Cadets; or, instead by going east you can visit the town of Gros-Morne and the Atlantic coast. But the Route de la Trace itself continues to Morne-Rouge by way of a small, stone-floored tunnel, and onto the Domaine d'Emeraude (the Estripault Gardens) and the Chanflor neighborhood.

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(Tunnel surrounded by tropical greenery. Photo by Frantz François-Haugrin.)

At Morne-Rouge continue your adventure with a visit to the Volcano House (Maison de Volcan), before returning to St. Pierre, the former capital of Martinique. This lovely West Indian town was completely destroyed in May 1902 by the eruption of Mt. Pelée, putting an end to a place that had been known as “the Paris of the Antilles.” A tour of the city’s ruins is one Martinique activity that definitely should not be missed!

Caribbean flowers

(A flower from the Island of Flowers. Photo by Frantz François-Haugrin.)

Martinique may be famous for its exotic beaches, but I hope if you visit my island, you will drive the Route de la Trace to appreciate another, very special kind of tropical beauty.

Our thanks go to Island Expert Frantz for taking us along on your trip! We would love to see the Route de la Trace for ourselves someday on one of our favorite Caribbean islands.

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