Martinique Main

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Wish you could make a short hop to France - and get a tan at the same time? Think Martinique.

For more than two centuries, this beautiful isle has been the cultural hub of the French West Indies. During that time it has survived wars (with the British), the French Revolution, a cataclysmic volcanic explosion (which erased its showcase city, St. Pierre, the stylish "Paris of the Caribbean," from the landscape) and gave birth to an empress (Napoleon's Josephine).

Today this sophisticated tropical island is a French oasis, with more than a hundred restaurants in the capital of Fort de France, whose broad bay has beckoned yachtsmen for generations. The sailor who steps ashore at marinas around the island can trade tiller for tees at a lovely championship 18-hole course at Trois Ilets or hike rain forest trails (including one that leads to the coast at Grand Rivière). The best beaches (palm-lined Les Salines tops the list) dot the southern coast and attract crowds only on weekends, and nearly every beachfront hotel has windsurfing gear.

You'll need to brush up on your French for those menus, but the French-Creole entertainment in bars and clubs needs no translation. And you have to love an island where you can tour a dozen or so rum distilleries....