Martinique is an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea and an overseas department of France. The second largest holding in the French West Indian empire, Martinique's 1100-square-kilometre terrain is topped by a series of mountain peaks. The most imposing, the dormant Mont-Pelée volcano, wreaked devastation on St-Pierre in 1902; wandering around the fabled city's charred ruins nowadays is an eerie experience. Botanical gardens teeming with indigenous flora evoke Martinique's original designation as Madinina (island of flowers), while the stupendous Habitation Clément distillery hosts a fascinating anti-Columbus exhibit. In between these sights, villages like isolated Grand' Rivière and Atlantic-facing Tartane steadfastly retain the customs emblematic of traditional Caribbean fishing villages; the latter, on the Presqu'Île Caravelle, is also the island's most laid-back destination, a wonderfully underdeveloped stretch that boasts some of Martinique's finest beaches.

However, aggressive development elsewhere has resulted in resort towns complete with artificial beaches and pastel-hued cement hotels more appropriate to a Florida landscape than the French West Indies. That said, Martinique's resort emphasis makes the island ideal for all-inclusive travel, and most resorts organise optional day trips to the spots that give an idea of what brought the developers here in the first place.

Most package tours head straight to Martinique's southern edges, where the island's spectacular Les Salines beach is located, along with a host of smaller white- sand stretches, and hamlets like Ste-Anne and Diamant that have escaped the build-up elsewhere. The island's beaches get increasingly black as you head north, culminating in the breathtaking Anse Couleuvre at the island's furthest reaches - the place to go for total isolation.

Map of Martinique