Martinique, the Caribbean’s top destination for shopping vacations

Boutiques, malls and markets beckon shoppers with the best of Paris and unique Creole treasures

Paris is a mainstay atop most every list of the world’s best destinations for shopping vacations, but in the Caribbean the island of Martinique stands above the rest. The best of Parisian fashion, jewelry, porcelain, perfumes and other goods is readily available here alongside unique Creole treasures born of centuries-old traditions. Diverse venues, encompassing everything from sprawling, ultra-modern malls, to chic boutiques and traditional farmer’s markets, only add to the dynamic experience of shopping in Martinique.

Marché Martinique

The highlight of any shopping adventure in Martinique is Le Grand Marché Couvert, or Covered Market, located in Fort-de-France. Designed by French architect Henri Picq and constructed in 1901 (later restored in 1989), this bustling bazaar is where locals have bought and sold essential herbs, spices, produce and other goods for generations. Rows of fragrant spices, including the local curry powder known as “colombo,” as well as medicinal herbs, exotic fruits like chayotes (locally known as “christophines”), and indigenous vegetables such as yams or “ignames” as they’re called in Martinique are everywhere. The colorful displays of edible offerings, combined with the multihued tropical flowers that are also sold at the market make for priceless photos. Yet, visitors who come to the market equipped, not to take pictures, but purchase souvenirs will find a variety of hand-crafted wooden bowls, traditional “bakoua” or straw hats and Creole dolls, as well as the many homemade confectionaries that constitute an age-old tradition in Martinique; “filibos” or “pilibos” are colorful candies made from cane sugar. Pistachio nougat is another island specialty as are crystallized fruits.

Just a few blocks from the Covered Market, Rue Victor Hugo appeals to those with a more refined shopping palate. The Caribbean’s most fashionable shopping thoroughfare, Rue Victor Hugo features the latest trends from Paris and the French Riviera lining the racks and shelves of legendary emporiums like Roger Albert. This long-established purveyor of classic French brands is a haven for such luxury items as Baccarat and Lalique crystal, Cartier perfumes and Lancôme cosmetics, which proudly tout the “Made in France” mark. Also on Rue Victor Hugo is La Cave à Vin, one of Martinique’s best restaurants and a prime spot for purchasing the finest French vintages. A variety of France’s wines can also be sampled at the many restaurants and cafes with al fresco seating mixed in among the modish street’s many boutiques.

Beyond Rue Victor Hugo, downtown Fort-de-France is teeming with shops selling haute couture and stylish resort wear, which can be found on side streets such as Rue Moreau de Jones, Rue Antoine Siger and Rue Lamartine. French department store Galeries Lafayette is one of the major department stores in Fort-de-France. On Rue Perrinon is fashion boutique Mounia, the eponymous owner of which was a former Yves St. Laurent model who has returned to her native Martinique to sell the designs of her famed former employer, as well as Christian Lacroix and other top French brands.

Two of the top spots for unique jewelry finds to accompany the finest fashions are Thomas de Rogatis and Albert Venutolo. Here visitors will find authentic bijoux creole jewelry – 18-karat gold baubles like the beaded “collier chou” or “darling’s necklace, popularized after the abolition of slavery and seen in many museums.

A modern, contemporary shopping experience, La Cour Perrinon, can be found in the heart of Fort-de-France, just a few blocks from Rue Victor Hugo. The air-conditioned mall has the feel of a mid-city shopping plaza, complete with a small grocery, food court, banks, bookstore, electronics shop and a wide range of other retail outlets.

Cour Perrinon, Martinique

The “Made in Martinique” label is as sought after on the island as is “Made in France.” Thus, a trip to the Centre des Métiers d’Art, or Center of Trade Arts, on Rue Ernest Deproge is as rewarding as any shopping adventure in Martinique. This artisanal market, like the craft market at La Savane, is full of local artwork, coral jewelry, wooden sculptures and handmade wicker and pottery. Another locally produced product that’s well worth taking home is the Madras fabric long used for customary folk costumes and still featured today in modern attire. Madras can be purchased for approximately US$15 to US$20 per meter at shops throughout the island.

For another modern shopping option, Martinique offers La Galleria. Located just north of downtown Fort-de- France, La Galleria houses more than 140 boutiques and shops, making it the largest shopping mall in the Lesser Antilles. Here, shoppers can browse in air-conditioned comfort with free WiFi covering 430,000+ square feet of retail space. Shops carry everything from the latest cameras and electronics, toys, jewelry and games, to furniture, books, fashion, shoes, sporting goods and more.

Centre commercial La Galleria

Across the Bay of Fort-de-France, in the seaside village of Trois-Ilets, some of the island’s best resort shopping can be found at Le Village Creole. This outdoor shopping plaza boasts a wide array of colorful boutiques artfully laid out in the style of a traditional Martinican Creole village. Fine fashion and exotic jewelry finds are on sale, while the lively bars and cafes stay open well into the night.

Also in Trois-Ilets, the Village de la Poterie is a great option for locally-produced handicrafts, artworks, liqueurs, chocolates, soaps and cosmetics. Visitors can also see the age-old Martinican pottery-making tradition in a small on-site workshop where water jugs, pots, vases and dishes are still made just as they were by the island’s original Amerindian inhabitants hundreds of years ago.

Another centuries’ old tradition in Martinique and still popular today is the island’s rhum. Whether white and light or amber and aromatic, Martinique’s rhum makes for a palatable memento of Martinique. Priced as low as US $8 per liter for light rum and US $10 per liter for dark (with aged rums being considerably higher), rhum can be had at specialty shops like La Case à Rhum on Rue de la Liberté or in supermarkets like Cora or HyperU.

Aside from being awarded the French label “appellation d’origine contrôlée,” previously reserved only for French cheeses and wines, Martinique’s rhums have also been hailed by an American of note: in the book A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway lauded Martinique’s rhum as “the perfect antidote to a rainy day.”

Most stores are open 8:30am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and on Saturday mornings.