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The Caribbean: Martinique

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Hot Property: The West Indies' New Star
While Martinique has long been popular with French travelers (they make up 80 percent of tourists there), North Americans have set their sights on St. Barths, the smaller and more vivacious West Indian island. But to overlook Martinique would be a mistake, especially with the opening of Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa. The 50 suites, in Creole-style pavilions scattered through a landscaped park, have teak furniture, tile floors, and plasma TVs; several have outdoor showers and plunge pools. The only problem is a runty beach with shallow waters (there are better ones nearby). But there's a spa, a big pool, tennis courts, and one of the best restaurants on the island, Le Bélem, with a French chef who works with fresh local produce. Rooms, $550-$1,225. La Prairie, Le François; 596-596-54-80-80;

At the Source: The World's Best Rum
Distilled from fresh sugarcane juice, Martinique rum is unique in the Caribbean (the other rums are made from molasses). It's also the first rum to be awarded France's prestigious A.O.C. label. Sample some and pick up a few bottles at Martinique's three best distilleries, in the northern part of the island: Depaz is on the picturesque slopes of the volcano Mont Pelée, (Plantation de la Montagne Pelée in St-Pierre; 596-596-78-13-14). JM Crassous de Médeuil has a gorgeous spot on a cliff overlooking the sea (Fonds-Préville, Basse-Pointe, 596-596-78-92-55). And Saint James is in an old Creole house, which also has an excellent museum (Le Bourg, Ste-Maire, 596-596-69-30-02). According to its curator, Guy-Claude Germain, "rum tells the whole history of Martinique."

Hot Table: Just the Right Mix
On the edge of town, in a handsome old mansion with mahogany floors and a terrace, La Belle Epoque is the perfect place to sample Martinique cuisine, a fascinating hybrid of African, Indian, Chinese, and French cooking. The owner, Martine Diacono, is well-known as a champion of local cooking, her latest triumph being a prestigious Trophée International du Tourism, Hôtellerie et Gastronomie, awarded this year in Madrid. The menu varies but includes excellent local dishes like Ouassous, plump crayfish flambéed in vintage Martinique rum and served in a superb Creole sauce, and a flambéed pineapple for dessert. There's also a fine wine list. Dinner, $120. $ Route de Didier, Fort-de-France; 596-596-64-41-19.

$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.


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