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Trois Ilets, Martinique

Martinique is one of the most colorful and interesting islands in the Caribbean. Trois Ilets lies just across the Bay of Fort-de-France from the capital, on the peninsular arrondissement of Le Marin. Perhaps the most famous attraction in this area is the colonial plantation called La Pagerie, the birthplace and childhood home of Josephine Beauharnais, the Martinique-born woman who became the second wife and Empress to Napoleon Bonaparte. The stately plantation house and its manicured grounds are now a museum, furnished with period pieces and illustrating the privileged lifestyle of the master class during the French colonial slave period. Nearby, a gentleman named Gilbert La Rose has painstakingly recreated the complementary lifestyle of the slaves who supported this luxury, with a garden and museum called La Savane des Esclaves that includes thatched dwellings, artifacts and plantings of the era. Taken together, they serve to educate visitors about the early days of the island’s European occupation. Fort-de-France is a bustling seaport and market town, with handsome reminders of its colonial past including the ornate Schoelcher Library imported stone-by-stone from France. Further afield, the previous capital of St. Pierre was unexpectedly inundated with lava and ash from a disastrous eruption of looming Mt. Pelée in 1902, leaving a sort of latter-day Pompeii for visitors to see. The graceful cathedral and lush botanical gardens of Balata provide some relief, in the form of luxuriant tropical flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds.