Shopping in Martinique

by Far-Sighted Field Notes
Last updated:: 10:00 PM ET, Tue August 11, 2015

Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

Most Caribbean islands focus on run-of-the mill, duty free shopping to lure shopaholics away from the beaches, but like everything else about the "Isle of Flowers," Martinique is different.

Sure, you can pick up the usual perfumes and watches, but along the stylish lanes of Fort-de-France's Rue Victor Hugo, you'll also find the latest in Parisian and French Riviera fashion. Luxury labels like Vuitton and La Chamade decorate the cobblestone streets along with palm trees. If you're more into trendy boutiques, check out Mounia, the namesake shop of the legendary St. Laurent model.

There's always a bustling, open-air market where locals buy fresh produce, crafts, clothes and anything else considered a staple, at the heart of any Caribbean island. In Martinique, the island's shopping mecca, Le Grand Marche' Couvert ("covered market"), offers a glimpse of local shopping trends. Designed by a French architect in 1901, it has served generations of locals.

I love shopping in local markets because it's the best way to sample cultural hallmarks. In Martinique, spices are essential. The lineup of spices shown above includes a heaping pile of columbo, the curry powder that flavors many Martinican dishes.

The madras cloth that represents the island's cultural tradition fills many stalls. The boldly colored cloth appears in basket linings, on dolls, purses and on an array of clothes. I spent a long time looking through all the dresses and shirts until I found a turquoise madras sundress that I quickly snapped up.

Jewelry also plays a significant role in Martinican culture. Rows of traditional necklaces and bracelets made from seeds and stones claim a prime spot in the market, along with a sign that welcomes visitors in French, English, Spanish and Creole.

Of course, you can actually buy fruit and vegetables at the market as well. Seasonal tropical fruits like genips and tamarinds and vegetables like christophenes dot the stalls with pretty colors and scents.

Another shopping highlight is Le Village Creole, in Trois- Illets, the hometown of Josephine Bonaparte. It's smaller than the covered market but brimming with handmade clothes, crafts and food. The shops are arranged like a traditional Creole village and you can browse through shoe boutiques, art galleries and cafes. I picked up tamarind jelly and madras headbands at great prices although I wouldn't attempt haggling unless you're fluent in French.

Strolling through the islands markets, shops and malls is really a singular experience. Shopping in Martinique supplies all the sophistication of a big city with lots of Caribbean charm.

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