Given Martinique’s popularity with the yachting crowds, it is naturally the chosen location for a number of boating events. One outstanding and stunningly beautiful boat race which takes place around the island features wooden canoe-like vessels called ‘yawls’, which sail around the island. This regatta, known as ‘yoles rondes’, features an exciting course with seven stopovers, giving almost the entire country an opportunity to turn out in support of the representatives from their area as they board their fascinating vessels each morning of the race. The sounds of music and celebration coming from onshore accompany the yawls as they make their way around the island, and locals join in the festivities to welcome the winner which carry on long after the last boat docks.
Martinique events emanate a Caribbean flavour with a strong influence of French and Créole culture, offering a unique vibe and island feel. Many of its festivals hark back to its fascinating history and are attended by thousands from all over the island and the rest of the world. One of the most popular occasions is of course the annual carnival, held usually in the first week of February. For several weeks leading up to the event, islanders have been busily assembling elaborate and exuberant costumes, floats and decorations with which to adorn the city of Fort de France as this incredible party approaches. The build-up of expectation continues to the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, when the beginning of carnival erupts with bands, parties, parades and dancing. On Fat Sunday, colourful puppets known as ‘bwa-bwa’ are held aloft, and ‘nègres-gros-sirop’, revellers whose bodies are coated in coal tar and sugar-cane syrup, jump about in their curious mock-scaring games with the children. The booming rhythms of celebration continue well into the tropical nights, transforming into sweet sounds of calypso and beguine, a traditional dance of the island.
The spectacle of the ‘burlesque’ transgender weddings is part of the fun on the Monday: men dress up as drag brides, often in their wives’ old wedding dresses, while the women are the bridegrooms. This is followed on the Tuesday by the hosts of ‘red devils’ who run amock with their scary masks, horns and glittering mirror-sequined red jumpsuits. Finally on Ash Wednesday, the Carnival King, Vaval, gets his annual come-uppance and suffers a death by burning while the She-Devils who accompany him are women smeared with ash and white mascara, wearing headscarves and black petticoats. Needless to say, the whole event will leave a deep impression on you for many months after the last drum-beat sounds.
Other exciting events in Martinique include vibrant cultural festivals, food festivals, art exhibitions, concerts and drama productions. Of these, the most prestigious are probably the International Guitar Festival and the Martinique Jazz Festival which both draw performers and audiences from the local area and around the world to the island’s special welcome. These are some of the best occasions to really appreciate the whole spectrum of what Martinique can offer, from culture to cuisine and local heritage to superb hospitality.
Outside of the capital, the town of Saint-Pierre commemorates the 8th of May eruption of Mont Pelée with live jazz and a candlelight procession from the cathedral during the festival of Le Maide Saint-Pierre, while each town, village and city throughout the island celebrates its Patron Saint’s Day with music, food, games and other lively entertainment. The added bonus here is that here, all of France’s celebrations are still part of the cultural programme and that thus Bastille Day and the arrival of the new Beaujolais will never go unnoticed.