By Alexander Britell
MARTINIQUE – The glass display case at Le Gommier holds a bottle of Rhum Saint James from 1931, a sugarcane memory from a time of biguine and planteurs.
But the romance of the old French Caribbean never went anywhere — and it is not just lying on a shelf with its label peeling off. It is very much alive, here.
All of the things that placed the French West Indies in one of the most romantic corners of the minds of travelers a century ago remain, vibrant and developed, authentic and awake.
And as one sits at Le Gommier, the circular poolfront bar at the Hotel Bakoua in Martinique, it becomes obvious.
There is a peculiar rhythm and ritual here, a passion with which the barman even pours a glass of Depaz.
There is a quiet, a routine and a special kind of simplicity, an easy traveling experience.
There is the boulangerie-fresh breakfast; the mornings by the pool (perhaps with a ti’ punch); a lunch above the water at the Coco Bar, an evening with the biguine band. (And dinner with dishes like trio of foie gras, not the sort of fare you tend to find in a tourist-friendly hotel.)
The Hotel Bakoua is a traditional four-star resort on the beach in Martinique — but, more importantly, it is a classic French Caribbean hotel.
It is not grand or in your face, with no measure of opulence — it is a distilled, balanced hotel that will leave you feeling wonderfully satisfied.
It’s a place to experience the real Martinique in comfort, to begin to understand what it means to be in the French Caribbean.
But like any excellent hotel, its biggest strength is in the food and beverage department — the food is outstanding, particularly the prix-fixe dinner options, and the bars are even better: the overwater Coco Bar just past the sand and the aforementioned Gommier.
The Bakoua is set in the heart of Pointe du Bout, the “foot” of the Trois Ilets peninsula that is Martinique’s colorful tourism center.
But it’s also perched on a hillside, with an infinity pool deck that offers one of the most breathtaking views you’ll find on this side of the Caribbean — directly across from the imposing Bay of Fort de France, a sight that only becomes more spectacular by night.
There are 138 rooms and six suites, the best of which are directly on the sand, all well-appointed with amenities like Nespresso machines and fridges and marvelous views.
This is the best all-around hotel in Martinique, the best jumping off point to explore the island’s charms, the perfect way to introduce yourself to the island. If this is your first time in Martinique, you simply must stay here. (It’s also a tremendous value).
It’s a gateway to the soul of the French Caribbean, to begin to see and understand what makes Martinique unique, what makes it different from the islands surrounding it.
Because the sounds and the smells and the sips of Martinique are utterly intoxicating — like an old bottle of Rhum Saint James.
For more, visit the Hotel Bakoua.