It’s easy to think that the voice of the Caribbean speaks primarily English. This would be a serious injustice to the vibrant world of the French-speaking islands, with their own history, culture, and music. Whether you’re dancing to the biguine in Martinique, or chatting with a St Lucian pal in French Creole, once you enter the world of the French Caribbean you can’t help feeling a certain joie de vivre. Here are some magnifique sites to get you started.
French Caribbean International
The isles of the French Caribbean — Guadeloupe, Martinique, St Barth’s, St Martin, Les Saintes and Marie-Galante — have inspired travellers throughout the centuries. This site, which bills itself as “your leading resource for select accommodations in the French West Indies”, provides a wide variety of travel-oriented information, from required travel documents to health and safety advisories.
The French West Indies
This engaging site focuses on St Barth’s, Martinique and Guadeloupe, with lots of first-person information about beaches (including some where clothing is optional), restaurants, activities and places to stay. It’s part of a personal travel site known as The Civilized Explorer, created by a couple of passionate California travellers. Thanks to a great set of photographs, links to maps, satellite pictures and other resources, it’s good enough to be professional.
St Lucian French Creole
English is the official language of St Lucia, but 90% of the locals speak Creole. This paper, by Ed Ford and Leonie St Juste-Jean (of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale), provides a brief introduction to St Lucia that covers its history, its culture and society, and particularly its vibrant language, which is described as a mixture of French lexicon and African syntax. Some of the material is fairly technical, but the site includes an excellent history of St Lucia, its indigenous people, European colonisation, African influences, and the road to independence. You can even listen to live audio samples of Creole in WAV format. Professional linguists and amateur students of Caribbean dialect will find this site of special interest.
Lonely Planet’s Guide to Martinique
Ask any serious fan of Caribbean music why she’s dreaming of a trip to Martinique and you’ll probably start hearing about biguine. This irresistible, intensely syncopated Afro-French dance music originated in Martinique in the 1930s, and its greatest contemporary practitioners (such as drummer Jean Philippe Fanfant and pianist Mario Canogne) were born here. Zouk, the contemporary French West Indies style that’s currently big with the World Music crowd, gets a lot of its groove from biguine. For more on the culture of Martinique (as well as its economy, attractions, and tips for travellers) this Lonely Planet site is a great place to start. Furthermore, one click on the Caribbean button lets you choose from similar listings on nearly 30 more islands.
Coming home to a perfect little vacation hotel (after a long night of dancing the biguine, of course) can be romantic, but let’s face it: nothing beats a luxurious home of your own. If you’ve got the yen (and the dollars), check this bilingual site run by Immobilière Condorcet, a real estate agency in Martinique that manages vacation villas and apartments, as well as land and properties for sale. All the rentals listed (from rustic cottages to sophisticated villas) are close to the sea; some are actually on the beach!
St. Martin’s Official Home Page
The smallest island in the world to be partitioned between two nations, St Martin/St Maarten has been shared by the French and Dutch for 350 years. On the French side beaches are secluded; resorts provide lavish accommodation and restaurants offer some of the finest dining experiences anywhere in the Caribbean. The latest French fashions can be found in many of the shops, and the smell of fresh croissants and pastries mixes with the spicy aromas of West Indian cooking. If this sounds like your dream vacation, click here for details on beaches, lodgings, restaurants, nightlife, even getting married. You’ll find a calendar of events, as well as links to travel agents and tourist offices.
The multimedia entry screen for this bilingual site features crashing surf and screaming seagulls; it’s a virtual trip to the beach. Once you dive in you’ll find an ocean of images and text listing historical events, beaches, flora and fauna, art, and water fun. A helpful listing of flights and connections from other islands will help you figure out how to get there.
Awakening Spaces: French Caribbean Popular Songs, Music, and Culture
If you’re looking for hammock reading while you’re soaking up the rays in the French Caribbean, this recent book from Brenda F. Berrian is a strong contender. It’s a comprehensive and informative look at the composers, singers and production of music on the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, and features interviews with many popular musicians, as well as song lyrics in French, Creole and English. To order online, click here.