We retired to France – to Martinique

Trevor (left) and Dick Darlington-Stables love the year-round sunshine in their island home

Thousands of newcomers to France choose the Dordogne or Normandy – fewer consider the tropical overseas departments, which are also fully part of the EU. Oliver Rowland spoke to a British retiree who moved to Martinique – and loves it

In most respects the ‘system’ is exactly the same for people living in Martinique, in the French Caribbean, as in mainland France, says British retiree Trevor Darlington-Stables.

Mr Darlington-Stables, 60, moved with husband Dick, 57, in 2014 after previously farming alpacas in the Charente where they moved to in 2010.

“We loved the Charente but in February 2012, when the weather was minus 20 for a fortnight, we saw a report on the news from Martinique and we thought ‘is it part of France and the EU?’

“We’d never thought part of the EU could be in the Caribbean before – but we looked it up and it is! The climate is nice here all year round, between 26 and 32 degrees during the day. Joints don’t ache in the winter and we have all the advantages of France.”

There is however a ‘rainier’ part of the year and September and October can be very wet. “When it rains it really rains – tropical downpour time!”

The couple opted to come across the Atlantic, from Brittany to Guadeloupe, by cargo ship. It took eight days, followed by an overnight sailing to Martinique. “It was €1,500 for two plus our two cocker spaniels, and we had a nice cabin and food was included. It gives crossing the ocean a different perception of space – on a nine-hour flight you don’t see anything. It was comfortable, there were six passengers and we ate in the same dining room as the officers.

“Coming out here they bring food and cars and furniture, and they go back with bananas, pineapples and limes for the supermarkets. I recommend it. It was CMA CGM – a French line, via cruisepeople.co.uk.”

The couple rented a house after they arrived in Martinique, while having a new one built. “The procedures were very similar to the Charente because French law is the same. You have a construction contract with a notice descriptive and provided you have everything you need detailed in that, it goes well.

“We were more impressed with the company here than in the Charente, and they built our house in eight months. Ten per cent of the value, up to €40,000, is tax deductible over five years, plus we pay less income tax here, to encourage investment in the Antilles.”

However prices are higher than the Charente: €350,000 for a typical villa or €2,000/month to rent a house with a pool long-term (€1,500/week as a holiay let).

He said Martinique is “basically an exotic France”. “For example the banks are the French ones – like Crédit Mutuel or Caisse d’Epargne. La Poste is the same, the carte vitale works the same…

“It’s green because of the good rainfall, there are lots of walks and beautiful beaches, snorkelling and diving.”

Mr Darlington-Stables said the French spoken has some different words and pronunciations. “For example demain sounds like ‘demen’. They sometimes call Metropolitan visitors les oreilles because they are always saying ‘pardon?’, because they’re not used to it.”

He added: “Some people in mainland France, before we came, told us the Martiniquais were racist to outsiders, but we’ve found the opposite.

“They are very pro-visitors and extremely polite. But they do expect good manners. If you’re walking down the street people speak to each other and say ‘bonjour’ or if you go into a shop or doctor’s surgery or bank.

“Occasionally some people – maybe a Parisian – doesn’t and I think they take a bit of umbrage. Their children are also very well-behaved. They’ve kept the old-fashioned politeness of bygone years, not dissimilar to France, but more pronounced.”

He said relatively dense population figures belie the fact that large parts are forested. “Yes, the towns have flats and some are high rise, and you have traffic jams at peak hours in the capital, but apart from that it’s green and lush and there’s a feeling of open space.”

He said they also particularly enjoy the snorkelling. “There is a whole underwater world to see. And it’s lovely to be able to go to the beach all year round.”

You can also visit other islands, he said, but going to the English-speaking ones is “not an option”. Apart from a few that are still British colonies, and the French and Dutch Caribbean, the rest of the Caribbean has retained homophobic attitudes and laws from the days of the British empire, he said. “We’ve never encountered any problem whatsoever in Martinique.”

Mr Darlington-Stables said there are very few Britons. “We only know half a dozen and if you want to learn French – albeit with a slightly different accent – it’s a nice place to do it, because hardly anyone speaks English, so you ‘immerse’. But we frequently find that many locals have relatives working in the UK, which creates a link. It’s a multi-ethnic society here, which is very tolerant, open and nice.”

Factfile - Martinique

  • With a surface area of 1,128km2 Martinique is one of the smaller departments of France but it has a medium-sized population of around 400,000
  • People still call France’s overseas lands the ‘Dom-Toms’, from départements d’outre-mer and territoires d’outre mer, but this is officially out of date since 2003: there are now the five départements et régions d’outre-mer (Drom) plus collectivités d’outre-mer (Com). The later includes places such as Tahiti or Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and are not fully part of the EU.
  • Martinique has been French since the 17th century. Its capital is Fort-de-France and its economic activity includes bananas, pineapples, rum and tourism
  • The local version of French Creole includes phrases such as Pa ni pwoblem (pas de problème)
  • Its time zone is six hours behind the mainland. Landline calls to it from the mainland are at local rate and need no separate code. Numbers start with 0596
  • People who came from mainland France are known as Métros (they make up about 10% of the population). There are also about 5,000 Békés – a prosperous group of white people from old colonial families
  • The rest of the population are mostly métis and black people, whose ancestors include African slaves and Indians who were brought over to work on the island
  • The cuisine is a mixture of European, Creole and Indian, with chicken, kid or seafood curries – called colombo – being one of the specialities
  • Income tax is cut by 30% compared to the mainland (capped at €5,100) and a specific tax reduction (the Loi Girardin) is available towards costs of buying a new-build home if you stay for more than five years
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