A trip to the French overseas department of Martinique – the flower of the Caribbean – would not be complete without visiting the Depaz distillery in the northern part of the island.
Nestled in a wonderfully scenic setting in the hills around Saint-Pierre, Martinique’s old capital, at the foot of Pelée Mountain and opposite Saint-Pierre Bay, the Depaz distillery is known for its famous cane juice rum.
The cradle of the Depaz brand was originally an agricultural estate founded in 1651 by the island’s first governor, Jacques Duparquet. It was initially used for tobacco, indigo, and livestock before the land was transformed into a sugarcane plantation that flourished thanks to improved distillation techniques.
The first rum was produced on May 8, 1917 by Victor Depaz. He returned to his homeland from his studies in Bordeaux in metropolitan France, following the death of his entire family during one of the world’s most deadly volcanic eruptions in 1902. Despite being an orphan, his aim was to continue the rich family legacy and produce the best rum in Martinique.
Today, visitors to the site can discover its charm by themselves or enjoy a comprehensive tour that will delve into the history of rum making. This will include a close up look at well-preserved machinery and other equipment imbued with the plantation’s rich history.
During our recent day out at the distillery, we ran into first-time visitor to Martinique, Pierre Lethuaire, who was on vacation from Clermont-Ferrand, France.
“[It is] a magnificent place between the sea and the mountains. We can see that rum requires meticulous work in its creation. We see that a great production is feasible with the engineering of this space. [It is] a perfect visit as the walk is free. Between the mill, the paddle wheel and the museum, it is an incredible visit,” he told Jamaica Observer’s LetsTravelCaribbean.com.
For newlyweds Edwin and Kathlyne Mérose, their experience was no less thrilling.
“[Depaz distillery is] a factory full of charm and rich in history. It is located on the heights of Saint-Pierre and is easy to access. We were well received by the staff. The environment is very pleasant, beautiful and well maintained. The explanations on the rum making process are clear. The welcome is warm,” they said.
One of the charming things that make the venue hard to resist is a chance, for children and adults alike, to take a swing on the Caoutchouc rubber plant tree which was planted in 1960.
The lush, tropical environment, covered with coconut trees, is also an ideal location for hosting weddings and receptions as well as doing photo shoots.
After a tour of the historic site, guests can quench their thirst at the water hut (cave de l’eau)or savour local cuisine at Le Moulin à Cannes restaurant, located towards the entrance of the property.
Before leaving the site, be sure to stop at the Depaz boutique for a shot of rum. It’s also the place to stock up on souvenirs to mark your visit. The shop opens Tuesdays to Fridays, from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm; Saturdays 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and 1:30 to 4:00 pm, while Sunday and Monday hours vary depending on the activities.
Visitors to the island can learn more about the history of Saint-Pierre and the 1902 volcano by visiting the Frank A Perret museum, which is approximately 10 minutes away by car.
Text and photos by Oneil Madden.