In a large barn-like structure, rows upon rows of wooden barrels line the walls. Each barrel is stamped with the face of a bearded man with the words “HABITATION CLEMENT – DOMAINE DE L’ACAJOU – FRANCOIS (MARTINIQUE)” encircling him.
The sweet, acrid smell of fermentation lingers outside, growing stronger inside the dark storage room. Next door, the old machinery is silent and still, a relic of an older time. The old rum factory is at the heart of this old plantation, with the house where the family used to live on one side and the expansive gardens on the other.
Habitation Clément was converted into a museum about the history of rum in Martinique, although no museum can truly hope to do justice to what is a very long and complex history—and present. After all, Habitation Clément and other plantations around the area still make rum, and their rum is renowned. It is still one of Martinique’s main exports, with sugar cane being one of its main crops (along with bananas).
Still, the museum did a good job of showing how the Habitation Clément evolved to what it is today. For 10 euros (7.50 for students), visitors get an audio guide that tells them, in great detail, the process of making rum, the history of the family and the history of the grounds. Although the map suggests a walk through the garden first, I would recommend walking through the factory first while you still have the mental energy to understand the process of making rum.
Then, wander up to the blue one-room house where the first President Bush met President Mitterand in 1991, but don’t feel obliged to stay there too long if their politics aren’t to your liking.
Move up to the main house with the separate kitchen, a feature of many habitations apparently. You can see the house and the stables.
Take a break in the temporary art exhibit—the owner of Habitation Clément owns an art foundation that promotes modern art and takes a special interest in Martinican art—and relish the air conditioning (just one of the luxuries you grow to appreciate in the Caribbean). There’s also a permanent art exhibit with beautiful photographs, which I highly recommend.
When you’re done with all that, go back down to the garden and relax a little while, as long as it’s not raining or really hot, and then, just before you leave, head into the store for a free rum tasting.
After having seen extensively the process that went into creating the aged amber rums, I decided to try a six-year-old amber rum. I would have gone into even more aged wines given my way—they have rums aged up to 12 years that go for upwards of a hundred euros—but luckily the salesperson guided me to the six-year-old rum. I wish I could say it had an oaky taste or something, but unfortunately I’m not refined enough for that kind of insight. All I know is that it smelled very strong and sweet, and that it burned like no alcohol I have ever tried before on its way down. The salesperson saw my reaction and recommended I try a coconut liqueur to follow which was much more to my liking. I’m sorry to say that, since I’m in Martinique and I had hoped to like their local rum, but I think I will stick to planteur, a local cocktail which is a concoction of local fruit juices and rum.
At times, the museum veers towards an advertisement for Habitation Clément—but given that they sponsor the museum and give free rum tastings, I was mostly willing to overlook this. I do think that the museum could have delved into race relations in Martinique slightly more, given that the sugar-cane plantations and rum industry were very much affected by the slave trade in Martinique and the emancipation of the slaves. Despite this, the grounds are beautiful, and it’s the type of museum with something for everyone: art, history, technology, alcohol, politics…