St. Martin - St. Maarten
An Oasis of Timeless Style and Culinary Pleasure
March 28, 2020
The Caribbean is undeniably one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Whether you stay in a five-star beach side resort or opt for a quainter beach side cottage, the landscape alone will soothe your soul and inspire your mind. One particular gem among the glistening Caribbean Sea is the island of St. Martin.
The French and Dutch have coexisted peacefully in St. Martin - St. Maarten for three centuries. According to legend, the boundaries of the two governments were set in 1648 when, instead of dueling, a Frenchman and a Dutchman decided to walk in opposite directions along the coast until they met each other again. The Frenchman gave the Dutchman a bottle of water which, in reality, was gin thereby explaining the greater French land mass today. St Martin is the name of the French-governed portion of the island, while St. Maarten designates the Dutch side. The total land area of the island is 38 square miles.
St. Martin is relaxed and sophisticated; the first-class resorts and white sand beaches are mostly secluded. The capital Marigot is Mediterranean resort-like, with yachts in the harbor, and open-air markets and shops lining the waterfront. A bit to the north, Grand Case is known for the island's best restaurants. On the other hand, St. Maarten is known as the more lively side with white sand beaches, casinos, historical sites, shopping venues and a vibrant nightlife. The capital Philipsburg, a duty-free port, is the main entry point, and it vibrates with Caribbean colors, sounds and cruise ship passengers. This island is the smallest landmass in the world shared by two independent states.
While many other tourist destinations claim to be "duty-free", St. Martin - St. Maarten is the only real duty-free destination of the Caribbean. The absence of customs duties, VAT and other indirect taxes guarantee unbeatable prices on many items. Be sure to visit Marigot for market day and find the vendor that sells the tree-ripened mango unlike those you find in most supermarkets which have been picked green and shipped, left to ripen on the shelves. West Indian women in batik dresses and big straw hats selling spices, fruit and other produce, and fishermen scaling their catches using a broomstick lined with beer bottle caps, are sites you won’t see anywhere else!
Where to Eat
The inhabitants of St. Martin - St. Maarten consist of more than 120 nationalities. The customs and traditions of this island are wide and varied, definitely what you call multicultural! Over generations, the various contributions of the different cultures have expanded outside their home communities, enriching the culinary heritage of all. Chefs who have built the exceptional reputation of this island’s gastronomy skillfully mixed their traditions with the many local resources, giving their cuisine an extra dimension. The fusion cuisine of the island, with Creole flavors and fragrances, will delight your taste buds and astound your senses.
The gourmet capital of the Caribbean, the village of Grand Case, located on the northern coast of the island, has maintained a sense of tradition and authenticity with its typically traditional houses and restaurants located in small squares along the boulevard. From Grand Case you have a view of Anguilla, the neighboring island. Expect big crowds during the evenings as many people from all over the island flock to Grand Case for the good food, beautiful views, and the complimentary shots of homemade rum!
The best bet for a quick, inexpensive yet skillfully prepared meal is one of the many Lolos (food shacks) lining the beaches, where you can eat grilled fish, jerked meats and home cooked food in a relaxed atmosphere. The best Lolos are on the piers at Grand Case on the north shore. Lolos offer dining services outside and the food is local and right off the grill!
Orient Bay has an underwater marine reserve where snorkeling and other water sports are available. All the beaches are suitable for swimming and sun bathing. The island caters to all with some beaches full of activities and exciting fun things to do as well as the more secluded and private beaches better suited for peaceful relaxation. This being a European island, topless sun bathing is common. Completely nude sun bathing is also accepted but for the most part is limited to a section of Orient Beach on the French side of the island and Cupecoy Beach on the Dutch side.
Beyond the Beach
Take a scenic tour around the island; it takes less than two hours to circle the entire island. Don't forget to make a shopping stop in Philipsburg where you can also visit the Zoo, known for its child-friendly activities.
At the center of the island is Pic Paradis – the island’s highest peak, reaching 424 meters. Its access offers a magnificent panoramic view of the whole island and its neighbors. It is also the starting point of many hiking trails where nature lovers will discover a lush tropical flora. Don’t miss the Loterie Farm with its restaurant and lounge bar located at the foot of Pic Paradis.
Tour the Butterfly Farm where you can walk through a lush tropical rain forest amidst flowers, trees, ponds and a trickling waterfall with butterflies flying all around! This is a great place to see butterflies in their own natural paradise. Within large meshed enclosures you can see hundreds of real exotic butterflies flying freely, with dozens of the most spectacular species from all over the world.
There are many art galleries on the island. Most of them are in Marigot, with Camaïeu and Minguet Art gallery among the best known. The Poisson d'Or restaurant in Marigot also displays and sells work by local artists.
Where to Stay
Belmond La Samanna is a destination of its own within the exotic French West Indies. This beautiful and exclusive resort is perched on a bluff overlooking the most spectacular of the island’s stretches of sand. Here, you can laze in a hammock or enjoy an alfresco massage by the beach – a pure escapism.
The hotel is ideally situated on 55 pristine beachfront acres of Baie Longue nestled among tropical gardens. The resort's crescent-shaped beach is renowned as one of the finest and most secluded in the world. La Samanna is just 10 minutes from Princess Juliana Airport and just 10 minutes from Marigot with its charming streets, world-class marina, and a variety of quaint boutiques and gourmet restaurants. Belmond La Samanna is a resort in itself, built in Mediterranean style, with a design that emphasizes space and light. The resort appeals to a discerning international clientele seeking seclusion, relaxation, fine dining and attentive personalized service.
St. Martin - St. Maarten offers it all – gourmet food, vibrant nightlife, pristine beaches and a cosmopolitan atmosphere with a Caribbean twist for an exciting vacation destination!