Each island has its own pace, culture and rhythm. Each island has something different to offer the traveler. Some islands leave you inspired by lush nature and rainforests, some leave you with a renewed love of the sea, but the tiny island of St Martin will leave you begging for your next chance to return.
On March 23, 1648, France and the Dutch Republic agreed to divide the island between their two nations, so they signed the Treaty of Concordia. Today the total population of the island is split almost 50/50 between the two nations. Control of the island was batted about frequently between the Spanish, British, French and Dutch so that reading a historical review is almost like watching a tennis match. Which is what makes this tiny, two-nation island so appealing. There is a pervasive peace about a place that has managed to house two nations on only 37 square miles of land that has existed now for over 350 years.
Both the French and Dutch sides have also managed to hold on to their cultures and are noticeably quite different than each other in many ways. The French side continues to offer the very finest in French cuisine, art, perfumes, wine and fashion. The Dutch side is still distinctively Dutch in their architecture, language and hospitality. Yet the Dutch Sint Maarten harmoniously shares its culture with that of every other country in the world that chooses to show up. Every culture imaginable is represented. To clear up any confusion about the actual name of the island, Sint Maarten is the Dutch spelling, Saint Martin is the French and English spelling, or it is frequently referred to simply as SXM, the airport code of Princess Juliana Airport.
St Martin has grown, over the years, into a very cosmopolitan destination with enough experiences to fill all of your days and nights. And for those making their first trek to the Caribbean, St Martin is an excellent place to begin your exploration of the West Indies. The island has all the comforts of home, such as an excellent banking system, modern airport and wireless internet. But the things that aren’t necessarily available at home is what makes it a perfect vacation spot: well-established luxury resorts, splashy casinos, impeccable white sand beaches, perfect weather, secluded private beach villas, several busy yacht harbors, international festivals, delectable gourmet cuisine, excellent duty-free shopping, a great music scene and a welcoming culture of people anxious to make sure you enjoy your stay. Essentially, St Martin is one of the few islands that really has it all when it comes to guilty pleasures.
Continuously cited as the Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean, St Martin is indeed, a gastronomical experience. With strong multinational influences, the island has managed to attract chefs and investors in restaurants from all corners of the globe. Whatever flavor and ambience you are in the mood for, the dining options in St Martin can fulfill your desires. From haut French cuisine in Grand Case to Angus Beef steaks in Philipsburgh, and everything in between, including: Italian, Greek, Indian, Thai, Mexican, German and Japanese. Dining options run the gamut, so you will have plenty of excellent choices. Be sure to taste the local, sweet, delicious spiny Caribbean lobster and local barbecued ribs at least once. Small food stands all around the islands are referred to as Lolo’s, where you can discover true West Indian fare.
Fusion, in Philipsburgh is an excellent restaurant that visitors tend to return to frequently during their stays for not only the fabulous food, but the superior service they provide. Also on the Dutch side is The Stone, in Simpson Bay, which will literally cook your food to taste on a flat volcanic lava stone right at your table. A long time favorite of locals and visitors is La Petite Auberge des Iles, in Marigot, serving consistently fine French cuisine, with beautiful views of the marina and a prix fix menu. Grand Case is a small fishing village that takes top honors for their French inspired seafood. Try Spicy, in Grand Case, for imaginative cuisine and excellent service.
But eating isn’t the only way to spoil yourself on the island. There are plenty of interesting activities to occupy your daylight hours when you aren’t sunning yourself on one of the many gorgeous beaches. Saint Martin has an interesting zoo with a children’s playground and a very unique Butterfly Garden that is spectacular to see when butterflies are hatching in the early morning. If you are interested in the history of the island, visit the museum of Arawak Indian artifacts in Marigot, near the tourist office.
Of course, the shimmering turquoise water is hard to stay away from. If you are interested in snorkeling or scuba diving, check with your hotel activities desk. There are a number of excellent PADI certified shops on the island. Divers are always intrigued by the H. S. S. Proselyte, a British Frigate that ran aground in 1802 on what is now known as Proselyte Reef, about a mile south of Great Bay. If you have ever dreamed of sailing an America’s Cup Yacht, contact 12 Meter Challenge for an opportunity of a lifetime. Dennis Conner’s yachts, the Stars and Stripes, Canada II and True North are available for sailing. The expert crew will show you exactly what to do in your “crew member’s” position and no previous sailing experience is necessary. A victory rum punch party at the conclusion of your race will seal the deal.
When you are ready for a change of scenery, keep in mind that cruises to neighboring islands are available from the Pelican Marina as well as from the dock behind Ric’s Place in Simpson Bay. A high-speed boat is available from Captain Oliver’s to St Barts. Catamarans or fast ferries are available to St. Barts, Saba, and Anguilla. For those wanting to get an all-over tan, there’s even a nude cruise aboard the Tiko Tiko from Club Orient Naturist Resort to an island offshore. The Heineken Regatta is one of the most exciting sailing competitions in the world, and it is held annually in St Martin in March with plenty of parties, celebrations and festivals.
Take advantage of the incredible duty free prices and no local sales taxes on luxury items while you are on the island. Check the cruise ship schedule and try to schedule your shopping when there are no or few ships visiting the island, as they tend to take over the shopping districts such as Front Street in Philipsburg. Jewelry, art, clothing, electronics, liquor, tobacco, china, hand made lace and perfumes are all excellent purchases.
Nightlife is never dull or boring on this small paradise. Large casinos are located strategically around the island to seduce you into taking a spin with lady luck. Or, if you prefer music and dancing, there are excellent nightclubs and bars with music ranging from cool jazz, reggae, country and western to hard-hitting rock and roll. There is a little something for everyone, of every age group.
So, if you are feeling like it is time to spoil yourself rotten, head to exciting St Martin where instant gratification is quite a natural thing. Anyone who visits this island once will tell you they plan to return.