Caribbean Harmony: Dancing and Dining in Saint Martin
The island of Saint Martin possesses a lot of beauty in its 37-square mile expanse. About 77,000 people live here. Half the inhabitants live in Saint-Martin, the northern section of the island which is administered by France. The southern half is St. Maarten and is governed by the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Residents and tourists pass freely between the two countries to enjoy the island’s many beaches (practically one for every mile of coastline). They can go hiking in the mountainous interior, visit a shopping district or two, have a meal at a restaurant, and then enjoy an evening out at a nightclub featuring Calypso music.
[bctt tweet=”Hiking, shopping, eating, dancing, swimming… just a few of the fun activities found on this island #VisitStMartin”]
Tourists fly into Saint Martin’s Princess Juliana airport on the Dutch side. This airport is rather famous among aircraft enthusiasts, as its “Runway 10” is extremely close to Maho Beach and planes of all sizes take a flight path that leads directly over the beach.
After disembarking and collecting luggage, tourists rent a car or take a taxi or bus to their lodgings on either the Dutch or French side.
The capital of the French side is Marigot, a district of some six thousand people, which enjoys a beautiful setting along the Bay of Marigot. Fort Louis overlooks the area from a hill, a remnant of the island’s colonial past.
The construction of Fort Louis began in 1767 by the French, intent on protecting their claim to the island from the British, Spanish, and Dutch. St. Martin was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and its vast stockpile of salt had been in demand by these various countries ever since.
Climb the somewhat steep stone steps that lead up to the top of the hill. Not only will you find the ruins of Fort Louis and various heritage markers, but you’ll also have a fantastic panoramic view of the city below. Across the ocean (on a clear day) you’ll be able to see the island of Anguilla.
In mid-February, Carnaval is held in the streets of Marigot. More than 200 people of every age, don costumes and with painted faces, dance through the streets to the accompaniment of pulse-pounding music emanating from sound trucks. If you miss the Carnaval on the French side, you can experience a larger version on the Dutch side at the end of April.
The people of Saint Martin are the result of a true melting pot with more than 140 nationalities represented. After slavery was abolished in 1848, many African slaves remained on the island. Descendants of the Dutch, British and Spanish, and, decades later, new immigrants from the other Caribbean islands and around the world have become part of St Martin’s cultural heritage.
Because of this melting pot, there’s a wide variety of cuisine on the island, with Creole such as johnnycakes, and salted fish cakes being the most popular.
Foodies, in particular, will want to head over to Grand Case, as its main street is lined with dozens of restaurants. Indeed, this area on the outskirts of Marigot is considered the gastronomic capital of the Caribbean for this very reason.
[bctt tweet=”Discover a wide variety of #Creole cuisine on #StMartin: johnnycakes and salted fish cakes being the most popular #foodie #VisitStMartin”]
Some of the restaurants in Grand Case include L‘Auberge Gourmande (Auberge is French for Inn, by the way), Lolos and La Villa Royale. The latter has some great seafood and a killer coconut mousse.
Make sure you visit Le Pressoir during your stay. This French restaurant owned by Chef Franck Mear is one of the most popular on the island. The food, service and presentation are impeccable as is the authentic French experience. Be sure to try their house dessert – a dome of chocolate served with a little surprise.
One of the island specialties is rum made from guava berries. Saint-Martin is one of the last islands that still grows and produces these berries which locals use to make their legendary folk liqueur.
A local tradition is for people to make their own by putting the berries in a bottle at Christmas, adding spices such as cinnamon and then letting it sit for a year. Then it can be enjoyed on the next Christmas.
One thing not to miss while here is trying some of the local, island food. Consider commissioning your own private chef, Jewel Daal, to prepare a meal for you and your guests. Better yet, she will also give you a lesson in how to cook Creole! She’s well known on the island and your hotel concierge will be able to put you in contact with her.
Most tourists who visit Saint-Martin come from cruise ships, which give them only a few hours on the island. To truly appreciate this island, however, make plans to stay for a week. You may find that you never want to return home!
Taxis are readily available between Marigot, Philipsburg, the other areas of the island and the airports. They charge a fixed fee as opposed to the meter system and some may only accept U.S. Dollars. The charge from Princes Juliana Airport and Marigot is approximately $18 for two.
The official currency is the Euro on the French side and the Florin on the Dutch. Most shops, however, accept U.S. Dollars as well as credit and debit cards.
Time difference from New York is + 1 hour in winter (end of October to end of March)
French side: 220V / 60Hz. European sockets
Dutch side: 110V / 60 Hz. American sockets
Bottled water is available (both spring and mineral) throughout the island.
At the date of this writing, the island only had one confirmed case of the Zika Virus but take precautions such as bringing long-sleeve clothing and mosquito repellant. Also, wear sunscreen as it is easy to get sunburned in the tropical climate.
There is some crime on St. Martin but most of it is petty including crimes of opportunity, notably theft. As with anywhere you visit, never leave valuables in your car or where they can be easily seen. This would also apply to wearing expensive jewelry, carrying iPods, laptops and camera equipment.