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Photos courtesy of French St Martin Tourist Office and Dutch Ste Maarten Tourist Office
Since 1648, the Dutch and French have peacefully coexisted on St. Martin. Dutch “Sint Maarten” is smaller – only 17 square miles, much of it under water – on the south side. In the north, French “Ste-martin” is larger (20 square miles) and mostly land. There is no border to cross, though the languages, currencies, food, and culture are different.
On the Dutch side, Philipsburg is the capital, with more than 500 stores in clapboard Dutch-style buildings, both on and off Front Street. Great Bay offers docking for nearly every ship from every cruise line in the Caribbean, whose passengers can fill Front Street to bursting. Nightlife abounds, with 12 casinos offering every game and machine known to man; bands play in clubs and bars; and discos overflow with dancers ’til dawn. In short, Dutch St. Martin rocks big time.
On the French side, life is slower, more sophisticated, and more Gallic, with the characteristic emphasis on “haute” fashion and outstanding cuisine. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Marigot, the French capital, fills with stalls selling local art, crafts, and food. Grand Case, a small town just up the coast, is famous for the quality and variety of its restaurants. Orient Bay is one of the best beaches on the island, though top-less and bottom-less bathing is permitted.
Fantastically French, Delightfully Dutch, St Martin is truly a jewel.
Not To Be Missed – On the French side of the St. Martin, the restaurants at Grand Case offer some of the Caribbean’s best cuisine; on the Dutch side, learn to race an America’s Cup yacht on Great Bay, right at Philipsburg.