by Carlos Melia
Hi there everyone, it has been a while since my last report around the world. Been traveling extensively and still am, gathering as much information and experiences as possible to share with all of you. This time, about two weeks ago, I flew from New York to Saint Martin to explore the island. I must say right from the beginning that other than St Barth, I have never been a huge fan of The Caribbean, but it is quite exciting to be able to discover this little gem and be proven wrong sometimes. Perfect destination for a quick getaway, to have it combined with St Barth.
For such a small island, St Martin or St Marteen depending on which side of the island you are staying – French or Dutch – has a wonderful mix of cultures and people. Over a total approx. populations of 75,000 inhabitants, you will find over 120 different nationalities. Because of this, the island is unique for its cosmopolitan nature, all living in harmony with each other, and where the word hospitality plays a big role.
One of the smallest landmasses divided by two nations, a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the French Collectivity. The island has two capitals, Philipsburg on the Dutch side, and Marigot on the French side. Although French and Dutch are the official languages, on their respective sides, English and Spanish is widely spoken, among many other languages, including Creole and Papiamento.
The official currency of the island is the Euro in St Martin and the Netherlands Antilles Guilder in St Marteen. Now the great news are, that the local exchange between the Euro and the US Dollar is 1 = 1.
The heritage of the island is marked by the salt industry. Dutch and Spanish were attracted to this shores, driven by the profitable salt ponds in the island. Then the French came along. The legend tells that a Frenchman and a Dutchman, who stood back to back to claim each others territory and borderlines. They walk in opposite directions, and where they met up again was to be the dividing line. Apparently the story tells that the Dutchman got a little lazy, tipsy and lay in the sun for a few hours while the Frenchman got on to it.
That is how nowadays most of the island belongs to the French Collectivity. There is no such and issue to cross from one side to the other, more than a big sign welcoming you to each side. I have only experienced such a feeling before, in Istanbul when crossing the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia.
WHERE TO STAY
I have to be fully honest, and say that I was not quite keen on the Dutch side, so I spent most of my time on Saint Martin, between the areas of Terres Basses, Grand Case and Marigot. Way over half of the island belongs to the French side, 29 square miles to be exact, being greener, more forested, and mind I say more sophisticated and interesting. The island hosts the biggest lagoon in the entire Caribbean, called Sympson Bay Lagoon. And Pic Paradis is the highest point in the island, allowing stunning panoramic views including St Barth and Anguilla.
I had a great stay at the top property in the island, La Samanna by Orient-Express. The hotel is located on the French size, along the bay of Baie Longue facing the Caribbean Sea. La Samanna was taken over, years ago by Orient-Express, and fully renovated after an multimillion dollar investment by the corporation keeping the glam-posh Caribbean style. Enjoy gracious hospitality at the La Samanna I would risk to say, Baie Longue was my favorite beach experience during my three nights stay in the island. I was hosted at a huge Ocean Front Villa. See & Read More
WHERE TO EAT
Grand Case is considered to be the Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean, and to my understanding the best place to try both the local and international cuisine. There are several options
La Cave has to be the top premium gourmet experience I had during my stay. Private dinner at La Cave by La Samanna Orient-Express. Perfect for private celebrations or specialty group dinners, La Cave offers a unique dining experience in an atmospheric wine cellar. Curate your own tasting menu with an expert chef, complemented by the fine wines that line the cellar. By Executive Chef Gil Dumoulin hosted by P Deyrolle – General Manager at La Samanna. Read & See More
Trellis Set in an intimate, elegant bistro, you’ll be treated to traditional French cuisine beautifully crafted to exquisite detail, delighting even the most seasoned culinary connoisseurs. Amazing views over Baie Longue. Have a cocktail, or like me a filthy Vodka Martini at the bar and then enjoy a lovely romantic sophisticated lunch or dinner.
Ocean 82 one of the many great restaurants I tried while in Saint Martin, was the brand new recently opened Ocean 82, located on the main Gourmet street of Grand Case, on the French side of the island. This time I was hosted by the lovely Silviane John – Directrice Generale Office de Tourisme de Saint Martin. This French Bistro is located right on the stream of Grand Case Beach, allowing stunning panoramic views, along the soothing sounds of the Caribbean Ocean, only to be matched by the excellent fresh cuisine. Read & See More
Loterie Farm have lunch on the top of the trees, yes literally. That is what they told me, and I was OK… Love to be outdoors connecting with nature? Or are you a daredevil and love extreme sports? Well there they have them both! Loterie Farm is a secret hideaway nestled in the hillside of Pic Paradis on French Saint Martin where you can wine, dine, climb, hike and glide over the treetop canopy. It is truly an eco-tourism and gastronomical experience you’re not likely to forget or find elsewhere. Shame on me, I only had lunch ha ha ha and a few local drinks. Read & See More
Lolos last but most definitely not least, are my absolutely favorite Lolos, which stand for “Locally Owned, Locally Operated”. If you want to try the local cuisine of Saint Martin, then you need to behave like one, and usually that means having a meal experience at a classic Lolo. A lolo is basically a rudimentary version of a restaurant, were they serve local traditional dishes, grilled food, at very accessible prices. You will find Lolos spread all over Saint Martin, but after a serious research among locals, I found out that the two best options are located on the French side, minutes away from the capital of Marigot, along one of the most famous gourmet streets in the Caribbean, as it is Grand Case. Read & See More
If there is something that made me stay in Saint Martin, other than the lovely La Samanna by Orient-Express, was the incredible white sanded, blue transparent waters over both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. My favorites were all those on the Caribbean bay, since they are rather quiet, although with a strong current, great temperature and stunning vivid colors. Quite a daunting task, to explore an entire island in just four days, so I did what I know best when it comes to getting a global idea of a new destination, I hired a local guide to take me around and show me his favorite places…
Maho Beach has a particular appeal, located at the en of the Princess Juliana International Airport runway, is one of the most photographed beaches in the world. Maybe relaxing is not the word for this spot, but certainly unique, being able to almost touch the airplanes as they land. The most impressive are when KLM and Air France land over Sunset Beach and Bar. Read & See More
Cupecoy, is a series of small beaches backed by sandstone cliffs. Know to be a clothing optional spot in the island, with very calm waters. Cupecoy is separated from Baie Longue by a tongue of land that comes into the Caribbean Sea. Although I did not spend time at Cupecoy, I could see it everyday from my Vila. See the photo above.
Orient Bay, following with the trend of the nudist beaches, this is another option in the island. To be fully honest, this option to me felt like a nightmare, full of tourist one next to the other, bars and restaurants over the beach. Not my idea of a relaxing getaway. It is one of the most famous beaches in Saint Martin along with Maho Beach. Some of the activities, same as most other spots are: paragliding, jet skiing, snorkeling… The funny note about this beach is that both the nudist and conventional beaches, coexists, being divided just by one big billboard. Right next to the billboard you have naked people chatting with the rest of the visitors.
Grand Case, know as the Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean, has a beautiful bay, that mostly should be enjoyed pre/during/post lunch or dinner. Over and along Grand Case street, you have some of the best gourmet options of the island, from the fancy and classy as Ocean 82, to the very unique and local Lolos.
Le Galion, Oyster Pond and Coralina Beach, rival most of the options in the island for the breathtaking views. Due to the shallowness and calmness of the water, allows you to walk. Here you can also enjoy surfing once beyond the protection of the ocean reefs. For those looking to master this sport, you will be happy to find the official Quicksilver Surfing School.
But I have to say that my heart and 80% of my time, I spent it at my favorite spot and beach in the island, Baie Longue. A very long beach lined with private properties and site of my beautiful resort La Samanna. Read & See More
Marigot The capital city of Marigot is perhaps the most French in spirit of all the cities in the Caribbean. Colonial houses stand beside smart cafés and bistros, pastry shops and luxury boutiques, and in many ways it looks just like any of the French market towns you might expect to find on the Continent.
Marigot Market On Wednesdays and Saturdays mornings, an open-air market is set up along the wharves on the Blvd. de France, offering a colorful array of homegrown produce, tropical fruits and spices, and freshly caught fish.
Fort Louis Located on the French side of the island only minutes away from Marigot, the capital of the French side. Drive all the way up to the top of the hill and walk the rest of the way. S-T-U-N-N-I-N-G views over Marigot, Marina Fort Louis, the bay and if you are lucky the silver sunset. Read & See More
Philipsburg The main town and capital of the country of Saint Maarten. The town is situated on a narrow stretch of land between Great Bay and the Great Salt Pond. It functions as the commercial center of Saint Martin island. Philipsburg is the docking spot for the massive cruises that daily arrive to St Marteen.
Sir Roland Richardson Known as the “Father of Caribbean Impressionism” this humble gentleman, born to a family whose French Caribbean heritage dates back to the 1700′s on the island of St. Martin, Mr. Richardson has recorded his culture over the past forty years with his paintbrush and palette. He paints pictures “en plein air”, working in the field, always from a living subject. He arrived sharply at 2PM to my Villa, with his magic box, his brushes, two white-blank canvas and his beautiful, full or paint stains, Julian Box. At the beginning I was a bit intimidated, I mean he is such an icon of the island, and I was in the presence of a man who not only has a list of patrons includes the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Romare Bearden, Martha Graham, Harry Belafonte, but has been knighted Sir Roland Richardson in 2007 for his lifelong artistic contribution to his community by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Read & See More
Wave Running around the Island Plenty of water activities at Baie Longue, from Wave Runners exploring the entire island, including Sympson Bay Lagoon, to swimming, snorkeling, private sailing among many other, that if you choose not to lay and relax at your private Cabana in the beach. Even sunsets are stunning, either seen from the comfort of your room, at the Trellis Restaurant or at the Lounge Bar. Got to see and explore both the French and Dutch side, including some of the highlights such as: Pointe du Bluff, Baie Rouge, Pointe Plum, Baie Longue, Cupecoy, Maho Bay, Port Marigot and one of the attractions of Saint Martin, Juliana Airport and the landing of the planes right over your head. Read & See More
PENDINGS FOR NEXT VISIT
Although the size of the island, time was not in my favor, nor the winds and the sailing conditions. So I was not able to visit neither Pinel Island nor Tintamarre, which are supposed to be the two gems of Saint Martin
HOW TO GET THERE
Lets say you are in New York or Miami, well there are many Non-Stop flight between most points in the United States and Canada to Princess Juliana Int’l Airport on the Dutch side of the island. From New York approx, 4 hours.
Once in Saint Martin, it is very easy to combine and extend your experience to other islands like St Barth, Anguilla, Nevis… most of then just a short ferry ride of approx. 30 to 40 minutes. Both from the Dutch and French side, you can also take small planes and private jets to most destinations in the Caribbean.
Just back from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, off tonight to London and next week to Mexico, so stay tuned. Till next adventure in full luxury. CM
Carlos Melia is an Experiential Travel Agent, Luxury Travel Curator & Blogger, Wedding Planner, Jetsetter, and Bon Vivant, who travels around the world discovering what’s new and cool in Luxury Travel and Hospitality. His reviews on hotels, restaurants, destinations, and attractions, based on his own experiences as an OUT Gay Traveler can be found at www.carlosmeliablog.com