Martin – The Friendly Island
and the Netherlands have shared this haven of sand, sea and sun peacefully
for more than three centuries. The Dutch call it Sint Maarten and on
the French side the signs say Saint Martin. Not that there is a particularly
obvious separation. You can drive, or walk, over a border untended and
unmarked except for a sign of welcome to one country or the other. St.
Maarten/St. Martin is the smallest island in the world to be shared
by two sovereign powers and it has been that way since 1648 when France
and the Netherlands signed a partition treaty. However, over the years
people of many different nationalities have made their home on the island
and have influenced its development. Many languages can be heard but English
is almost universal. Nevertheless, there is a distinctly different “feel”
to each side of the island, which makes for added interest.
|The fun starts
at the moment of arrival when your ‘plane swoops down low over an ocean
in which a myriad of dazzling shades of blue and green promise pleasures
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drops lower and lower until it swoops across a beach, seemingly almost
within touching distance of the people gathered there for the thrill of
seeing a 747 a few feet above them. If you stay at the nearby Sonesta Maho
Beach Resort & Casino (www.mahobeach.com)
or Royal Islander (www.royalislander.com),
with its recently completed timeshare units for sale and voted one of the
best in the Caribbean
|You can watch
as the more daring in the crowd gather at the fence that separates the
beach from the landing strip to try to hang on against the jet stream of
the daily Air France Airbus taking off for Paris.
the entertainment center of St. Maarten/St. Martin, home of Casino Royale,
the largest casino on the island, a theater, many upscale boutiques, fashion
and perfume outlets, ten or twelve restaurants from Subway to haute cuisine,
from French through Italian, Indian, Chinese and Japanese, not forgetting
Häagen Dazs, all within a five minute walk of Sonesta Maho Beach Resort.
Also on the Maho strip are a couple of night clubs (www.qclubdisco.com)
and Sopranos piano bar is always worth a visit (www.sopranospianobar.com).Most
evenings the dancers from the theater thrill the gathered crowd with a
street show and, of course.
Cheri’s Café is right there, with Sweet Chocolate providing
an entertaining floor show (www.cheriscafe.com)
by car from Maho the island’s newest and most sophisticated secure gated
community, AquaMarina (www.aquamarinasxm.com),
is under construction and due to be completed at the end of 2004. Over
eighty elegant and stylish apartments ranging from one to five bedroom
units, including penthouses with roof-top swimming pools, in two towers,
provide extraordinary panoramic views of the island and of nearby Anguilla.
A private marina caters for the boats of the owners. In the same carefully
landscaped development nineteen villas will offer privacy and exclusive,
elegant luxury. Ten of the waterfront villas feature private boat slips.
Italian tiles, marble counter tops and high quality American appliances
add to the luxury of every home in AquaMarina. Prices start at $175,000
for a one bedroom apartment. Fortunately, it is simple to buy real estate
in this extraordinary island, with its rich culture, great shopping and
the best cuisine in the Caribbean. There are no “Alien Land Holding Licenses”,
special permits or other bureaucratic papers required. You select the place
of your dreams, with or without the help of a real estate agent, although
Dieter at Sunshine Properties does a fine job of guiding you to exactly
what you want (www.Sunshine-Properties.com).
one of several notary firms, pay the agreed price and your
dream home is yours.
Martin is a safe island. No need to stay marooned on the grounds of your
hotel. Rent a car or a jeep from one of the many rental agencies or take
a taxi or a local bus. The latter will charge about $2 to take you from
Maho to Philipsburg where a walk along Front Street, Back Street and Old
Street will reveal a shopper’s paradise in a Caribbean setting. The Island
has no import duties and shopping is truly duty free. Dozens of stores,
some like Aladdin’s cave, offer a huge selection of jewelry from the inexpensive
to the truly exotic as well as watches of every make you ever heard of
and some you haven’t. At least one jeweler states in its advertising “buy
our jewelry, take it home, have it appraised and then pay us” (www.shivas-trident.com)
but see also (www.caribbeangems.com).
Electronic bargains abound and clothing stores offer the latest fashions
as well as last year’s styles at great discounts.
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leather goods, art work, Delft from Holland, cigars from Cuba and more
are all on display. Because St. Martin has become the culinary capital
of the Caribbean there is an excellent selection of wines from most wine
producing regions of the world. Some experts contend that transporting
wines on long sea voyages matures the wine more quickly and aficionados
may recognize a winery but think that the wine is a vintage from three
or four years earlier. Spirits too are inexpensive. One store at Maho advertises
one liter of Absolut vodka for US$5.99. When in Philipsburg don’t miss
the free tasting at the world famous Guavaberry Emporium, the home of St.
Maarten’s Folk Liqueur (www.guavaberry.com)
and don’t miss opening this site for a touch of the Caribbean.
But it is time
now to head to Marigot, the capital of St. Martin, also twenty minutes
from Maho, but in the other direction. Start your day in Marigot with a
traditional pain au chocolat and café au lait. Wednesday and Saturday
are market mornings and it is worth a visit to the sea front market. Ladies
enjoy browsing among the exotic spices and tropical fruits and vegetables
or buying an inexpensive wrap to display on the beach while the men watch
the pelicans diving for the scraps thrown by the fishermen who are cleaning
a dazzling array of newly caught fish. Marigot has a European air and here
too there is great shopping at sophisticated European style brand name
stores. By the way, on the Dutch side the official currency is the Netherlands
Antilles Guilder and on the French side the Euro, but US Dollars are accepted
You are in
the tropics and all shopping and no play makes Jack a dull boy!
So head to the beach. The only problem is how to choose which of the 36
magnificent beaches will fit your mood today. The most famous is Orient
Beach, lined with bars and restaurants and featuring parasailing, water-skiing
and windsurfing as well as souvenir boutiques. Clothing is optional, although
in my opinion, in some cases, an extra wrap would be a blessing for all
concerned. If you are in the mood to celebrate, wait for the full moon
and make your way to Friar’s Bay where there will be an all night party.
Or take the kids to the long sloping Le Gallion beach where the water is
no more than knee deep for a long way out. Try Guana for surfing or Grand
Case for snorkeling. Wherever you go you will find golden sand and seductive
blue and green water.
of Grand Case makes me hungry. There are more than 300 restaurants
throughout the island but the little village of Grand Case (pronounced
Kas) is a special favorite for dinner. There are more than 20 gourmet restaurants,
many situated on the beach where you can dine with the waves lapping beneath
you and the lights of neighboring Anguilla twinkling in the distance. Le
Tastevin and the Fish Pot are two of several favorites. The Marina at Port
La Royale in Marigot is surrounded on three sides by a boardwalk on which
are situated restaurants catering to all tastes. Dine al fresco. The wonderful
crepes at Le Saint Germain make a great light lunch (www.saintgermainrestaurant.com).
At La Rosa Too, back at Maho, the grated conch makes an unusual and tasty
appetizer. Uncle Harry’s, near Maho, serves the best lobster and steak
on the island in an informal Caribbean setting and at …… and I could go
on and on. I am sure you will find your own favorites.
big dinner last night, not to mention the after dinner drinks and sing
along at Sopranos, it is time for a relaxing massage and sauna at The Good
Life Spa (www.thegoodlifespa.com),
followed by a visit to the Sint Maarten Museum or the zoo,
not really my favorite, or the Old House, built in the early 1700s and
where the owner, Pierre Beauperthuy, amazes groups of ten visitors at a
time with countless stories of his ancestors, and all for $5 a head! An
early morning visit to the butterfly farm is a must (www.thebutterflyfarm.com).
Golf, tennis, horseback riding, biking, hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving,
boating, fishing and bowling are all available, including one of the island’s
most popular attractions, the opportunity to experience the exhilaration
of America’s Cup 12 metre yacht racing. Every participant acts as a member
of the crew, carefully guided by the professional crew, and several yachts,
including the America’s Cup winner Stars & Stripes and challengers
Canada II and True North, among others, will create your own personal regatta
Also popular with visitors are day trips by high speed, wave-piercing catamaran
ferries to British Anguilla to swim with the dolphins or to French St.
Barths, sighted by Columbus in 1493 and named for his brother. The island
was once Swedish and the capital is still called Gustavia after King Gustaf.
Today St. Barths is a haven for the jet set crowd. Or take a trip to Dutch
Saba to hike in the rain forest or a short ‘plane ride 38 miles south to
Dutch St. Eustatius, usually called Statia. Once a bustling port, Statia
was a hub and a transshipment point between Europe and North America, and
was particularly important to blockade runners. When the Andrew Doria sailed
into Gallows Bay on November 16, 1776, the first ship to call flying the
flag of the new United States, Governor Johannes de Graaff fired a 13 gun
salute and Statia became the first foreign country to recognize the United
States. Every now and then a United States President sends another plaque
as a thank you and you can see them displayed on the ramparts alongside
the old cannon still pointing seaward.
the Friendly Island. Well connected by air from the Eastern U.S.A.,
Puerto Rico, Canada, Paris and Amsterdam; the home port for many of the
largest luxury mega yachts in the Caribbean and a “must call” port for
many cruise ships. Relaxing, interesting, entertaining, and different;
most certainly a place to visit and perhaps the place to fulfill your dream
of escaping to paradise.
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