|Guests can enjoy a view of Baie Longue from La Samanna, a top luxury resort.|
Famous for being the world’s smallest area of land divided among two nations, the half-French, half-Dutch island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten provides visitors a unique Caribbean experience.
With 37 beaches (one for every square mile), more than 300 restaurants, an array of fine hotels and private villas, and some of the best duty-free shopping in the Caribbean, this beautiful island ticks all the “right vacation” boxes.
St. Martin comes with outstanding opportunities for serious retail therapy. On the Dutch side, Front Street in Philipsburg is the heart of the action. Among the shops is Boolchand’s, our pick for cameras, electronics and watches. Majesty is recommended for gems (check out the amazing Tanzanite collection), and Endless Summer for swimwear and accessories. For a quality souvenir, Linen Galore sells exquisite linen. Roland Richardson Art Gallery on Rue de la Republique has many original artworks and prints, and MCM is good for designer purses, wallets and bags.
On the French side, Marigot has the best shopping with its excellent outdoor market (you’ll find gems amid the tchotchkes), and the upscale Marina Royale with its big-brand stores. Check out Rue Charles de Gaulle, another pretty street lined with designer boutiques. Note: While the Dutch side uses the Antillean guilder or florin, and French side uses the Euro, the U.S. dollar is the most commonly used currency. English is also widely spoken.
The best way to explore the island is by car. Rental agencies are plentiful, rates are reasonable and driving is on the right side of the road as in the U.S. Orient Beach on the French side is a must-see, lined with fun restaurants and bars, but you’ll find everything from long sandy beaches to tiny coves. Note: Both sides of the island have adopted a relaxed view on beach nudity, and topless sunbathing is the norm.
Where to Stay
Caribbean specialist Becky Veith of Becky Veith Travel, Erie, PA, is a regular visitor to St. Martin, and rates Le Petit Hotel and Hotel L’Esplanade as her top hotel choices. The two are sister boutique properties in Grand Case on the French side of the island.
“Le Petit has lovely accommodations at great rates,” she says. “It’s right on the beach, in the heart of Grand Case, with all the fabulous restaurants just steps away.” Room #2, a one-bedroom suite on the first floor, is our pick of rooms with direct access to the beach from both the bedroom and living room. It’s also ideal for a family, with a fully equipped kitchen, dining area, pullout sofa in the lounge and room for a roll-away bed. Room #6 on the second floor is the best deluxe studio with a beachfront balcony and stunning views of Grand Case Bay.
Hotel L’Esplanade is set on a hill overlooking the bay, with an easy walk to the beach and restaurants. “Great pool, tropical gardens and lovely rooms,” says Veith. Travel Agent loves Room #16, a renovated one-bedroom suite with a hammock on the balcony, and spectacular views of the bay. We also recommend room #1, a deluxe loft, because of its elevated and corner position allowing another stunning view of Grand Case Bay. Neither hotel has a restaurant, but some of the best dining in St. Martin is right at their doorsteps. Contact owner Kristin Petrelluzzi for details on either of the resorts.
|Grand Case Beach Club is a casual and less expensive resort; pictured here is its onebedroom apartment.|
For high-end luxury, La Samanna is the market leader—“great rooms, nice pool, and one of the best beaches (Baie Longue) on St. Martin,” says Veith. Over the years, this elegant Orient-Express hotel has hosted many famous names—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Oprah Winfrey, Diana Ross, Billy Crystal and Robert Redford, to name a few). We liked Baie Royale, a Specialty Suite with three balconies, a plunge pool, private outdoor shower, a lounge area and views of the beach. Be sure to reserve a table on the outdoor terrace of Le Réservé for a romantic dinner at sunset. Director of Sales Darrick Eman can assist with inquiries.
A fun, casual and less expensive resort is Grand Case Beach Club. Most rooms have water views, but we love #708, a two-bedroom, two-level oceanview suite with three balconies overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Petit Plage, Creole Rock and Anguilla. From the upper balcony, you can see Grand Case village and surrounding hills. Contact Reservations Manager Christine Beland for details.
St. Martin also has many private villas for rental. Blue View Escapes has more than 150 properties on both the French and Dutch side from Les Palmiers, a romantic one-bedroom beachfront villa on Baie Rouge, to the six-bedroom La Salamandre on Simpson Bay Lagoon with a private beach and boat dock, perfect for groups or wedding parties. All of the villas include airport meet-and-greet, daily maid service, basic provisions, a 24-hour maintenance hotline and concierge services, plus a complimentary rental car with weeklong rentals in French St. Martin. For more information, agents can get in touch with Managing Director Melinda Chiu.
Things to Know
While St. Martin’s beauty speaks for itself, there are a few things you should tell your clients before they book. The island has 14 casinos (all on the Dutch side), many clustered around the international airport and Philipsburg, which can make it appear a tad Vegas-y. It’s also a major cruise-ship destination (the main St. Martin Port Cruise Terminal is close to Philipsburg), so expect large crowds when the mega-liners drop anchor.
There are two airports on the island, but all international flights arrive at Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) on the Dutch side. Many U.S. carriers service St. Martin (American/American Eagle, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, United, US Airways), and Winair flies on to neighboring islands such as Anguilla, St Barths, Saba and Montserrat. (Visas are not required for U.S. citizens.)Tip: If you have plenty of time after check-in on the way home, take a $6 cab to Sunset Bar and Grill on a beach at the end of the runway, and enjoy a final farewell cocktail!
|A guest room living area at Hotel L’Esplanade|