A Euro Caribbean Feel on St. Martin
Two Cultures, Great Beaches, and That Food on St. Martin
By Tab Hauser
St. Martin is a Caribbean island where two nations, with two different vibes, share an open border of 37 square miles of fun in the sun.
The Dutch side, known as Sint Maarten, has a more festive atmosphere in my view. The neighboring areas of Maho and Simpson Bay are where you will find most of the restaurants, waterside bars, and hotel rooms.
Nightly entertainment and happy hour hopping are always happening here.
Phillipsburg, the Dutch capital, can be mobbed (and avoided) when the cruise ships are in. Front Street is full of tourist shops.
One block away is the waterfront promenade where you will find a beach and restaurants. Due to St. Martin’s duty-free status, Phillipsburg has a large concentration of jewelry stores. The U.S. dollar is the main currency.
St. Martin’s French side is a bit more laid back. The tourist hotels and towns are spread out and nightlife is quieter. Orient Beach and Grand Case beaches are very popular. The capital of St. Martin is Marigot.
It has pretty colored buildings with narrow streets lined with shops. The waterside has sidewalk cafes and restaurants. It is a French village in the tropics.
Fort St. Louis sits majestically above and is worth a quick visit to see the ruins and the view. Euros are used on the French side.
St. Martin Beaches
St. Martin has 37 beaches on its manageable 37 square miles. Getting to them is easy with a reasonably priced Sixt Rental Car (sixt.com) and your GPS cell phone app leading the way.
Before heading to the beach, see where the wind is blowing. There were days that the beaches on the Dutch side were rough so we went north to the French side and vice – versa.
Topless is Ok
If you are into tanning, going topless on the island is acceptable. There are beaches on the French side designated “au natural”
Mullets Beach was our regular go-to place near the condo we rented in Cupe Coy. It is a perfect 1200 feet of soft sand and gentle surf.
Loungers can be rented for $15 (they ask $20). Rosie’s Grill was our food choice having a plate of ribs or chicken for $10 and $3 beers.
Orient Beach is St. Martin’s longest stretch of fine sand on the Atlantic side that is perfect for strolling and floating in. The south end is reserved for “buff beaching” only. On the north end, Avenue de Plages has a few shops, deli, market, and restaurants
Le String Beach on the south side Orient Beach is my go-to place. John here will set you up with loungers in return for buying their reasonably priced and well-made drinks or lunch. Using U.S. dollars instead of a credit card gets a one-for-one match on the Euro.
Long Beach is a beautiful section of soft sand that is about 1.5 miles long. To get their drive to Rue de la Falaise and tell the guards you are going to Long or Rouge Beach. St. Martin requires all beaches to be publicly accessible. The beach parking lot is marked on your cell phone map. During our visits, there were never more than 25 people on the beach.
Rouge Beach, around the corner from Long Beach, is another good place to bring your beach chairs. Swim out 50 feet and look north to see an arch in the water. Both Long and Rouge beach offers no services.
Anse Marcel is one of St. Martin’s most protected beaches from the wind and surf. You need to reserve chairs and umbrellas from Le Domaine Anse Marcel Beach in advance. Lunch is here is pricy.
Sunset Beach is where the soft sand meets the runway and the jets fly 150 feet overhead. It makes a good photo opp but I would not want to spend the day there. The Sunset Bar posts the landing times.
An Island Off an Island
Pinel Island is a small island to the north of St. Martin. It requires a five-minute boat ride to access it. The island is in its natural state with the exception of the dock and the two beaches club restaurants near it.
When visiting Pinel Island my choice is to make a reservation for lounge chairs and lunch at Le Karibuni Restaurant. (www.lekaribuni.com/restaurant) The beach here is shallow and calm making it perfect for floating around on a raft.
For lunch order the fresh fish or lobsters that are plucked out of the trap by the dock. On busy days, have lunch delivered to your lounge chair. New this year to Le Karibuni is their solar cells that power 70% of their electricity.
Oh That St Martin Food!
The old saying “stay and play on the Dutch side but dine on the French side” is passé. You will dine well over the island whether it be on seafood, Creole, French, BBQ, gourmet continental or sushi to name just a few types of restaurants.
The Dutch Side:
Le Moulin Fou in Maho is fine French fare. We dined here a few times and found each visit excellent and consistent. During one dinner they cooked on an early request their Beef Bourguinon and chocolate mousse that nailed it. Their lobster Thermidor is worth a trip back. https://moulinfou.com/
Chesterfield in Phillipsburg has a nautical theme décor on the water. Based on experience stay with their local seafood or Caribbean fare. The stuffed Mahi, Conch and creole dishes were all very good and moderately priced. http://chesterfields.sx/
Beirut was a nice change up from the French and Caribbean meals we were having. Their hummus, salads and meats are as close to the Middle East as they come. http://www.beirutsxm.com/
Julie’s (very) French Bakery in Cupe Coy is worth a morning visit if you are staying in this area. We enjoyed their crescents, baguettes, mini-French toast, pastries, chocolate mousse and fresh juices. They also have baguette sandwiches to go.
Café Atlantico in Simpson Bay has the best breakfast menu. This includes skillets, specialty French Toast, savory crepes and eggs cooked all different ways. http://cafeatlantico.restaurantwebexperts.com/
Three Amigos in Maho serves up the perfect $2 taco Tuesday that can be washed down with $3 beers or $9 Patron Margaritas. It has a fun bar atmosphere where tourists start up friendly conversations.
Captain Ribs Shack in Simpson Bay is a casual place with picnic benches. Their ribs are of the best on the island. If they have the lobster creole as a special, order it and tell them to go easy on the peppers. It was the best $15 I spent on the island.
Mario Bistrot at The Cliff is fine dining. Here we enjoyed his unusual take on French onion soup, the pistachio crusted mahi-mahi, the chicken split and grilled as well as their fresh pasta dishes. Save room for desert! https://www.mariobistrot.sx/
La Maison Creole is an inexpensive and casual restaurant by the water in Marigot off the Boulevard de France.
Here you will find an equal mix of tourists and locals. I came back twice for their conch. Others enjoyed the pasta chicken, fish, and other local specialties.
Dinner for four with beer and rum punches was $80. Bring U.S. cash for a one-to-one Euro discount.
After dinner drive south a quarter-mile and pull off on the right by the bay to look at the dozens of sailing mast lights looking like stars over the water.
Fine Food in Gran Case
L’Auberge Gourmand has been in Gran Case for over 40 years. When you think classic French, this is your place. For starters, they have the richest French onion soup on St. Martin, and escargot with just the right amount of garlic. For main courses, you will not go wrong with their veal chop or rack of land. Each dessert is better than the next. https://www.laubergegourmande.com/
Le Villa is a fun and tasty place. They check all the boxes when it comes to good French cuisine with a little humor thrown in by the servers. The foie gras and its accompanying sauces were the island’s best. Main courses enjoyed included their take on Mahi-Mahi with baby clams, chorizo, creamy saffron sauce, and the rack of lamb. At the end of the meal, they ply you with their homemade infused rums complimentary. www.lavillasxm.com
Le Cottage has a three-course option with two matched wines for $89E. Winners were the mushroom risotto, almond crusted roasted mahi-mahi, and the vodka-infused amuse-bouche between courses.
Do not miss their “interactive” chocolate fondant dessert that unfolds before your eyes. Yum! The 15-second video shows it all. https://photos.app.goo.gl/WXiwuAsXCXRwoiPK9)
Lolo pots of Gran Case is St. Martin casual. Lolos are BBQ pits where everything is grilled over the fire.
Look for Talk of the Town on the waterside where you will see three similar open-air restaurants next to each other. I had a very large Caribbean lobster split and grilled for two at $60. Ribs and chicken average about $15.
St. Martin Fun
Rhino Tours (www.rhinotours.com) lets you be the captain. The adventure has you follow a guide while you pilot a zippy little motorboat.
Your guide points out the wrecks in the basin, the beaches and points of interest along the coast. There is a stop at Creole Rock for snorkeling. It is a fun way to zoom around for 2 ½ hours.
Parrot Ville Bird Park is the happiest place on St. Maarten to spend $10. Everyone here just smiles as they walk through the Caribbean’s largest aviary having 30 species of the prettiest birds. Your fee includes a hand cup with feed that will have the birds come to you. www.facebook.com/parotteville/
Natural Pool in Back Bay requires a 20-minute walk from Turnstone Rd. Follow the unmarked path while admiring the rugged coastline.
Eventually, you will get to a spot where you will be required to carefully hike down to the pool. The pool is a protected area from the surf by rocks that on most days is accessible.
Rainforest Adventures goes from mild to wild. For the mild, you can take the slow chair lift to St. Martin’s highest peak for 80-mile views of nearby islands.
For the more adventurous you can take their four zip lines that go between the smaller peaks for the fun and the views.
For thrills, you can get ride the longest zip line in the Caribbean. This drops 1050 feet down in 2800 feet of length hitting speeds of 45 mph. It looks scarier than it is.
The Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit is one of the most unique museums in St. Martin located in Phillipsburg. It is run by Nick Maley, the artist who help create Yoda and other Star Wars movie characters.
Here you will learn how things were done behind the camera as well as see dozens of movie and non-movie artifacts. This is a well-spent 40 minutes for any fan. http://netdwellers.com/mo/ygme/index.html
The Rusty Parrot Pirate Experience near the docks in Phillipsburg is located in a ship-like structure near the water.
Visitors walk through several rooms set up like a ship’s interior while watching screens and listening to the tale of Captain Jack Rackam and Anne Bonny.
Once through the exhibit go top-side where they have a nautical theme bar with views of the harbor and a very good rum punch. https://stmaartenpirates.com/
Sint Maarten Yacht Club is the place to be if you like happy hour and large yachts. Here the bridge goes up at 4 PM and 5 PM which allows you to sip on your discount cocktails while watching yachts valued in the tens of millions of dollars slip through the narrow channel.
Aquamania Adventures (www.stmaarten-activities.com) for diving runs a crew that is very professional, safety-oriented and had enough humor to enjoy our two-morning dives. Both sights had us visit wrecks from Hurricane Irma and the fish that live around them. They also offer sailing and snorkeling tours.
If you like beer, take a tour of the Caribbean Brewing Company (www.sanmartinbeer.com). For $25 you get to sit at the bar while you learn about the brewery and drink (not taste) their four different beers along with a beer cocktail. (Non-beer drinkers are taken care of too).
The tour continues on the brewery floor where you draw yourself the freshest beer from the large steel barrels. If you are still thirsty, feel free to ask for another and another. Visit their windmill-looking beer garden in Phillipsburg that serves food. www.sanmartinbeer.com
Toppers Rhum Distillery has a rum experience that includes a tasting of their flavored rums. There is no distilling here and this is not the place to visit if you are a serious sipper of better rums. I recommend their gelatos sold in the front. www.toppersrhumtours.com
Governors 1648 near Orient Beach is the place to try aged rums and high-quality flavored rums. Presently the distilling is done off-island but they blend and barrel-age up to ten years in St. Martin. We were impressed with the complexity and taste of their products. Their banana vanilla rum is the real deal complete with banana and vanilla stick in the bottle. www.rhumisland.com
St Martin Accommodations:
La Sammana (a Belmond property) is the queen of the island when it comes to hotels.
Located at the end of Long Beach, this beautiful resort reopened in 2021 after a major refurbishing. Accommodations run from spacious suites to multi-bedroom independent villas with private pools.
The property has a full spa and two pools overlooking the beach. (One is an infinity pool) The restaurant offers fine food and craft cocktails.
Reservations are mandatory for non-hotel guests. Look at all the nice art on the walls. website
Sonesta Maho Beach Resort is an all-inclusive hotel situated on 10 acres extending out to the ocean. The property has two buildings. One is designated as adults-only having their own restaurants and pools. The other is for adults or families.
Accommodations run from spacious rooms to my favorite being their duplexes having nice views. The center of the property has a large pool with water slides and a swim-up bar. Sonesta Maho has five restaurants, the island’s best casino, and entertainment on most nights. There is a full spa and kids club. website
We stayed at a high-rise Cliff House in Cupe Coy. Being here allowed us to cook meals, have plenty of room, and had friends join us for a week. The Carrefour supermarkets have everything you need including the best selection of European pates, cheeses, and cured meats.
They have 30 kinds of rum and you can “rose all day” from its two aisles of bottles. For condo rentals email firstname.lastname@example.org at the Cliff House and ask for F4 in Cupe Coy or go to www.vrbo.com.
For getting around I recommend Sixt car rental www.sixt.com. They were efficient in getting us from the airport and quick to do the paperwork. email@example.com