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Despite a more or less common background, Caribbean islands resemble a bit the Greek islands commuter-wise: you can’t go anywhere from everywhere. But Saint Martin is a hub, with its two airports: Grand Case (at the French part) and Princess Juliana International airport (the Dutch part). It takes 1,5 hours to fly from Guadeloupe to Saint Martin, a virtually compulsory stopover between Guadeloupe and Martinique. And from Saint Martin you have a fairly good number of choices if you want to travel further by plane or boat.

The island was discovered by Christopher Colombo in 1493, as in the film under the same title. It is shared between the 2 countries since 1648. Once invaded, the usual tactics was used. All local Indians (Arawak) were exterminated before heavy exploitation started. The Dutch imported salt, while the French cultivated tobacco. Then came cotton, sugarcane and indigo. Sugarcane plantations needed workers, and a big number of black slaves was imported. When slavery was abolished in the Dutch part (1863) first, most crossed the frontier to the southern side. Sugarcane plantations diminished with time, until the Americans built during the Second World War the first airport, where Princes Juliana airport is situated today. Electricity came in 1960 (…) and since then tourism has replaced other resources as then main income resource of the island, mostly in the Dutch part.

On the spot

Depending on how strong you are in Geography, you probably think France and Holland do not share a common frontier. Well, they do! In Saint Martin. Actually, it’s so well hidden that you may not even notice the small signs indicating you are passing from one side to the other!
Saint Martin is the northern, French part of the island (making actually 2/3 of the total surface), with Marigot as its capital. And although croissants are as good as anywhere in France, the official language here is English! Euros are accepted, but in certain places USD is the currency to have.
Sint Maarten is the southern, Dutch part of the island, with a totally different flair. In most places, especially Phillipsburg (the capital), it reminds of Miami: big hotels, duty free shops run by Indians and fast food as the local specialty make this place more of a cruiser destination for Americans with artificial hips, than a European destination.
Remember to bring US dollars with you, otherwise be prepared to exchange 1 euro for one dollar…


I much preferred the northern, French part of the island. The beaches are very good, and there are some points of interest, but once again beachcombing is what you come here for.
Grand Case is the place to use as your base in my opinion: a small fishing village combining exoticism and comfort. No cruisers attached…  In the evening there’s exquisite French cuisine to taste (my favorite: La Petite Table and L’île flottante for the simple but sublime breakfasts à la française!) If you want to go local, the lolos (simple open-air grills, offering seafood and meat, mainly) at the end of the Boulevard de Grand Case are an excellent choice, especially if you happen to be there at mardi gras, when animation is everywhere, as well as a local food and a handicrafts market. Just follow the smell of BBQ, you can’t miss it!
A must of the island is Maho beach, in the Dutch part, right where the tarmac of the airport begins. You sure have seen people clinging to the barriers –despite life-danger warnings- of the airport while jetliners prop up before they take off: the sandstorm produced by the jet engines seems to be irresistible for many youngsters, wearing masks to be able to breath! A wiser choice is to sit at the packed Sunset café nearby, sip a beer or a juice and watch them big birds land. The famous surfboard of the Sunset bar indicates all arrivals. Best try and be prepared beforehand so as to be there when the big jetliners start flying in: KLM, Air France, Jetair… Although thrilling, this is probably also why the airport figures second among the most dangerous airport landings list in the world (I am so proud to have been on number one AND two…)! I could spend all day there, and for the many hours I stayed I was struggling between giving up altogether on sightseeing and dedicate myself to big-bird watching: an addictive pastime I must warn you!


The postcards

The slideshow