By Kicki Storm
“Welcome to the Island of St. Maarten. We are so glad you are here” said the driver as he loaded the luggage into the back of the van and drove us to the rental car agency. “Without you we have nothing.” he said. He couldn’t have been more friendly.
St. Martin/Sint Maarten is half French and half Dutch. We stayed on the French side in Grand Case, a charming former fishing village and restaurant capital of the Caribbean where you will have a gastronomic experience that rivals no other Caribbean Island. (Enjoy everything from local Caribbean culture at the lolos to traditional French, Italian and creole cuisine.) St. Maarten/St. Martin is a welcoming island with lots of fun things to do.
There are nature adventures, culinary pleasures, historic sites worth experiencing, great shopping and 37 beautiful beaches with diverse and scenic landscapes. Cupecoy has spectacular cliffs and sunsets that will take your breath away. Orient Bay on the ocean side is one of the biggest and most popular beaches with several beach clubs, restaurants, and a wide selection of water sports. You can also enjoy this nine-acre waterfront recreation and lifestyle venue includes the world’s largest deep-water standing surf wave, the adjacent 52-acre Wai Kai Lagoon for water sports, three delectable restaurants, a multitude of event venues including a sprawling event lawn with waterfront fire pits, and unique retail!
Accommodations range from boutique hotels to dreamy villas. We stayed at the Grand Case Beach Club, an intimate boutique hotel which has been totally renovated since Irma. The setting is magical and serene. There are two beaches and an amazing seaside restaurant, “Sunset Café” built into the side of a rock where ocean spray is part of the menu.
Gaze at Creole Rock and Anguilla in the distance. Swim in the rooftop pool where the glass balcony allows for 360 degree views of the sea, mountains and village of Grand Case. It’s hard to leave and go elsewhere to explore, but offerings are plenty.
A visit to Loterie Farm is a must. Zip line through the trees or take a two hour hike to Pic Paradis, the highest peak for spectacular island views. Don’t be surprised if you bump into some monkeys or large iguanas along the way. Reward yourself at the end with a magnificent lunch in their treetop restaurant. Order their famous chicken curry. Regular guests there include St. Martin’s President and he seemed to be enjoying his lunch as much we did.
A day trip to Pinel Island is a delight for all. Remember cash for the ferry as they won’t take any other form of payment. I only had enough cash to pay for two tickets, but there were three of us. Luckily the kayak rental shop at the harbor took visa. So, plan B: daughter’s boyfriend kayaked to the island. There are two restaurant/beach clubs on Pinel. We chose Karibuni, slightly more serene and with a divine menu.
If you go on Sunday, reserve your beach club lounge chairs in advance. You can dine at the restaurant or at your lounge chair. The food is flavorful and zesty. Fresh sliced tuna, bright colored vegetables, fruits and spiny local lobster are some of the options. The water is calm and the vibe is south of France.
The island is fantastic and both sides have their special features. Choose the side that suits you. It’s a good time to go. Flights are reasonable and booking policies flexible. Enjoy this magical island with its incredibly scenic landscapes. As one local put it, “love living life”. There is always a reason to celebrate, dance and have fun. This is a good place to start.
The list of “must see and must do” is long, but here are a few more of our favorites:
Barranco restaurant Grand Case (Great DJ and Thursday night fashion show )
Ocean 82 restaurant Grand Case
Villa Royale restaurant Grand Case
Snorkeling at Creole Rock and Tintamarre
Captain Jo boat charter
Boat and jetski rentals at Marigot Marina
Shopping in Marigot (fabulous French fashions!)