They call Saint Martin “The Friendly Island” with good reason. In all my travels, I've never been to a place as warm and welcoming as Saint Martin. The island itself is stunning. Fine sandy beaches and turquoise waters surround the perimeter, towns are decorated with murals and street art, and inland you’ll find lush tropical forested hills. With friendly locals, incredible cuisine and breathtaking landscapes, Saint Martin truly is a slice of picture-perfect paradise.
Comprised of two different countries, this beautiful Caribbean island is divided into the French Saint-Martin on the north side and the Dutch Sint Maarten on the south side, with a completely open border in between. Both countries speak English, along with their respective French and Dutch. When travelling from one side to the other, the only indication is a pleasant “welcome” sign. The two countries maintain a friendly relationship, and with only about 40,000 people on each side, the islanders are incredibly friendly, too. It’s small town vibes, only set in paradise.
Cruise ships heading to the island dock on the Dutch side, where you’ll find the tourist traps, nightclubs and carnivals. The French side offers a slower-paced, more romantic holiday experience. The fine dining restaurants there are a lesson in haute French cuisine, made all the more delicious by the incredible local seafood. For more relaxed, but equally scrumptious fare, Saint Martin is known for its beachside lolo’s (local, low cost eateries) serving Caribbean fare. Either way, you're in for a treat — the food in Saint Martin is impeccable.
Here are our top spots to hit up in French Saint Martin.
Saint Martin: See & do
A day-resort unlike any other, Loterie Farm is also a private nature reserve and sanctuary. Set inland, the 54-hectare property is all lush, tropical forest, home to birds, monkeys and other wildlife roaming freely. Rent a cabana or a daybed next to the sparkling jungle pool. There’s no salt or chlorine here, just a fresh, spring-fed oasis. The vibe is somewhere between serene bliss and big party scene, with tropical house, R&B and hip-hop beats bumping. Order champagne or boozy slushies and shareable bites. If you get bored of luxuriating and relaxing (impossible, I know), check out the hiking trails and two different forest canopy ziplining tours.
Off the coast of Saint Martin, Pinel Island is a small, uninhabited oasis home to two beaches and two restaurants. For about $15 you can take the five-minute ferry ride from the Cul-de-Sac jetty to Pinel Island. Looking back at the main island, you’ll get spectacular views of Saint Martin’s hillside villas and plenty of boats anchored in the sheltered area. Dig into a lunch of fresh seafood at the Karibuni restaurant, which has been operating on the island for 30 years, which also offers full beach service. Option: If you’d rather rent your own boat to get to Pinel Island, then you can also go a little further to Tintamarre, another uninhabited island that’s a great spot for spying sea turtles.
As a very small island, Saint Martin doesn’t offer a whole whack of space for its planes to land and takeoff. On arrival, you’ll likely notice (if not be alarmed by) this fact when the plane lands. But the low-flying planes are a lot more enjoyable when you’re watching them fly overhead with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Head to the Dutch side of the island and get your own spot on Maho Beach, which is just beside Princess Juliana International Airport, right at the base of the runway. Just seconds before landing, the planes fly so low over the beach, it feels like you could touch the belly of the plane with your fingertips if you stretch your arms up.
Saint Martin: Restaurants
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A quaint, cozy spot for impeccable French fare, Le Cottage is a sparkling jewel in the crown of Grand Case’s famed Restaurant Row. The small seaside strip is chock-full of gourmet restaurants, each one better than the last, and Le Cottage is a must. After 10 months of renovations, the outdated décor has been replaced with a polished, bistro-chic atmosphere, well worthy of the restaurant’s stellar food and wine program. Try the bisque made with local lobster for creamy, dreamy perfection, or enjoy the mouthwateringly good rack of lamb. Pair it all with sommelier-selected French wine.
L’Atelier Bar à Viande & Poisson
There’s no shortage of delicious seafood on Saint Martin, and L’Atelier is no exception — fresh tuna carpaccio comes nestled in a juicy medley of local produce and tender octopus comes grilled to perfection. But if you want to take a little departure from all that shellfish, this is the place. Choose from the chalkboard menu of succulent steaks and free-range chops paired with sides like rich and creamy truffle mashed potatoes. Start with one of their thoughtfully made craft cocktails before moving on to a bold red with your main. In true French fashion, there’s a whole selection of dessert cheese to cap off your savoury meal.
Hot Spot by Bush Tea
Saint Martin’s cornucopia of gourmet, high-end restaurants may come with
a high-end price tag, but quality doesn’t always equate to cost when it comes to delicious fare. The island’s famed lolos (local food, low cost) offer scrumptious food at a more wallet-friendly price point. In Marigot, the waterfront is lined with lolos and local vendor stalls. Shop for local art, jewelry and trinkets before settling down at our favourite lolo spot, Hot Spot by Bush Tea for Caribbean eats. They serve a classic Caribbean breakfast complete with fried plantain, saltfish and the island’s popular crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside johnny cakes.
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Be careful who you bring here, because a setting this romantic can make you fall in love instantly. Bask in the orange glow of the sun setting over the bay, the waves gently lapping the shore just an arm’s reach from your table (or at least it feels that way). It’s a white-tablecloth atmosphere with the attentive, polished service to match, but your toes are in the sand. As the sun goes down, candles illuminate the authentic, creative fare placed before you. From the lobster and mushroom truffled bisque soup to the chicken supreme and homemade profiteroles, it’s all faithful to the French culinary tradition. Have a glass (or a bottle) of wine and relax — you’re in paradise.
Le String Beach
If a trip to the Caribbean makes you long for a casual, beachside grill, head to Le String Beach. The relaxed restaurant spills out onto Orient Beach, with the fresh ocean breeze blowing gently through the open-air space. Cool off with a boozy slushy cocktail like the Love on the Beach, a delightfully tropical mixture of rum, mango, strawberry and passionfruit. The food here sees a Mediterranean and French influence blend with Caribbean flavours. Seafood is the specialty here but we wouldn’t blame you for digging into a beachside burger and fries. The tender calamari steaks are still calling our name.
Saint Martin: Stay
St. Martin Blue
Sure, Saint Martin is home to boutique hotels and resorts aplenty, but while you’re in this paradisiacal spot for the rich and famous, why not do like they do? Grab your family or a few friends and band together to rent out a private luxury villa with St. Martin Blue. Live the high life with your very own sparkling ocean views and sweet, sweet air conditioning. The large collection of villas lets you customize your stay by choosing from the vast array of different amenities available at different villas — like a crystalline infinity pool, if you like, an on-site gym, satellite TV, hot tub or even private chef service. Villas range in size from smaller one-bedroom rentals to the sprawling luxury homes with up to 14 bedrooms. Prices start at $200 per night.