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Saint Martin and Sint Maarten
St. Maarten is made up of roughly 34 square miles. This small island nation is shared by two countries, France and the Netherlands. During the17th century, the Spanish, English, Dutch and French all fought for control over the West Indies. The French and Dutch worked together to defend the island with the goal of driving the Spaniards and English out of St Martin. This led to the Treaty of Concordia in 1648 where the island is equally divided between the two nations. As you exit the airport and make your way towards Marigot, you will see a memorial marking the border between the two nations. Visitors can plant one feet on each side of the road, thus allowing you to be at two countries at the same time.
There are two options when flying onto the island, most visitors choose to arrive through Princess Juliana International Airport. If you choose arrive by plane on the French side, there is a small airport on that side of the island. Generally speaking, air tickets to the French side is more expensive than flying into Princess Juliana International Airport. It is usually very expensive to fly into the French side of the Island.As your plane makes a decent onto the island, you will see a small beach below with a crowds gathering to see planes land into the airport. Upon arrival, the best way to really get around the island is to rent a car. Renting a car is pretty cheap, if you book in advanced and back in the United States. You can get a rental car for as low as $20-25 during the low season (summer). As a fair reminder, never leave anything in your rental cars, as I have heard stories that cars will get broken into if people see items left inside the car. Often times when driving between the two sides there are no real border markings, but it is said that the only way to know which side you're on is by the roads. The French side has smoother paved roads, while the Dutch side has more bumpier roads. I will leave that up to you to determine if it is true or not.
St Martin Island
Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
Philipsburg is the capital of St. Maarten on the Dutch side of the island. It is also the port city for all major cruise lines that dock on the island. Located at the heart of Philipsburg is a grand boardwalk with a white sandy beach to lounge around. In Philipsburg you will find nothing really Dutch about the island with the exceptions of street names. There is a strong American influence on this side of the island, so American dollars are widely accepted. You will find many casinos around Philipsburg, so try your luck- you never know if you might win big.
For people who love to shop, Philipsburg is a shoppers paradise. Visitors can buy brand name clothes, watches and jewelry here, all tax free. So you know how expensive these luxurious items can be. There are two forts on this side of the island, Fort Willem and Fort Amsterdam. The forts are in ruins, not much to see. The Old Courthouse is a site you will pass by walking down the streets of Philipsburg. And Old Town Philipsburg is comprised of mainly shops and cafes.
The board walk offers a variety of bars and restaurants. One of the more popular bars on the board is Blue Bitch. Everyone who stumbled upon that restaurant will leave with a Blue Bitch souvenir. The food, in my opinion is mediocre. You will find on their menu typical bar food.
One of the major attractions on the island is plane watching near Princess Juliana's International Airport. Many people gather on a small beach right outside the airport to watch incoming planes land on the island. If you have all day to spend there, plane watching at the beach is an option. However, you are limited on time and have a rental car, it would be easier to drive through slowly to watch the planes land. BUT you have to be lucky because all incoming traffic will need to be on the move.
What to Bring?
Marigot is more laid back compared to the commercialized Philipsburg. Common to the French mentality, commercialization is not on the top of their list. The French side uses Euros to price all goods, but some establishments offer 1 to 1 conversion, if paid in cash. However, not all businesses have this 1 to 1 cash offer, so ask the owners if they have this type of offer. If you are planning to stay on the French side, prepare to bring more USD. But always ask if the business offers this type of conversion.
Marigot is the capital of the French side of St. Martin. The capital is overlooked by Fort Louis that still stands today in ruins with the French flag still flying high, making it's mark in the West Indies. This fort was used to protect the island from Spanish and English forces that tried to invade the island. Other sites to see are the open air markets that stand in the heart of Marigot. Here you find many individual stands that sell unique Caribbean souvenirs and t-shirts. Across the road is the West Indies Mall, one of the largest mall in Marigot, actually it's the only mall on this side of the island. Coming from a country that is used to seeing such large malls with endless amount of shops and restaurants, this mall may look more like a two storied shopping center.
Grand Case, St. Martin
For foodies, Grand Case is a must visit, as it is known to be the gastronomy capital of St. Martin. This is where all the top notched restaurants are located on the island. Don't be fooled by the main road in Grand Case, at first sight it may look like a neighborhood in severe poverty, but this small area offers tourists a slice of traditional French dishes with a Caribbean flare at every corner. If you wish to stay in the Grand Case area, as we did, Grand Case Beach Club is a wonderful resort to stay in during your visit. During our visit, we tried all the main restaurants in the area. There were four restaurants that offered a passport. If you dinned in 3 out of the 4 restaurant, you would get a bottle of rum. And if you dined in all 4 restaurant you get, well it is a "surprise". Most restaurants will have rum shots for you after your meals, and yes, they are homemade rum. Each restaurant has their own rum flavor, which gives you a nice sample of the various rum flavors. Some restaurant were nice enough to place the rum bottle on your table. So, take as many shots as you would like.
Le Presoir was one of the first restaurants we tried upon arrival. Words cannot describe this restaurant. This small and intimate restaurant with friendly staff members will allow you to have a taste of true gastronomy.
The menu offers an array of traditional French dishes with some Caribbean flare. The French Onion Soup is a must at this restaurant. The soup is not overpowered by layers and layers of cheese, as you might find in some U.S. restaurants. There is a slight wine reduction taste to the soup with nicely caramelized onions. The soup baked to perfection. .
The Foie Gras sampler is a very unique dish, basically foie gras made several different ways. The appetizer comes with a nice dessert wine to cleanse your pallet after your foie gras adventure. There is the crème brule style fois gras, smoked fois gras, sautéed fois gras, and a nice traditional fois gras spread. Each of the fois gras sampler has a smooth and rich texture that goes well with baguette. The foie gras on St Martin island are all made with duck liver, some are farm raised ducks. Some restaurant will let you know if it is farm raised or not on their menu. This is a very unique foie gras appetizer, something I have not seen in my travels to France.
The pan seared scallops was cooked to perfection. Sea scallops are one of the trickiest seafood to cook, as it is easy to over cook the crustacean. The dish was accompanied by mixed sautéed vegetables in a light cream sauce drizzled with pesto sauce. The moment that you bite into the sea scallop you can taste the freshness of the seafood followed by a light cream sauce to compliment the scallops. I have had one too many over cooked and burnt scallops in US restaurants smothered in heavy cream sauce and topped with loads of cheese. This particular dish at Le Presoir truly executes the dish well by combining flavors of France and the Caribbean.
The 'Special of the Day' was their fish sampler consisted of four different types of fish found in the Caribbean, each is accompanied by various vegetables. The fish is cooked just right, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside..The mash potatoes had great flavors and I liked how the plated with the fish fillets. One of the fish had mashed plantains, which was a great reminder that hey, plantains are commonly used in the Caribbean.
Almost every restaurant we went to that week offered Napoleon as their dessert special for the night. Not sure why, but Le Presoir had one of the best tasting Napoleon desserts. To accompany the Napoleon is homemade marshmallow and fresh slices of apples. As you bite into the dessert, you will taste the light, flakey pastry with a soft and fluffy cream into between each thin sheet of pastry. Tis delightful dessert of a French general is a great way to finish off this delicious dinner.
Overall, this is a must try restaurant in Grand Case. It is somewhat separated from the rest of the restaurants that are on the main streets of Grand Case. Thus providing a nice, quiet and intimate atmosphere. Bon appetite!
This restaurant was packed the day we went and the rest of the week you only saw couple tables here and there. It is a true sign of low season in the Caribbean. You can imagine in December every restaurant packed with people, as the general recommendation is to make reservations for most restaurants in Grand Case. This restaurant gave their customers complimentary Champaign. I will toast to that!
This restaurant did not really stand out in terms of uniqueness. They offer fresh and delicious seafood, something that is hard to find in the states. And their homemade rum is absolutely delicious, it has banana and vanilla soaked in rum. This restaurant is one of the four participating Passport restaurants. On each table they have placed a passport, basically your guide to 4 participating restaurants in Grand Case. If you eat at 3 of the 4 restaurants you get a bottle of rum ( we ended up taking a the bottle of rum from this restaurant) and if you eat all four restaurants the gift is a "surprise".
This particular restaurant is known for their fish. They pan sear the entire fish, something that you rarely find in the states. They bring the fish out to you and de-bone the fish right in front of you. You can request to keep the head and tail, for those who want to indulge on it. There are two particular dishes that I want to mention from L'auberge.
Pan seared foie gras accompanied by pears is
Bistrot Caraibes is located at the heart of Grand Case, it's very hard to miss. There's a large, round lobster pool in front of the restaurant where it becomes the main attraction. We ended up dining at this restaurant twice. That's how unforgettable it is!
Before I dive right into the food portion, I noticed that most waitress and waiters and restaurant owners are very nice, inviting and makes your dining experience ever so more magical. The owner of this restaurant is owned by two brothers, although I only see the one brother on site the week we were there, is an amazing person. He makes his way around the tables asking how the food is, conversing with people and trying to make his diners a more comfortable experience. However, there was this lady, I believe she was the manager of the restaurant was a bit on the ruder side. She gave us a bit of an attitude as soon as we step through the doors. The first time we went she gave us a 'I don't care' attitude, and the second time around she picked the lobster for us, instead of asking us to pick one from the pool. Just something that I noticed dinning here, but don't get me wrong, this is a must try restaurant!
This restaurant is particularly well known for their spiny Caribbean lobster, especially thieir thermindor style. When you order their lobster you have a choice of grilled or thermindor style, of course you can mix and match. Shortly after placing your order, either the owner or manager will ask you to pick out a lobster from the pool. Then they will weigh the lobster and tell you approximately the cost of the lobster. There is something about these lobsters that makes you want to lick your fingers several times. The grilled lobster is just so-so for me. It comes with two different types of sauces, garlic and pesto for you to dip with the lobster. Nothing really special. Thermindor style is what really drove us to go back for round two. The lobster is split in half baked with cheese, chives and seasoning. The lobster meat is so tender, full of flavor, hands down. Each lobster dish comes with Caribbean style rice, I thought it was a bit dry and flavorless.
Other exceptional dishes to try is the foie gras and their seafood soup. The fois gras is cooked medium rare accompanied by slightly sweet sauce and a leaf made of plantains. Once you bite into the foie gras, all the flavors of sweet, savory mixed with herbs tingle all your senses.
The seafood soup, a dish my parents enjoyed very much as it reminded them of a similar seafood soup that they had growing up in Asia. Light creamy taste to the soup filled with various seafood, including salmon, prawns, sea bass, and sea scallops. The soup is a meal, so it was a bit more pricey than the other soups listed on the menu. This is a must try!
The dessert was a traditional French style puff pastry with cream in the middle, instead of cream they used ice cream. The pastry itself tasted stale and chewy. It did not seem that it was freshly made. You can get better puff pastry desserts in Austria. The ice cream, on the other hand, was really creamy and good. I think if they just served the ice cream alone, it would have been a far better dessert.
This is probably one of my favorite restaurants, as they serve beautiful gastronomic dishes. The service was wonderful, everyone was very warm and welcoming. They were very patient with us, since my brother and I had to basically translate certain terms to my parents.
For starters, a cold curry spiced carrot soup (on the house) is served as a way to cleanse and enhance your pallets. France is well known for their puff pastry, also known as soufflé, the dish can be sweet or savory. The lobster bisque with a soufflé on top creates a French way of drinking soup. The lobster bisque is served with a cup of creme fraiche. The server recommends that you add a spoonful of crème fraiche to the soup, try it before adding more. This just helps to enhance the texture of the soup. Don't expect lumps of lobster meat in the soup, you will find minced up lobster meat here and there. But this soup is one of the best on the island!
Another unique and must try dish at Le Cottage would be the foie gras lasagna. Yes, you read that right, lasagna foie gras. The entire week I had various types of foie gras from seared to tasting style foie gras, but I have never heard or seen a dish like this! The pasta was made to al dante, but the sauce is really the star of the show. There is a light gravy taste with a hint of chives and rosemary. The rosemary really compliments the foie gras and pasta. And of course, any Italian style dish needs to have lots of garlic and rosemary.
The French loves their duck. We ordered a duck sampling dish. This came with a nicely seared, medium rare (I learned that eating duck breast medium rare is the best way to eat it) duck breast, pan seared duck liver with mashed sweet potatoes, pan fried duck leg (the skin is very crispy) and duck gizzards on a bed of mixed greens. I would highly recommend this dish, especially if you want to try the different ways and parts of how the duck can be prepared.
Chocolate lava cake with Nutella flavored ice cream is a unique dessert that they offered. In a way, it is very French. The French loves Nutella and to eat it in ice cream form is ever so better. Once you cut open the cake a lava of warm, molten chocolate slowly flows out of the cake. The cake itself is not as sweet, as you would find in my American desserts. Another must try dessert!
Saba, Anguilla, and St. Barth are surrounding islands that can be visited in one day, each island can be reached by ferries or airplane. From Marigot to Anguilla is about 30 minutes , to Saba is about 2 hours , and 55 minutes to St. Barth all by ferry.
St. Barth is the playground from the rich, young, and the famous. This is a very expensive island, so I would suggest, unless you have several thousand dollars to spend in couple days, I would suggest a day tour to this island. French is the primary language, and all prices are priced in Euros. US dollar is widely accepted on the island, though euro to dollar conversion will apply.
We chose to visit St. Barts island, departed from Marigot on the Voyager ferry by purchasing the one day tour with self drive Jeep rental, hoping to vacation like the rich and famous for a day. The package includes Jeep rental, ferry tickets (Marigot-St. Bart, roundtrip tickets), lunch, treasure map (driving information) and snorkeling gear (which we did not receive). Port fee of $12 per person is not included in the day trip package. Remember to bring your passport because there is passport control upon arrival at Gustavia.
The ferry ride from Port Louis in Marigot departs at 8:15 am, the journey takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The sea was really rough early in the morning, I have never been on a boat that swayed side to side that severely, and at times sea water would splash onto the top deck of the ferry. Thank GOD the journey back was more smoother and calmer. I got a nice view of Anguilla, as the ferry passed by the entire island on the way back to Marigot. I held on to the arm rest so hard that I could barely feel my arms as we docked in Gustavia. From there, look for the rental car company representative, he or she will hold a sign up with your parties' name on it. From there the representative will drive you to the car rental area which is located at the airport. This is probably the smallest airports you will see in your life!
Once you get your jeep, you are on your way to explore the island! The tour company will provide you with a rather vague treasure map around the island. It was a bit challenging to follow the road map that the tour company provided, There were pictures to guide us along the way, but the pictures were not clear. You never know, you might even find buried treasure! Personally, I felt sea sick the entire time we were driving around the island. We stumbled upon this public beach, very beautiful, but it got annoying pretty quick. It happened that a group of wealth French youngsters partying all day long. They ordered to giant bottle of wine, and I mean it was a huge bottle to drink. The island itself is quite posh.
Lunch is included with this tour package.
Most people can't decide whether to go to Anguilla or St. Barts for the day. Anguilla is famous for their beaches and golf courses, while St. Barts is where all A listers come to party and spend their holiday. Depends what you are interested in doing and seeing for the day.
L'eau de Toilette
Have you always been curious as to how cologne or perfume is made? Or better yet, creating your own perfume or cologne? Here in St. Martin is a perfumery that teaches you how to create your cologne or perfume. They offer 1 hour and 3 hour courses, the most popular one is the 1 hour course. They do a one to one conversion if you pay in cash, otherwise they charge prices in Euros.
John, who is the owner of this perfumery boutique in Grand Case, runs the shop and lab with his wife, both from the states. John will give you a brief introduction to the perfumery. The course comes with a gift bag valued at 40 euros that comes with a box or tot bag, a small cologne or perfume, sample sizes of lip balm, massage oil, lotion, and your own fragrance bottle for your very own cologne or perfume. Then he will ask you to smell the various types of cologne and perfume that they sell at the boutique. In between each fragrance, he would ask that each person pick up a small jar of coffee beans to bring our sense back to something we know. That way we can smell the various fragrances in a another cologne or perfume, otherwise your sense of smell will be tangled with many different fragrances that you can't even smell the difference anymore. After smelling the various cologne and perfume that they offer, he will tell you to mark the cologne or perfume that you like to take with you.
Next, his assistant will introduce you the hundreds of fragrances that they offer and have at the boutique. She will also explain how to mix the fragrances together by using the guide provided in the workbook. She will give you lab coats to wear to make it look more professional! You sit down in a lab type setting, John will explain the set and equipment that is in front of you. There ware three beakers for you to experiment with the smell. First, a base is selected, add three drops of the essential oil to the beaker. Then, select another 3 essential fragrance oil to mix with the base fragrance. As you put the essential oils to each beaker, you are to document the name of the oil onto your workbook. It may sound intimidating at first, but John's assistant will help you through the process. Once you have the three fragrances for each of the three beaker, a droplet of each fragrance will be placed on your arm. Once the oils are on your skin, he will ask that you stand outside for 5 minutes to allow the oils mix with your body oil.
Time to smell. Try to figure out which fragrance best suits your body. Once you have selected the scent, the two other beakers are removed to avoid confusion. Now you be instructed to add 5 drops of the base oil and essential oil into the desired beaker. Then, swirl the beaker for the oils to mix, water is then added to the beaker. Water and oil do not mix, so alcohol is added to the mix as well. That alcohol will determine if the fragrance will be perfume or cologne. Bottle the mixture and you have successfully created your very own scent! The bottle will need to be refrigerated for 5 days before use.
What if you finish your own line of l'eau de toilette? Not to worry. Tijon will keep a list of the oils that you used on file, so anytime you would like to order your cologne or perfume they will pull your records and ship the bottle to you. Headquarters of Tijon is in Saint Martin, but they recently opened up Tijon in La Jolla, CA.
This is recommended visit, as it provides a unique look into how cologne and perfume is created, plus you can create your very own scent. How cool is that? You can't even do that in Provence, France.
Grand Case Beach Club
Staying at the Grand Case Beach Club is a very unique resort experience. It is quite different from the typical resorts found on most Caribbean islands The resort offers various types of rooms, ranging from a studio (option with loft) to one bed room (option with loft) to two bed room. We booked the two bed room, since this was the only type of room that allowed 4-6 guests. A free bottle of red wine comes with each room reservations, very French!
The first floor is the kitchen and living room area. Upstairs are two bed rooms with a balcony over looking the ocean. The kitchen comes with all the basic utensils, cups, dishes, bowls, pots and pans-- everything that you need to cook a delicious meal! Don't expect to find complementary coffee in the rooms, even though there is a coffee pot. So bring your own or you can buy some at the super market.
There is a complimentary continental breakfast, French style. That means, you get French baguette and croissant with jam and butter, a cup of coffee or tea. If that is not filling, or would like something else for breakfast they have a breakfast menu. Outside Sun Set Café is a beach shack where you can borrow snorkeling gear, floaters, kayak, and you can book day trips to other islands at the concierge. The two guys there are really helpful and nice towards foreigners. I tried kayaking for the first, 2 minutes in my butt and lower back was already sore. It looks fun when you watch people kayak, not so when you're the one kayaking.
On the island as a whole, regardless Dutch or French side, the major supermarket chain is Grand Marche. We shopped there the first day, it's very international, you find goods from all over the world. Milk from France, Gazpacho from Spain, American brand yogurt and other imported desserts and snacks. However, Super U just minutes from Marigot is one of the better super markets on the island. Outside looked a bit dingy when we first drove around the island. But we decided to go into the market, you will be amazed. The super market resembles markets that you find in France. If you ever been to super markers in France, you will notice the similarities. They sell seafood, meat, canned goods, cookies, and snacks mostly coming from France.
Right outside Super U market is a French bakery that sells French baguettes, macaroons, quiche and other types of desserts. Au Pain Gourmand is the name of the bakery. Their baguettes were spot on, tasted very similar to the ones you find on the streets of Paris. Biting into the sandwich truly reminded my travels to France.
St Martin is a very unique Caribbean island that must be explored by car and staying on the island for several days. Making St. Martin part of your cruise itinerary does not do justice for this island. This island offers more than just rum, clubs, and beautiful beaches. It offers an opportunity to appreciate the French cuisine, soak up the culture and just relax while being on island time. Take some time to unwind and truly enjoy restaurants that combine traditional French cooking with a hint of Caribbean flare.
Grand Case Beach Club Link
- An Intimate St. Martin Hotel | Grand Case Beach Club
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Introduction to St Martin and St Maarten
© 2015 Monty D-Y