The northern part of the island shared with Dutch Sint Maarten was colonized by the French in the early 17th century, and today Saint-Martin (population just over 39,000) is a “collectivity” of France, an overseas territory with considerable autonomy. This side of the island is known for its French influence, gastronomic delights, and beautiful beaches.
The capital of French St. Martin (pop. 5,700, above and top) is a laid-back blend of French and Caribbean culture filled with French boutiques, bakeries, restaurants, and colorful street markets offering local crafts, fresh produce, and spices. The Marina Port La Royale also has boutiques, restaurants, and a lively atmosphere. On the history side, check out the Musée de Saint-Martin, which traces the island’s past back to the pre-Columbian Arawaks, and 234-year-old Fort Louis, up on a hill overlooking it all.
Known as the "Culinary Capital of the Caribbean," this picturesque village on the northwest coast 20-minute drive from Marigot has a beachfront lined with top-notch eateries ranging from upscale restaurants to local lolos (little barbecue joints). Grand Case Beach is also a sweet spot on which to spend the day sunning, swimming, and water sports; a bit farther on, the Petite Plage has a more intimate, castaway feel. And if you´re here January through March, don´t miss Grand Case Tuesdays, featuring concerts, parades, and crafts stalls.
Ah, those Beaches – Très Belles!
Speaking of plages, the French side boasts more than two dozen gems, with the best/most popular including Baie Orientale (Orient Bay) on the northeast coast just ten minutes from Marigot, dubbed the "Saint Tropez of the Caribbean" and known for its white sands and vibrant water sports scene (not to mention its nude section on the southern end); you'll also find plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops.
Anse Marcel (above), by contrast – located up in the northwest a 15-minute hop from Marigot – sits astride serene, beautiful, and secluded cove perfect for relaxation; It´s also home to a marina and a luxurious resort named after the beach.
And on another sheltered bay, Plage Le Galion makes a wonderful choice both for families and windsurfers/kitesurfers.
Pic Paradis (Paradise Peak) is the island’s highest point at 1,391 feet; just ten minutes inland from Marigot; and offers hiking trails as well as breathtaking panoramic views from a pair of observation decks you can hike or drive to. At the foot of the peak, Loterie Farm is a 133-acre private reserve where you can hike, go ziplining, relax by the pool, and enjoy a tasty bite and/or cocktail. And the St. Martin Nature Reserve covers nearly a dozen square miles of the island´s northeast, including forests, wetlands, and a fascinating marine ecosystem off its nearly seven miles of coastline which is great for diving, snorkeling, and spotting bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales.
Alluring Offshore Islets
Just 250 acres and a quick boat ride off the northeast coast, Tintamarre is uninhabited and a popular spot for day trips thanks to its secluded beaches, great snorkeling, and seasonanal opportunities to spot giant marine turtles nesting and hatching. Also off this coast but even tinier and closer, Ilet Pinel (above) is accessible via a five/minute ferry ride (or you can even kayak out!) from the village of Cul-de-Sac. It's perfect for snorkeling, sunbathing, and dining at the beachside restaurants.
Belmond La Samanna
The Legendary La Samanna
Located just ten minutes from Marigot out on the Terres Basses peninsula, full of million-dollar residences, one of the Caribbean´s most -renowned luxury resorts is parfait for those looking to splurge on a high-end Caribbean experience. It has 83 rooms and suites: eight three- and four-bedroom villas; two gourmet restaurants; two outdoor pools; a spa; a tennis court; and various other top-notch facilities.
Get additional info on all this and much more at St-Martin.org..