Saint Martin (St Martin) is also known as the Collectivity of Saint Martin and is a Caribbean overseas territory of France. This French territory occupies only the northern half of the island of the same name, Saint Martin. The southern half of the island of Saint Martin, on the other hand, belongs to the Dutch and is known as Sint Maarten. The island of Saint Martin is thus the smallest area of land in the world shared by two sovereign powers.
Saint Martin (the French half of the island) does differ from Sint Maarten a bit. Whereas Saint Martin is known for its nude beaches, shopping, French-Caribbean cuisine, and delicious tropical drinks of rum and guavaberry, Sint Maarten is more glitzy with its casinos, nightlife, and crowded beaches.
Saint Martin is definitely one of the more crowded Caribbean destinations, not the place to go if you are looking for a tranquil getaway. Resorts and hotels provide the modern amenities and comfort demanded by savvy tourists, and beach and water activities offer the Caribbean tropical vacation fun everyone seems to be looking for these days.
Saint Martin’s modern history dates back to 1493 when Christopher Columbus sighted the island on his second voyage to the New World. He claimed the island of Saint Martin for Spain. The French and Dutch, however, were the first ones to establish settlements. While the French occupied the north, the Dutch claimed the south. In the 1640s, the Spanish feuded with the Dutch over the south side of the island, a struggle that lasted 80 years, ending in the Spanish voluntarily giving up their claim. At around this time, the French and Dutch came to an agreement to divide the island in two. The French ended up with 5 more square miles of territory, allegedly due to their naval superiority at the time. Saint Martin (the French side) was annexed by the Dutch in 1793, who felt threatened by the English incursions at the time and wanted to protect its interest. The late 18th century, however, saw a revival of French power led by Napoleon and the French soon reclaimed Saint Martin from the Dutch with little resistance. In 1802, the prior border established in the 1640s was reaffirmed. Today, while relations between Saint Martin and Sint Maarten are peaceful, both neighbors compete with each other for tourists’ business.
Saint Martin features a number of nude beaches. One of them is Baie Rouge, a nude and secluded beach near the Dutch border. Nearby, you’ll also find Baie Longue, which isn’t nude but is considered the prettiest mile-stretch of beach on the island. The most popular beach in Saint Martin is the Baie Orientale, which is located on the northeast side.
For fine French-Caribbean cuisine, visit the capital of Saint Martin, Marigot. If you travel further up the coast, you’ll find an even greater concentration of great restaurants in Grand Case, which has been referred to as the “restaurant capital of the Caribbean”. The food is served in the romantic backdrop of the ocean.
If you are looking for great scenery, you can travel east to the French Cul-de-Sac, which is the most scenic region of Saint Martin. You’ll find red thatched roof houses situated on dramatic rolling hills.
For historical architecture, south of French Cul-de-Sac is Orleans, which is the site of the oldest settlement on the island. Often referred to as the French Quarter, Orleans has been preserved over the years from construction and development. If you venture further south, you’ll reach Oyster Pond, where it is reputed the French and Dutch began their walk around the island to divide it in two. If you can also find old forts erected by the French in the capital, Marigot. Fort St. Louis, for example, which was built in 1787 is situated on a hill looming over the city.
Saint Martin offers duty free shopping. The best shopping is found at Marigot where the shops are concentrated along Galerie Perigourdine, Marina Port La Royale, Rue de la Republique and Rue de la Liberte. You can find cosmetics, jewelry, watches, china, crystal, and various handicrafts and souvenirs.
Most of the clubs and discos in Saint Martin are found at the Port La Royale Marina or at Anse Marcel. Younger and wilder crowds like to hit up the venues in Colombier.