St. Martin: beaches, food and waves
I’ve just spent 2 wonderful, relaxing weeks in St. Martin and I must tell you that I love this island. It is safe and friendly with soft, rolling landscapes and lots of sandy coves and bays.
I stayed at a small hotel on Orient Bay, one of the longest beaches on the island. There are no high rise hotels, just small hotels set back from the beach behind the trees and shrubs. Some areas are busier than others, so it goes from exuberant to almost isolated.
At one end of the beach is a quiet condo complex which sits on the low hill. Look at that powdery sand!At the other end is an all-inclusive beach hotel with a large area for nude sun-bathing, predominantly male. As you walk along in that direction, you encounter a group of large rocks which divide the beach and a sign which informs you that you are entering a naturist zone. It’s up to you whether continue or not. Everyone is permitted. Remember that this is French island, so, elsewhere, topless is common. And, “No”, ladies and gentlemen,, I have no “peopled”pictures to support this statement. It is easy to get around the island, either by rental car, reasonably priced taxis or privately owned buses called “Jittneys”. These are vans with a sign in the dashboard window. To ride a “Jittney”, you stand on the highway and flag it down. Ask if it is going to your destination because, regardless of what the sign says, the driver is often willing to go a bit out of his way. The local people are very friendly and helpful. The fare is only 2 U.S.$, quite a bargain.
From Orient Bay it is a 10-minute walk, or short ride, up the semi-private road to the highway and from there you can go to any major destination. It is a short ride of 5 minutes to Grand Case, a small town with many boutiques and restaurants. It comes awake later in the day, so go late afternoon to do the shops, which have very good quality clothing from Europe; then stop at one of the many bars and restaurants for food and drink.
I highly recommend “Le Pressoir” restaurant. It is five-star-quality food and service. The price is five-star, too, so I made it a special night-before-New-Year’s-Eve dinner. I recommend the lobster bisque and the fish of the day. The restaurant is in a renovated Creole house with a small veranda facing the old salt-press across the street. Reserve a place on the veranda; it is pleasant and cozy and you get to people-watch while you eat.
From Orient bay it is about a 20 minute ride to the capital of the French side: Marigot. The “Jittney” stops mid-town at the terminal and from there it is a two minute walk to the waterfront.
On Saturdays and Wednesdays, there is a lively market here with local produce,clothing and souvenirs. There was not a very good selection of fruit when I went and I was disappointed.At the entry to the market area is an imposing sculpture of a Creole woman. The plaque, which is broken, says it is in memory of M.Martin Lynn, designer. I could find no mention of him/her anywhere. It’s unfortunate because I like the simple, rounded lines of this piece of art and I would like to know more about it.
The town looks rundown in areas, although, one block up from the waterfront is a small shopping area, with several streets of upscale shops.The shops don’t have much stock and the streets generally look neglected. I think the recession hit them hard and they have not recovered.
It’s too bad because they have a wonderful island. The area around the marina, on the other side of Marigot is more up kept and the shops and restaurants very good.The capital of the Dutch side of the island (Sint Maarten) is Philipsburg. Here, the shops and streets seem more prosperous, certainly thanks to the numerous cruise ships which deposit thousand of tourists weekly. The town consists of 4 streets running parallel along the one-mile bay. The first 2 up from the ocean are for shopping, with duty free jewels, cigars and liquor. Here is a picture of the courthouse, with a pineapple sculpture on the roof. Just look at that clear blue sky above! Isn’t it calling your name!
“The Pineapple on the building’s roof is an international symbol of welcome. Australian master shipwright Frank Gonsalves carved the pineapple in 1996, to replace the original, which blew away in a storm.” http://www.best-stmartin.com
If you decide to go on an excursion to the neighboring island of St. Barth’s: be forewarned. It is a tough ride. This is not for the faint of heart.
This 45 minute ride includes free plastic bags for the possible, or probable, stomach heaves. Someone had told me to sit on the upper deck of the boat and look at the horizon and I would be okay. I sat, I looked and I prayed. I was told that this patch of water is where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic and so it is rough.
Rough is an understatement. The boat hits the waves head on and we go up and down and around. It is downright scary and a trip from hell. I managed to keep my breakfast down but when we arrived, I could barely stand. I was so shaky. I went to the nearest restaurant and had tea and dry toast and gave thanks for my safe arrival. I thought of flying back but I was assured that the trip back is easier. Yes, the return was better, although one passenger was sick and that poisoned the air for the rest of us. St. Barth’s is a pretty island, with many designer shops, but not worth that miserable trip.
Apart from this side trip with side effects, I had a great vacation. I will certainly return. Reserve my chair!