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Can you believe two countries on one island? There is Sint Maarten on the Dutch side and Saint Martin on the French side, of this Caribbean island in the Antilles Island group. The 87-square-kilometre island is divided roughly 61/39 between France 53 km2 and the Kingdom of the Netherlands 34 km2,the two parts are roughly equal in population.
St Martin/St Maarten has been shared by the French and the Dutch in a spirit of neighbourly cooperation and mutual friendship for almost 350 years. How the Dutch and French finally partitioned the island makes for a great story. Supposedly, the two countries held a contest. Starting at Oysterpond on the east coast, they would walk westwards – the French along the northern edge, the Dutch along the southern – and where they met they would draw a dividing line across the island. What an innovative method of dividing an island!
St Martin’s Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewellery, drinks made with native rum-based guava berry liquors, and casinos.
The capital city of Marigot on the French side is quintessentially Parisian with colonial houses standing beside smart sidewalk cafés and bistros, pastry shops and luxury boutiques, and in many ways it looks just like any of the French market towns you might expect to find on the Continent.
Overlooking Marigot Bay on the leeward side of the island sits the imposing figure of Fort St Louis, the largest historical monument in St Martin. Named for the famous crusading king of France, it was originally built in 1767 to protect the settlement at Marigot from foreign invaders.
We set off on a ferry to the charming Pinel Island or Isle Pinel, a tiny island on the north end of St Martin, 5 minutes off the shores of French Cul de Sac, and a few hundred yards off the northwestern end of Orient Bay, Marigot. This tiny tropical island paradise has pristine and shallow waters ideal for swimming, sunbathing or snorkelling. It also offers two beach bar restaurants. One is run by a Frenchman (“Le Karibuni”) and the other one is called “Yellow Beach”, a Tiki-hut style place serving BBQ food, seafood and grilled fresh lobster.
The island’s French side called St Maarten is known for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping (including outdoor markets), and French and Indian Caribbean cuisine. There are plenty of things to see and do in St Maarten during a one day cruise.
The capital of Sint Maarten on the Dutch side, Philipsburg is a bustling tourist city and port with great shopping, quaint restaurants and historic sites. The city boasts cobblestone streets and colorful, colonial-style buildings lining the promenade along the Front Street shopping area.
In Philipsburg there are a couple of historic sites which are worth visiting, such as the Pasanggrahan Hotel, guest house to Dutch royalty; St Maarten Museum with pre-Columbian relics and artefacts; and Fort Amsterdam, a Spanish built fortress dating back to 1801.
St Maarten and St Martin combines the elegance and sophistication of Europe with the warmth and charm of the West Indies. It is fascinating how two countries obviously live in harmony with the other on one small island. The second last stop on our cruise was certainly worth getting off the cruise ship for!
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Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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