In the mid-seventeenth century, the Dutch and French signed a treaty dividing the island of Sint Maarten: the southern part became Dutch, the northern part belonged to France.
Two countries on an island smaller than Texel
The island, which with an area of 87 square kilometers is almost half the size of Texel, is still governed by two governments. Saint Martin falls under France and is therefore part of the European Union. Here you can pay with euros and use your Dutch bundle by telephone.
But when you enter Sint Maarten, the roaming of your phone must be turned off quickly, because since 2010 it has been an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Two countries on a small island. It makes little difference to the residents. “On the island it is ‘us knows us’. There is a village feeling,” says Dutch Michele Korteweg, who has lived on Sint Maarten for eleven years.
Difference in atmosphere
During her internship at the Heineken Regatta, the largest sailing race in the Caribbean, Korteweg fell in love with the island and the work. Now she is general manager of the same regatta and the Sint Maarten Yacht Club.
Korteweg lives and works in the Dutch part, but she goes to Saint Martin for an evening out for dinner. “The food on the French side is good. You really sit down for it, because the French take the time to dine.”
According to Korteweg, there is certainly a difference in atmosphere in that regard. “On the Dutch side, the food is aimed at Americans and you have a lot of burger joints.”
Americans therefore make up the largest part of the tourists who visit Sint Maarten. “For them, dining on the French side is really an experience. That feels luxurious and exotic,” says Korteweg.
From French frog legs to local specialties
If you look at the menu in the fine dining restaurants of Saint Martin, you will indeed get the feeling of being in France. Foie gras, frogs’ legs, bouillabaisse and the typical French dessert Paris-Brest. You can order it all here.
For example, in the bay of Grand Case, the culinary hotspot of Saint Martin, where everything is possible: extensive dining with a French twist or a local specialty in one of the small open-air barbecue restaurants with a sea view.
The bohemian chic Rainbow Café is a popular spot in Grand Case. A nice place for breakfast, lunch or dinner and also one of the few places in Saint Martin where you can dance. The Dutch Rose Atlas has a boutique shop at the beach restaurant, which is run by her partner.
“On the French side you go out for dinner, but on the Dutch side there is nightlife. You have all the clubs there,” says Atlas, who came to Sint Maarten five years ago and has lived on both sides of the island. “We are trying to create an entertainment area for the French side.”
Rainbow Café does this by always having a DJ and organizing a beach party on Sundays. “That is really our busiest day. Then both locals and tourists come here.”
Island visitors who want to stroll through the streets of larger towns can visit the two capitals: Philipsburg is the capital of Sint Maarten, Marigot that of Saint Martin.
Whether it is pleasantly busy in Philipsburg or rather quiet depends on whether cruise ships are docked that day. If so, the beach is full, there is life in the beach bars and you are continuously addressed on the boulevard with the question whether you want a beach bed or a jet ski.
Street art and lolos in Marigot
Marigot is calmer and more authentic. There is not much to do, but the colorful street art brightens up the walls and a visit to the island is not complete without a local lunch at one of the lolo’s, as the open-air restaurants are called, and which stands for ‘locally operated locally owned’.
These lolos, of which Sandy’s, Enoch’s Place and Rosemary’s Restaurant are recommended, sit side by side on the waterfront. They had to leave a previous location after Hurricane Irma devastated much.
At first glance, little of that terrible havoc is visible anymore. In the large lagoon you can still see shipwrecks and not all houses are in their original state again, but a lot has been renovated since August 2017, when Irma raced over the island.
The return of visitors has helped with that, because 85 percent of the island’s economy relies on tourism. Tourists who come to explore both the Dutch and French sides.
For this article, our editor went at the invitation of Saint-Martin Tourist Office to Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. The content of the article has been independently determined editorially.