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Thursday, 28 April 2016

ST MAARTEN, a cruise stop looking at both the French and Dutch side


The main thing that strikes you when you arrive in St Maarten is the Caribbean feel mixed with the Dutch flavour, as we arrived on the Dutch side of the island in Philipsburg. Philipsburg is the capital of Dutch St Maarten.  Everything is very well signposted and organised. Everywhere is spotlessly clean and all the signs are in English. There is a ferry from the harbour to the beach but the distance is easily walkable. The beach is white sand, the sea is clear blue. There are many different restaurants to choose from, and a variety of cuisines. I sampled the coconut shrimp washed down with rum punch. Very enjoyable! There is a colonial atmosphere. The buildings are colourful, mainly two stories high and many have a shop below and living quarters above. One of the things St Maarten is most famous for is the duty free shopping. There are a wide variety of duty free shops selling everything from diamonds to technology to designer clothing.  The main area of Front Street resembles an open air mall. There are also the touristy market stalls with sarongs, necklaces, fridge magnets etc.  We stopped for a coffee and asked the waitress how to get to the French Quarter.  There a many ways to travel, including taking a Segway up and down the boardwalk. You can hire a car or a bike.  The cheapest way is by bus.  We were told the main French town was Marigot, the capital of St. Martin. The bus stops are easy to find and the name of the destination is written clearly at the front of the bus. Also the bus drivers are friendly and helpful.
As we drove towards the French part of the island it was interesting to see how the scenery changed. When we got off the bus we may as well have been in a different country. The sun was still shining and the sea was still blue but the French flavour was obvious everywhere. Gone were the well organised, well laid out streets. There were patisseries and designer stores scattered haphazardly about, as well as a very classy harbour full of designer yachts. The people are very chic.  French is spoken everywhere, and the coffee is divine. There is a yacht club overlooking the bay. I felt like I was in the South of France.
At the top of the hill overlooking the harbour stands Fort Louis. It is quite a climb to get up to the Fort but the view is breathtaking across the bay to Anguilla. The Fort was built to protect the port warehouses, which stored produce including salt, coffee and sugar cane.
The Waterfront area is alive with open air market stalls selling local art, fabrics and crafts and there are many open air cafes. There is also an upmarket shopping mall and a wonderful ice cream parlour.
I would be hard pushed to choose between the french side and the dutch side of the island. They both have wonderful qualities and are definitely well worth seeing. In fact the lovely thing is that you don't have to decide. You can easily enjoy both!

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