|In a geographic case of Siamese-twinship, St. Martin occupies the somewhat larger, less populous half of a 37-square-mile island whose southern half is St. Maarten, a member of the Netherlands Antilles. St. Martin's beaches are numerous and pretty, its waters tranquil, and its inhabitants a stylish, self-assured band of hedonists. |
Many lovers of this tiny French domain are gastronomic devotees tempted away from the table only by the prospect of scenic sunbathing (sans culottes, peut-etre) or a bout of intensive duty-free shopping. Chefs are the stars in this tropical galaxy, and the delicacies they conjure range from haute French to fiery Creole to sensual Vietnamese. Without restaurants, entire towns - such as Grand Case, second only to Marigot, the capital - might cease to exist.
Not that sports and scenery are lacking. Sun being an essential antidote to gluttony, St. Martin offers an impressive assortment of cashew-gold and snow-white beaches: the mile-long resort hotel strip on Baie Longue, the people-watching aquasports mecca on Marigot Bay, Galion Bay's windsurfer playground, plus a handful of secluded coves where crowds are scarce and so's the attire. Tennis is popular, so there's no shortage of courts, and golfers can skip across the border to the 18-hole course at Mullet Bay (travel to and from St. Maarten is routine). For a bit of local gamesmanship, visitors can try their hand at petanque, the Gallic version of boccieball. As for natural attractions, they'll find no burgeoning forests or cascading waterfalls here, but St. Martin's hills and valleys, cloaked in green scrub, provide a pleasant interlude from all that blinding white sand. Paradise Peak, the island's highest point at 1,200 feet, affords sweeping views of surrounding islands, including St. Barts and Anguilla.
Marigot, culturally urbane yet scenically provincial, is an intimate, mazy jumble of pink and yellow town houses, swank bistros and boutiques, all overlooking a yacht marina and Simpson Bay Lagoon (the Caribbean's largest inland body of water). Though nightlife is less glitzy than on the island's Dutch half, many of those out on the town do show a touch of formal panache.
St. Martin is for clients who crave the sophisticated life-style - exacting yet laissez-faire - that only the French know how to concoct, in a setting that promotes a casual do-nothing philosophy while offering self-indulgence galore.