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CARIB-St.MartinHeineken250Two cultures – one island. Where can a winter-weary Canadian Yachting reader go to “get-away” this winter? How about someplace that offers the breath-taking atmosphere of the Caribbean and the combined flare of European and Caribbean cultures? If that sounds good – then St. Maarten/St. Martin might just be the “two countries in one” island for you!

Half French, half Dutch and boasting the oldest, most harmonious coexisting arrangement in history, this unique island has a lot to offer. More than just endless white beaches, palm trees and turquoise waters, St. Maarten has something for everyone!

What’s Cooking on St. Maarten?

There are more than 365 restaurants on the island; so many that epicureans will think they are in heaven. From the ever-popular Lolos (locally owned, locally operated barbecue shacks) to East Indian, European, Caribbean and Creole cuisine, food from all over the world can be found on St. Maarten. Planeloads of fresh produce and ingredients arrive on the island from Europe daily. Just imagine Caribbean air filled with the aroma of grilled peppers, fresh mango, warm French bread and barbecued lobster!

Lolos dot the beachside on the main street of Grand Case. There you’ll find locals, tourists and shopkeepers gathered around simple picnic tables enjoying barbecued lobster, swordfish, ribs or chicken. Simply prepared food for around $10 is the norm.

Café life, long a staple of French culture, is evolving on the Dutch side too. One of the most popular cafés for boaters is located right at The Simpson Bay Marina, conveniently located right beside the Scotia Bank! Baguettes, paninis, omelets, quiches and salads are all available dockside.

On the Water, Fun Abounds!

Adventure seekers can sail on “now-retired” America’s Cup boats in Philipsburg. Dennis Conner's America's Cup winning Stars & Stripes, Canada II and True North are yours for this exciting adventure. This is a popular excursion for cruise ship passengers, but one that’s worth the little bit of effort required to find a spot and get registered. For $75 or so, you’ll have a chance to participate in a simple regatta that typically features three of these thoroughbreds sailing. If you’re lucky, you’ll be assigned a job you enjoy onboard, main-trimmer, genoa trimmer or maybe even as a grinder. Once onboard you’ll sail out onto the racecourse, and for the next hour and a half you’ll marvel at the speed and nimbleness of these graceful powerhouses. On the way back to harbour after racing, a cooler full of on-board refreshments has been known to appear from below decks, and on a good day you might even get the chance to helm the boat back to port with a Heineken in hand. Helming a retired 12 Meter is probably unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Speed and grace are at the core of their being.

Ask a local to give you the celeb “who’s-who”on those mega-yachts docked in nearby Simpson Bay – a full service marina on the Dutch side of the island with 120+ slips. It sits at the epicenter of what is undoubtedly the island's most complete residential, marine, and commercial development. This large-scale resort development is a vibrant, hugely popular marina village featuring more than 100 villas, 50 shops and offices, eight distinctive restaurants, a swimming pool, tennis courts within walking distance, pristine landscaping and structured internal roads and parking areas. The lagoon area offers more marinas and marine-related businesses and services than any other part of the island. When arriving or departing by sea, remember to check the time of the drawbridge opening. It only goes up twice a day.

Out and About

Options abound though, you can also rent an ATV, go horseback riding, hiking, diving, snorkeling, golf, or play tennis...you get the picture!

 

The island offers seemingly endless duty-free shopping, particularly in Dutch Philipsburg. Great shopping, quaint restaurants, historic sites, galleries that feature the works of local artists and more. Laid back by day, Philipsburg is more than a little lively at night, drawing tourists with its cafés, clubs and casinos. Not only can you find designer goods at bargain prices in Philipsburg, but on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Marigot, the capital of French St. Martin, the deal-savvy haggler can go to town negotiating for souvenirs and local produce with the salespeople in the colourful outdoor bazaar. Arrive early though if fresh fish is on your shopping list.

The night life offers something for everyone. In Marigot you can stroll along the waterfront and enjoy the sidewalk cafes and bars with their distinct European/cosmopolitan atmosphere. Places such as Grand Case are great quiet beach side retreats during the day and lively street side entertainment with local artisans selling their wares in the evening. On the Dutch side, you will find casinos with a European flare for those who love the roll of the dice, or the thrill of the cards. There are also a number of bars and hotels that feature live entertainment of all varieties.

Events such as the Heineken Regatta and two carnivals draw sailors and party-goers every year. Serious fun is to be had all across this 37 square mile island!

While St. Maarten/St. Martin isn’t exactly the “get-away-from-it-all” capital of the Caribbean, you’ll find more than a fair share of variety in every sense available to choose from. It’s a “small-world” with a wealth of tantalizing options. There are so many diversions in fact, thatfact that you’ll almost certainly spend a few moments contemplating canceling that return flight. From traditional Caribbean scenery, peace and serenity to casinos, shopping, European hospitality and style, St. Maarten/St. Martin has something for everyone. Passion. Energy. Style. It’s all there.

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