WHY WE LOVE IT
- Two cultures on one tiny island (just 37 square miles): French Saint Martin, a bit more élégant; and slightly smaller Dutch Sint Maarten, more informal and built-up.
- Good values for this part of the world, with plenty of small independent hotels.
- Some 37 brilliant beaches.
- More than 400 restaurants, with some especially spectacular dining on the pricier French side-especially in Grand Case, the gourmet capital of the Caribbean.
- More than a dozen glitzy casinos on the Dutch side.
- Excellent duty-free shopping in Dutch Philipsburg, a very busy cruise port.
- For folks who like to bare it all, Orient Beach, one of the world's most famous nude beaches.
WHEN TO GO
High season is mid-November through mid-April. Low-season rates can be a quarter to half of high-season ones. Temperatures are fairly consistent all year round, the average ranging from 83 degrees in winter to 88 in summer. February through March is the least rainy period, August through November the wettest and most hurricane-prone.
WHAT TO PACK
Bathing suits, polarized sunglasses, sunblock, camera, U.S. passport, binoculars (if you're into birding). For evenings, "smart casual" clothing; a handful of the fancier restaurants request that men wear jackets at dinner.
WHAT TO BUY
Butterfly-wing jewelry from the Butterfly Farm (La Ferme Des Papillons); guavaberry liqueur; Delft pottery from the Netherlands; swimwear; designer clothes and gemstones; anything duty-free.
It's a lot easier to get hitched on the Dutch side. You'll need to file a request with the chief civil registrar (Census Office, Soualiga Road, Philipsburg; 599-542-2457; fax 599-542-4267) at least 14 days before the ceremony, along with notarized copies of both your birth certificates (for U.S. citizens, stamped by the secretary of state's office in your home state; for Canadians, stamped by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Dutch consulate); an affidavit of marital status not older than three months; divorce or death certificates as relevant. You'll also need to send your address(es); your parents' names and dates and places of birth, and your mothers' maiden names; and your professions and those of your parents. Once on-island, if you're not wedding at an official marriage hall, you'll need six witnesses—a detail resort wedding directors can usually handle. The total cost is US$286.
If you insist on le mariage à la française, at least one of you will have to live on-island for not less than one month before the wedding. You'll need to present your passports; official birth-certificate copies, certified at least three months before the wedding; proof of domicile (such as a utilities bill with your address on it); and certificates attesting that you're single, divorced or widowed, also notarized at least three months prior to the wedding. All these documents must be translated into French by a certified translator. For more information, contact the tourism office (see below).
For information on the Dutch side, log on to vacationstmaarten.com or phone 800-786-2278. Tourism offices in North America are in New York (675 Third Ave., suite 1807; 212-953-2084) and Toronto (2810 Matheson Blvd. East, suite 200; 416-622-4300). For the French side, check st-martin.orgst-martin.org.
RESTAURANT LE COTTAGE
97 Boulevard de Grand Case
The quaint fishing village of Grand Case is the restaurant capital of the island—some would say of the Caribbean. Here at Bruno Lemoine's cottage, the ocher walls set off cozy upholstery and silk drapes the color of red wine. That's a libation well represented on a mostly French list, one of the island's best, chosen by sommelier Stéphane Emorine. The fancy-bistro-style fare, both French and Creole, has a contemporary flair. Chef Sébastien Duhoux's various renditions of lobster and foie gras are specialties, but the rack of lamb in coffee-infused jus and the roast monkfish with bacon and olive tapenade, served with eggplant gratiné and sweet-pepper sorbet, are also outstanding. Be sure to leave room for one of the decadent dessert soufflés, in caramel, Grand Marnier, pistachio and violet.
This downtown Philipsburg classic has been going strong for more than 35 years. The food is consistently great—French with Caribbean touches, including house specialties like escargots prepared seven different ways and duck in pineapple and banana sauce. The place is a charmer, beginning with the yellow, blue and white gingerbread-trimmed cottage, dating back more than a century and a half, that houses it. Owner-chef Joël Morand and his wife, Sonya, are sweethearts—not to mention a lot of fun, which they prove each Friday evening from October to June with a floor show that includes various islands performers, along with your hosts impersonating the likes of Maurice Chevalier and (gulp) Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. By the way, print out and bring in the coupon on L'Escargot's Web site and they'll knock 10 percent off your check (except on show nights).
JOHNNY B UNDER DE TREE
15 Miracle Drive (about four miles from Philipsburg)
Street or roadside food stands here are called lolos (short for "low country"), and while Grand Case has a bunch of good ones (such as Talk of the Town), this one on a beach on the Dutch side's south coast some four miles west of Philipsburg is extra special, thanks to the man in charge. Friendly Johnny B (for Bridgewater) has decided that grilling succulent baby back ribs, chicken and lobster under "de tree" (an enormous mango) is more fulfilling than high-end cooking—and is he ever a whiz at it. Grab your choice with a helping of typical rice and beans and a cold one, sit down at one of the two picnic tables and chow down with a view of the Big Blue.
__LE POULET D'ORLEANS
__202 Shamba Hill, Orleans Quarter
National Road, between Philipsburg and Orient Bay
This is a step up from the lolos—it's housed in a building and everything. You get the real, down-home Creole dinner deal in this modest, pretty clapboard cottage with white gingerbread trim, over by Oyster Bay, on the French side of the island. Sit a spell on the little front terrace and enjoy the chicken (fresh and home-raised) and other local dishes, all cooked by Chef Tony, served by his kids and attractively priced. It's a must-dine, even though not exactly a secret anymore—especially not since Anthony Bourdain (a part-time Saint Martin resident) spilled the rice and beans by visiting with his No Reservations show on the Travel Channel.
THE RESTAURANT AT LA SAMANNA
Though many of the island's best restaurants are indies, operating outside the resorts, the open-air terrace restaurant overlooking the sea at the legendary La Samanna (see Sleep) is right near the top of the pack when it comes to quality, service and romance. Daniel Echasseriau delivers a mix of classic French (magret de canard, marinated squab) and creative island-inspired dishes (foie gras-pineapple-coconut fritters). The wine cellar, La Cave, is exceptional—1,250 labels from 11 countries—and by the way, if you're looking for a cozy alternative to the terrace, you can arrange a candlelit private dinner down here, on ancient cobblestone floors imported from France. There's a bit of a dress code for men, though it's no biggie—just no shorts at dinner, s'il vous plaît.
40 Rue Lady Fish
For an utterly charming candlelit repast à deux right on the beach, head south of Marigot to this villa on a little Nettle Bay peninsula called Sandy Ground. Here Nada Dupont runs one of the Caribbean's best restaurants. It's an AAA Four-Diamond affair (established 1976) that hits all the right notes wonderfully, from the exquisite crystal and china to a Gallic menu that specializes in the classics—sole meunière, steak au poivre in bearnaise sauce, escargots in puff pastry, crème brûlée. The wine list is expertly chosen and just as French. Le Santal is open for dinner only.
4 Rue de L'Espérance
In a restored 19th-century Creole house tucked away off the main drag at the quiet north end of Grand Case, this excellent Italian spot has been in business since 2002. It has an impeccable culinary pedigree—it belongs to Lara Bergamasco, daughter of the founder of Philipsburg's famous Da Livio, and her husband, chef Ciro Russo, who comes from the Lake Como area. Soft lighting, salmon beadboard walls and candlelit tables for two make for a relaxing, romantic atmosphere. As for the food, don't pass up one of the house's handmade-pasta specialties, like seafood tagliolini with sundried tomatoes, lobster, shrimp and crab, all flambéed in Grand Marnier. The Italian desserts have a Caribbean twist—for example, rum-and-banana panna cotta with roast pineapple.
If you're making a day (or evening) of it in Philipsburg, give a thought to this laid-back, designer-casual cafe on the boardwalk downtown. It was founded by longtime restaurateurs Su and Norman Wathey in 2005 and named for their family's golden retriever pup. The appealing menu mixes some delicious international favorites (blackened mahimahi) with local fare (conch-and-dumpling stew; grouper in onion, tomato and sweet pepper sauce) and the occasional spot of nouvelle glam (grilled salmon fillet with citrus-ginger glaze). Moreover, it's got the best people-watching in town—not to mention a live band or DJ every other Friday night.
Atlantis World Casino
The glitzy Atlantis World Casino out west in Cupecoy harbors several good restaurants (the steak is stellar at Rare and la pasta è bella at La Gondola), but Temptation is its star. It's a Manhattan-chic spot with an ace chef, Dino Jagtiani (the first local to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America). His mother, Asha, is the hostess. The room is softly lit and beautifully designed without being too flashy. The award-winning Caribbean fusion menu borrows from Asia and the Mediterranean. Dishes to watch for include the duck à l'orange with a touch of ginger and fried rice with Asian vegetables as well as the black-bean-crusted tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes. The wine list does as well by California as by France, and it's pretty decent on Italy and South America too.
LA VIE EN ROSE
Boulevard de France
The spirit of Edith Piaf is alive and well in this island icon, founded in 1979 and named after her most famous song. It's on the striped-awning-accented second floor of a pink building overlooking the eastern end of Marigot's waterfront—though there are also tables on the first floor. The restaurant does a beautiful job of evoking a romantic, old-fashioned mood with its wood-beam ceiling, brick-accented arches and soft lighting from graceful sconces. You can also sit out on the terrace or at street level to watch le tout Marigot go by. The superb menu excels in fish and tends toward classic French (e.g., duck in foie gras sauce), with a few updated and/or Caribbean twists—what would the Little Sparrow have made of a cold mango soup with coconut milk?
CLUB ORIENT RESORT
1 Baie Orientale
Tel: 590-87-33-85, 800-690-0199
Yep, "naturist" means this place will put the moon in your honeymoon, so you can pack lighter than usual. The wooden chalet rooms with AC, full kitchens and patios are bright, yellow and comfy, but they don't have TVs, and you wouldn't exactly call them luxurious (aside from La Villa, the new three-bed deluxe unit), especially given the not-cheap rates. But this is all about the experience of dining, shopping, yachting, swimming and all-around hanging out in the nude. Perks include a restaurant, a bar, a pair of tennis courts and a spa—the only one where the (clothed) therapists don't do that thing with the towels. FYI: This is not a swingers' playpen, and it tends to attract a much older crowd.
LE COSY HÔTEL
8 Rue du Général De Gaulle
If you're in the market for maximum affordability (less than 100 euros a night) mixed with convenience and a modicum of charm in French Saint Martin, you'd be hard-pressed to beat this cute little inn amid the shopping, dining and nightlife of downtown Marigot. There's not all that much to it beyond an inviting plant-filled courtyard and a nice restaurant serving French food with Caribbean touches. The dozen rooms, all on the upper floor (above the restaurant), are on the simple side but bright and cheery, with satellite TV, AC and mini fridges. There's no pool, but the nearest beach is just a 10-minute walk.
On the Hill
5007 Grand Case
In this soulful family-run hotel on a delightful bougainvillea-filled hillside, paths weave among Mediterranean-style gardens and villas. Those villas house 24 studios and suites featuring crisp, soothing decor with a good bit of white, sea-view balconies and full kitchens, especially handy since there's a bar here—in high season—but no restaurant. (Of course, you're right at the edge of the Caribbean's restaurant capital.) The lofts and deluxe lofts are the stars, with cathedral ceilings and wooden stairs leading to sexy little gallery bedrooms. The pretty balustrade-lined pool adds to the tranquil, romantic atmosphere, and the beach is a short stroll downhill.
PASANGGRAHAN ROYAL GUESTHOUSE
If you're after affordability, an antiques-furnished bed-and-breakfast feel and a location in the center of the action, this former governor's house is the place. A 19th-century gingerbread-trimmed manse, it fronts on Philipsburg's main drag. Out back is a beach—so it has the best of both worlds. Family-run with great care, it's equal parts funky and fine, with Indonesian-Dutch colonial hybrid decor (the name means "guesthouse" in Indonesian); a bar with a pretty cool buzz; and a pleasant little restaurant overlooking the water. The best of the 30 rooms have antiques, vaulted ceilings and mahogany four-posters (some swathed in gauzy netting).
LE PETIT HÔTEL
248 Boulevard de Grand Case
Though it's not cheap, the intimacy, convenience, character and personal service make this three-story inn on the south side of Grand Case a honeymoon winner—as long as you're not hung up on having the trappings of a full-service resort. The hotel has a stylish boutique bed-and-breakfast feel. It features Moorish and Mediterranean touches and 10 rooms with a minimalist-chic vibe but a full raft of high-end amenities, along with kitchenettes and balconies or terraces facing the water. There's no pool, but the beach is right out back. If you're hankering for a chlorinated soak, you can head over to Hôtel L'Esplanade (see above), which has the same owners. Similarly, the lack of lunch and dinner service is hardly a problem, what with restaurant row right outside your door.
Tel: 590-87-64-00, 800-854-2252
Below Marigot, way out on the French side's easternmost point, lies this 54-acre, 81-room Mediterranean-flavored resort, one of the Caribbean's most famous. A Leading Hotels of the World member, it offers by far the most luxury you'll find on this island—with stratospheric rates to match. It's set above a choice bit of beach on the idyllic white-sand curve of Baie Longue. The many facilities include two restaurants (the eponymous main one is among the island's best; see Eat), an infinity pool, a trio of tennis courts and a spa/fitness center that includes a rare Caribbean Pilates studio. Except in the lower-rate rooms, the old Moroccan-flavored decor has given way to subtly pleasing white-taupe rattan.
SONESTA MAHO BEACH RESORT AND CASINO
1 Rhine Rd.
Tel: 599-545-2115, 800-223-0757
If you're a fan of the big-resort experience, this 537-room, 10-acre spread out east near the airport has a lot to recommend it. Yes, you'll see and hear the airport a bit, but there are enough fun distractions to more than compensate: a pair of nice pools (one with a swim-up bar), a half-dozen restaurants, a 40-shop arcade, a good spa, three tennis courts and the island's biggest casino, with a dance club and a Vegas-style showroom attached. All 537 rooms come with the expected mod-cons, the standards sporting classic Caribbean-resort decor (tile floors, rattan and so forth) and the newer "premier" units going a little more contemporary-stylish, with teak furniture (those sculptural headboards are a cool touch) and granite vanities. For similar bells and whistles in a smaller package (257 rooms), also consider the Sonesta Great Bay (sonesta.com/greatbay), right near Philipsburg.
__THE SUMMIT RESORT
Tel: 599-545-2150, 718-671-1160
Out east of Philipsburg (and the main airport, for that matter), this unpretentious little place—fetchingly perched above Simpson Bay Lagoon, with the lights of Marigot across the water—is an oasis of tranquility in an area that's seen more than its share of resort development. The 25 rooms are set in cottages scattered amid nicely landscaped grounds; they have either tiled floors or rugs, dark wood, generic tropical fabric and private balconies or terraces. The deluxe units throw in kitchens and lots of mirrors. There are a pool and a good restaurant, the service is friendly, and the value is dandy.
__THE TURQUOISE SHELL INN
__34 Simpson Bay Rd.
For intimacy (just 10 rooms), affordability (especially if you get the seven-night rate) and convenience (across from the beach in the Simpson Bay resort area, between Philipsburg and the airport), this yellow double-decker can make a swell perch for the right kind of couple. The rattan-appointed units are fairly roomy (including kitchens, sitting areas and perks like cable TV). There's a sweet little courtyard with a pool. And everybody loves the friendly, accommodating hosts, Marcus Noll and Carter Glass. There's no restaurant, but a slew of good eateries and watering holes (not to mention shops) are within easy strolling distance.
__WESTIN DAWN BEACH RESORT AND SPA
__144 Oyster Pond Rd.
The latest entrant (January 2007) into the local big-resort scene is also the most upscale and one of the priciest. It lies a tad farther out of the way than the others, on the Dutch side's east coast up near the French border. The design in both the public spaces and the 308 rooms and nine suites is contemporary chic. You definitely get that cutting-edge feel throughout all the facilities, including the large infinity pool with swim-up bar, the casino, the full-service spa and the five restaurants. The resort stands at the south end of a beautiful powdery beach where there's spectacular snorkeling and diving on the reefs right offshore.
You've got 37 or so sandy stretches to choose from. For action and activities, head to Maho Bay Beach on the Dutch side. You'll find more castaway seclusion on the French side, at beaches like intimate Happy Bay, south of Grand Case; Baie Rouge, not far from Marigot; and Baie aux Prunes, way out west. Saint Martin is also the best option in the French Antilles (possibly the entire Caribbean) for nude beaches. On the Dutch side, that includes part of Cupecoy (west of the airport and east of Baie aux Prunes); but the best known is the French side's two-mile Baie Orientale (Orient Beach), site of Club Orient (see Sleep).
On the French side, Oceanna Ranch (Rue de Coralita, Baie Lucas; 690-27-56-11; oceannaranch.com), up on Oyster Pond halfway down the east coast, is run by expat American Elizabeth Mologni and her French husband, Romain. A bit farther north, there's also Bayside Riding Stables (Le Galion Beach Road; 590-87-36-64), a serious equestrian center that accommodates all levels of riders. On the Dutch side, near Philipsburg, Lucky Stables (Traybay Drive 2, Cay Bay; 599-544-5255) offers one- and two-hour rides, including sunset and nighttime outings that end up on the beach with bubbly.
A SOUPÇON OF HISTOIRE
Up north on the French side, between Grand Case and Orient Bay, the Plantation Mont Vernon (Route d'Orient-Baie; 590-29-50-62; plantationmontvernon.com) dates from 1786. In 2005 it was reborn as a two-acre park-museum meant to fill in the gaps for those curious about the island's history and heritage. Set in tropical parkland, the restored historic buildings and mini plantations of coffee, cotton, tobacco, banana, indigo and sugar are all labeled; you can get a little audio guide if you want further explanation. Also on the premises is an arts-and-crafts shop selling souvenirs and locally made products. A restaurant dishing up snacks will open in November 2008.
__HIKE THE LOTERIE
__On the way to or from the panoramic photo op at 1,390-foot Pic Paradis—Paradise Peak—smack in the middle of the French side lies the 54-acre Loterie Farm (Route Pic Paradis; 590-87-86-16; loteriefarm.net). It's a kind of land that time forgot where you can take guided tours along an 18th-century sugarcane supply route high, high up (with further spectacular views). A hike through the guavaberry forest is gentler and more romantic—and it includes a nice rum punch. Or you can just wander on your own. You can have lunch up here too. For adrenaline junkies there's a zipline on which you whoosh through the treetops secured in a harness suspended from a steel cable; call before coming, since this attraction is sometimes booked up by cruise-line shore excursions.
__DIVE, WE SAID
__The island has some 30 dive sites (including 13 wrecks). Most are less than 60 feet deep, and there's a nice variety of reefs, lava and other rock formations, and colorful marine life. Some excursions also include sites close to nearby Anguilla, St. Bart's, Saba and Statia. Top local operators include Ocean Explorers (599-544-5252; stmaartendiving.com) in Simpson Bay, east of Philipsburg; Scuba Fun (scubafun.com), up north in Anse Marcel's Port Lonvilliers Marina (690-272-350) and in Philipsburg's Great Bay Marina (599-557-0505); and the Scuba Shop (thescubashop.net), with a location on the Dutch side at Simpson Bay's Palapa Marina (599-545-3213) and another on the French side at Captain Oliver's Marina in Oyster Pond (590-87-48-01). All the above also provide lessons and PADI certification.
ROLL THE OL' DICE
Dutch Sint Maarten is one of the Caribbean's major gaming destinations, with currently more than a dozen Vegas-style casinos crammed into 14 square miles—some attached to resorts, others stand-alone, many with glitzy entertainment and dining. There are a bunch on Frontstreet in downtown Philipsburg, including Beach Plaza Casino (599-543-2031; beachplazasxm.com); the Coliseum (599-543-2101; carib-vacation.com/islands/sxm/sxmclients/casinos/coliseumcasino/coliseumcasino.html); the Diamond (599-543-2583; diamondcasincosxm.com); the Jump Up Casino (599-542-0862; jumpupcasino.com); and the Rouge et Noir (599-542-2952; casinorougeetnoir.com). Also in Philipsburg is the Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort's Golden Casino (599-542-2446; sonesta.com/greatbay/index.cfm?fa=restaurant2.home).
Outside the capital, you've got Atlantis World Casino (599-545-4600; atlantisworld.com), out east in Cupecoy/Mullet Bay; Casino Royale, at the Sonesta Maho Bay (599-545-2590; playmaho.com); Simpson Bay's Hollywood (599-544-4463; hollywoodsxm.com) at the Pelican Resort, and its Paradise Plaza Casino (599-544-4721; paradisecasinossxm.com); the Princess Casino (599-544-4311, princesscasinosxm.com), at the resort of the same name in Port de Plaisence; the Tropicana (599-544-5654; carib-vacation.com/islands/sxm/sxmclients/casinos/tropicanacasino/tropicanacasino.html), a bit east of Philipsburg in Cole Bay; and the Westin Casino (599-543-6700) up on the east coast.
SAIL AWAY, SAIL AWAY
These comely coastlines and winsome waters make for some fine excursions, whether for snorkeling, deep-sea fishing or plain old cruising. Top options out of Simpson Bay include the 65-foot schooner of Captain Morgan Charters (599-526-2467; captainmorgan-daycharters.com) and the catamaran Celine run by Celine Charter Company (599-526-1170; sailstmaarten.com). Eagle Tours (599-542-3323; sailingsxm.com) operates its catamarans out of Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg's Great Bay. To charter crewed or bareboat yachts, check out Any Way Marine (590-87-91-41; anywaymarine.com) in Marigot's Marina Port La Royale.
RACE IN YOUR OWN AMERICA'S CUP
Ever wonder where Dennis Conner's Stars and Stripes, which won back the America's Cup from Australia in 1987, ended up? It's in Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg's Great Bay, where an outfit called 12 Metre Challenge (599-542-0045; 12metre.com) runs another especially cool and thrilling variation on the sailing thing. You can actually be part of the crew in a regatta between three real America's Cup racing yachts. No experience necessary—the old salts in charge talk you through it, not unlike the way river outfitters handle whitewater newbies. They run up to four regattas a day; each takes about two and a half to three hours, and there's a rum-punch party afterward. One caveat: no bathrooms on board.
BOP OVER TO ST. BART'S
If you're curious to get a taste of that plus chic of the French Antilles, Saint Barthélemy, you can easily manage a day trip by hopping on one of the high-speed Voyager ferries (590-87-10-68; voy12.com), which make several runs a day from French Saint Martin to Gustavia, St. Bart's picturesque harbor capital. It's 40 minutes from Captain Oliver's Marina in Oyster Pond, 75 minutes from the Marigot waterfront. (The latter crossing takes you on a little tour around some of the Saint Martin shoreline en route.) You'll need your passport to land.
WING IT, COLORFULLY
If you've never experienced a butterfly garden, it can be truly magical, especially first thing in the morning, when the newborns emerge from their pupae. The Butterfly Farm (Le Galion Beach Road; 599-544-3562; thebutterflyfarm.com), a.k.a. La Ferme des Papillons, up near the east coast of the Quartier D'Orleans, is a tranquil landscaped garden with a waterfall, pools and a high mesh roof and sides. The tours are guided and include a fascinating look at the insects' life cycle, from super-tiny eggs to caterpillars and pupae. The real enchantment kicks in as you stroll amid hundreds of fluttering critters—the "owl," the "tree nymph" and the vibrant Blue Morpho. Skip this spot on a rainy day, since the butterflies sit out all downpours. You can buy beautiful butterfly-wing jewelry here.
ATELIER DES TROPISMES
107 Boulevard de Grand Case
If you're staying in or near Grand Case or coming to dinner at one of its many terrific restaurants, don't miss this gallery. It represents a handful of sophisticated local artists, mostly French expats, who cover a variety of styles and topics. You'll find Paul Elliott Thuleau's cool yet colorful architectural studies; Modiglianesque portraits by Nathalie Lépine, both painted and sculpted; the dreamlike, sometimes surrealistically tinged mise-en-scènes, nudes and landscapes of Salvador Dalí protégé Patrick Poivre de la Freta; and the sinuous figures—drawn and sculpted, clothed and nude—of Romanian-born Theo Bonev. Not cheap, but giclées or reproductions are usually an option.
THE BELGIAN CHOCOLATE BOX
Old Street Arcade, 109 Old St.
Ready for some sweet decadence? Just around the corner from the Courthouse, look for the cute facade and the tropically dolled-up mini version of Brussels' famous statue the Manneken Pis. German-born Beatrix Detroy founded her artisanal chocolate shop in 1998. She uses traditional Belgian recipes and techniques to turn out 75 kinds of fresh confections—not just the usual white, dark and truffles, but also bonbons made from local guavaberry and shaped like the island (and a few others like naughty body parts). Some incorporate such unusual ingredients as crushed red pepper, red wine and absinthe. There's gourmet chocolate for diabetics, 70 percent chocolate and a selection of other high-quality sweets. Detroy sells some of her goodies at various resorts as well.
ART GALLERY DONA BRYHIEL
Résidence Lou Castel, Avenue du Lagon
Marseille-born artist Dona Bryhiel is a spirited raconteuse and local philanthropist. Her impressionistic, sometimes whimsical oil paintings depict locals and landscapes of Saint Martin and of her native Provence; she sells both originals and reproductions. She also has a few other items with her work on them, such as plates, beach towels and T-shirts, along with a selection of elegant jewelry using local materials. The gallery is on the lower east coast of the French side, near Captain Oliver's Marina and several resorts, including the Westin.
__DUTCH DELFT GALLERY
Chances are you'll be in the market for a dinner service, or at least a nice vase or two, for your new household. If the style of this classic crockery made in and around the gorgeous Dutch city of Delft appeals to you, Falo Oodsburg's Philipsburg shop is the place to find the real, handpainted deal. (You'll see cheesy tourist knockoffs elsewhere around town.) Here at the Caribbean's only emporium devoted to genuine Delftware are the classic blue-and-white, several variants in a number of other colors and some heirloom antiques as well.
SAINT MAARTIN GUAVABERRY EMPORIUM
Look for the trio of gingerbread-trim-crowned roofs atop an 18th-century cedar town house on Philipsburg's main shopping street. Once the home of the town governor, it's now a shop run by a pair of colorful local ladies, Claudine Ruan and Deita Mullen. The star attraction is the island's best-known tipple, guavaberry liqueur, made from a tart berry. (Cop a taste before you buy, or knock back a guavaberry colada.) They also sell plenty of other booze, including various rums from elsewhere in the Caribbean, Old Sint Maarten mango liqueur and homemade lime liquor. Barbecue and hot sauces, honey, perfume, logo clothing and some handicrafts round out the selection.
Are you a fan of shiny rocks and metal? Philipsburg is chock-full, and this family-owned downtown veteran (established 1990) near Captain Hodge Wharf is one of the best, with unique pieces handmade at the on-premises workshop. The specialty is diamonds—loose and in settings, classic and colored-but the impressively wide-ranging selection includes emeralds, sapphires, rubies, pearls, tanzanite, you name it. There's a good selection of watches too. Items range in price from less than $100 to as much as the cost of a small car. The shop is happy to tackle customized commissions.
ST. GERAN GALLERY
Dany Ramsami and his artist wife, Patricia, came to Sint Maarten from Paris in 2005, looking for an island paradise to rival Dany's native Mauritius. They set up shop in this 1,300-square-foot downtown Philipsburg gallery, named after a famous 18th-century ship. It's close to the boardwalk and near L'Escargot restaurant (see Eat). These days they handle more than 50 local and international artists, with an inventory of some 200 original works at any given time (including Patricia's own unique clay-on-canvas pieces). Other interesting items you can find here include designer jewelry and handicrafts made from gold plate and enamel stones.
__42 Frontstreet, Philipsburg
West Indies Mall, Marigot
13 other locations
Something of an island retail classic, this mostly Dutch-side chain goes back to the 1970s, when Reiner and Lydia Heere's yacht broke up off Antigua and they started a shop tarted up with flotsam from their wreck. Today it's a mini empire with more than a dozen locations, including the airport and various hotels. It stocks a lot of the stuff you may be looking for, including cute (as opposed to cheesy) T-shirts, beachwear, jewelry (colorful clay beads and sterling silver with mother-of-pearl), the Netherlands' traditional Delft Blue ceramics, sundry sauces and spices and handcrafted tchotchkes. This is also the spot for beach reads and toiletries.
ROLAND RICHARDSON GALLERY
6 Rue de la République
Bushy-bearded, Saint Martin-born Sir Roland Richardson is a painter, a poet and the grand old man of the island's art and culture scene. He's known throughout the Caribbean and beyond and was even knighted by the Netherlands' Queen Beatrix. Here in his downtown Marigot gallery, in a mid-19th-century gingerbread-trimmed wooden house where he also lives with his wife, Laura, he offers his impressionist oils and watercolors done in the grand tradition. Richardson specializes in portraits and especially flora. His trademark is depictions of the vibrant red flamboyant (royal poinciana) tree. You can buy originals or less pricey limited-edition giclées.
LE WEST INDIES SHOPPING MALL
Front de Mer
On Marigot's waterfront, next to the Fort-Louis Marina and near the outdoor Marigot Marketplace, this two-level complex has gracious old-fashioned architectural touches and skylights that make the atrium space inside a bright and cheery experience. Besides a branch of the redoubtable Shipwreck Shops (see above), you'll find typical duty-free fare at shops like Goldfinger, French designer doodads and duds at boutiques such as Lacoste and Lancel, and a good selection of perfumes and a day spa at Vanity First (where you can pick up a bottle of Eau de St. Martin, for both gals and guys, with a hint of local guavaberry). And of course there are restaurants. If you're still up for more mall, head to the Marina Royale shops over on the lagoon side of downtown.