The island of St. Martin is divided between two nations, Dutch (St. Maarten) and French (St. Martin). The French side is where I stayed in a place called Grand Case Beach at a hotel called L’esplanade which was very good and the people were very helpful and friendly. The French side is way more islandy feeling and looking. It also has a much quieter and more relaxed vibe to it-it’s the kind of place where you can just walk around barefoot all day if you wanted. From the shores of beautiful Grand Case Beach you can walk up and down the beach behind restaurant row and eat and drink your way down the beach. That’s pretty much what I did.
The Dutch side in my opinion was a complete disaster. It was very similar to St. Thomas in the USVI which I can’t stand because of the abundance of duty free and jewelry shops everywhere, with no real signs of its own identity. The Dutch side also had awful traffic-I mean really bad, and a ton of air pollution. It is also where the cruise ships line the waterfront for shoppers to go nuts in the million and one stores they have in Philipsburg-the capital. In fairness, I didn’t spend much time on the beaches of the Dutch side and only saw them in brief but I know myself and with all the crowds and the people-I wouldn’t have enjoyed that side as much.
The French side on the other hand was a joy and had one particular restaurant that I really enjoyed. The Frommers guidebook, which I am using for the very first time, had recommended a place called Spiga for dinner which was allegedly supposed to be the best Italian restaurant in the Caribbean. I can plainly say that it was excellent. The beef carpaccio, insalata caprese and papardelle in veal bolognese were pretty money. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was as good as my grandmas cooking or certainly the better places in New York City but for the Caribbean, it was amazing Italian and a refreshing change from fish, cheeseburgers and fries.
I got up very early this morning to head over to Anguilla which is a 20 minute ferry from Marigot Bay on French St. Martin. I headed straight to Shoal Bay Beach which is supposed to be the best on the island and one of the tops in the Caribbean-it didn’t disappoint. It’s long sandy white beach is flanked by perfect palm trees and no developments as of yet-but I did see that two are expected in the coming years so get there while you can. Additionally, they had some cool little bars and restaurants and I ate at a place called Uncle Ernie’s which was right on the beach. The food was a little overpriced but it was pretty good along with a token Red Stripe and cheerful locals. The rest of the island is full of fancy resorts and flat land which gives sweeping views of the neighboring islands of St. Martin and Saba. Anguilla is one of those places where it’s best to either do a day trip like I did or stay at a fancy resort because there are no real alternatives and that is the center of culture for visitors.
Overall, I was very happy with my visits to the islands of St. Martin (at least the French side) and certainly Anguilla. The islands aren’t cheap and it’s best to rent a car on St. Martin if you want to drive around and see the whole island. The best deals are definitely on the strip in Grand Case where they do a one for one deal-dollar to euro-which makes for a nice break for the dollar after a few years of taking it hard from the euro. But they always give you the bill in euros so don’t make the mistake of paying in euros when you can get off 30% cheaper paying in dollars.