It's two destinations for the price of one!

This beautiful Caribbean island is divided into Saint Martin (French West Indies) and Sint Maarten (Netherlands Antilles).

Front Street and Back Street in
Philipsburg will keep you shopping
all day if you're not careful.

Visitors enjoy a bit of French culture or go Dutch. Europeans can't reach agreement on many things, so the island endures two different spellings. However, drivers on both halves use the right side of the road, and Euros and U.S. Dollars are universally accepted, so it's easy to vacation here. The toughest part is going home.

Philipsburg, the island's largest town, is the main port for cruise ships and other waterborne excursions. True to the city's Dutch trading heritage, it is a paradise of duty-free shopping: jewelry and watches, perfumes, liquor, electronics, and many other items can be found along its Front Street and Back Street boutiques. Also look for the luggage shops — you may need to buy an extra suitcase to carry your treasures home.

The number twelve is just a numeral, but when you see it underlined, it means great sailing. Visitors can take full advantage of the island's breezes by visiting the St. Maarten 12 Metre Challenge. This company operates five genuine America's Cup twelve-meter racing boats in daily races. Incidentally, the number doesn't indicate the boats' length; it's the total of a complicated formula involving length, girth, freeboard, and sail area. These sleek boats, from the famous 1987 race held in Fremantle, Australia, were the height of twelve-meter boat design before the formula was changed.

Competition sailing is almost a
contact sport. (Photo courtesy
of 12 Metre Challenge.)

Guests can participate or just enjoy the ride. The friendly, competent international crews run the boats over a shortened version of an official America's Cup racecourse. Everyone seems to get into the competitive spirit by taunting the other crews during the race — often at very close range as the boats cross paths. The excursion typically lasts two hours and is quite exciting. 12 Metre Challenge offers special packages for wedding parties and corporate team building, and most cruise lines offer booking through their onboard activities desks. The Challenge has been voted "Number one shore excursion in the whole Caribbean" nine years in a row by Princess Cruise Line. If you're a cruise ship passenger, you can work off the buffet meals by grinding a winch on one of these thoroughbred boats. If you're staying on the island, the exercise will whet your appetite for some of the terrific local restaurants.

The beach at Grand Case is
a world away from New York -
especially in winter.

St. Martin is known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean. Many restaurants offer wonderful French cuisine, usually with a local flavor. The town of Grand Case (which rhymes with "John Ross") has a seaside main street full of restaurants ranging from simple barbecue shacks to fancy bistros. While browsing for a lunch or dinner spot, you may find yourself browsing in the boutiques that alternate with the eateries — if you haven't already spent all your cash in Philipsburg. Don't worry, most of the places take credit cards. Restaurants on the west side of the street have wonderful ocean views, so get there before the sun sets.

Marigot's vast selection of herbs
and spices will whet your appetite
for Caribbean cuisine.

The town of Marigot (the "t" is silent) is another delightful seaside destination with shops and restaurants. The main attraction, however, is the Marigot Market, held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Browse among the stalls for clothing, wooden carvings, island jewelry, art, and, of course, food. If you're staying in a room with a kitchen, this is a great place to buy fresh fish, herbs, spices, and produce. The man scaling fish by the shore will chat amiably with you, but he'll ask you to buy him a beer for his trouble.

Ahh . . . Orient Beach . . .

Dual Personalities

Ready for a rum punch on
St. Martin's Orient Beach?

A macaw greets you at Oliver's entrance,
and a marina view greets you at your table.

Warm breezes and clear water make for great
sailing. (Photo by 12 Metre Challenge.)

Below: St. Martin has many classic
beach bars with great food and drinks.

Bright sun, white sand, turquoise water, and tan people — many with no tan lines. This white strand on beautiful Orient Bay was first popularized by Club Orient, a clothing-optional resort at the east end of the beach, so don't be surprised to see visitors taking a stroll au naturel. There are many bars and restaurants right on the beach, so come as you are — sandy bare feet and all — and enjoy a rum punch.

Bikini Beach is the pearl of this Orient, a restaurant serving a delicious selection of seafood and tapas (appetizers) with Thai, French, American, and Caribbean influences. Free-spirited owner Elisa will greet you warmly with kisses on both cheeks if you're familiar — and you quickly become familiar in a fun place like this.

Orient Beach has many lodging choices, including hotels and rental villas. A perfect day might start with a stroll from your room down to the Coco Lounge for a tasty omelet or cheese plate, then renting a beach chair and umbrella to spend the day alternating between swims in the gorgeous water and reading another chapter of that book you've been meaning to finish. If you have too much energy for your own good, go for a parasail or rent a jet ski. Try a Creole wrap for lunch at Chez Leandra, near the east end. (If you find yourself among yellow umbrellas and naked people, you've walked too far.) Order a "Mudslide" from the bar at La Playa. Then enjoy an open-air dinner in your beach clothes, or head back to your room to get dressed up for a fancier evening. Finally, return to Bikini Beach for a rum punch or liqueur to finish off the evening before turning in. Try not to think about work.

St. Maarten/St. Martin
travel contacts:

St. Maarten 12 Metre Challenge
Tel (599) 542-0045/0046
Read the Jetsetters Magazine features: "America's Cup Regatta In St. Maarten" also read "Calypso, Regattas, Carnival".

Bikini Beach Restaurant
Tel 05-90-87-43-25

— Feature by Robert LaGrone,
Las Vegas Editor; photos by Robert LaGrone & 12 Metre Challenge.
Dawn Beach

Dawn Beach, so named because it faces the spectacular pastel sunrises, lies near the entrance to Oyster Pond. Take a swim at the beach and enjoy a great burger at Scavengers, and then head to Captain Oliver's, located in the marina. Chandra, the bartender there, will make you a fabulous pina colada or rum punch before you head for your table in the restaurant.

Eating, drinking, swimming, sailing, shopping: this dual-personality island has it all! Did I mention the toughest part is coming home?"

Click To Book St. Maarten, and St, Martin Hotel

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