The Stunning French Side of St. Martin
The French side of St. Martin is a wonderful place to visit. You can find luxury and seclusion in its sandy beaches. There’s also great food and wine at the various restaurants on this delightful island. You can also enjoy swimming and snorkeling in the blue clear waters of the Caribbean beaches around this lovely island. In addition to that, there is some great nightlife to be enjoyed here.
For those who plan to stay on the island, they should have no trouble finding some nice accommodations in Saint Martin. In fact, its actually quite easy to locate a rental unit on the island either side of Sint Maarten.
All you need to do is look online, Tripadvisor, HomeAway, or Vrbo, and you will be able to find some nice accommodations in this delightful location.
When you’re planning to stay on the island of Saint Martin, you might want to look into the hotels on the island. Although there are many great hotels, there are also some less than pleasant ones as well.
This means that you should keep a few things in mind when you’re planning your stay here on this gorgeous island. For example proximity to beaches or a town nearby. I have had the pleasure of staying at the Beach Plaza Hotel in the past, which was very close to Marigot the Capital of the French side.
Unfortunately it was destroyed by hurricane Irma and never rebuilt. Many of times I have stayed at the Hotel Mercure St Martin Marina and Spa, in Nettle bay, which is about 7 minutes away from town and walking distance to Baie Rouge beach.
There are quite a few to choose from, I will mention them as we go along. If it is your first visit to St. Martin French side, here are some notable places to visit while there. These are the areas that offer the great European Caribbean vacation experience you are searching for.
Since you are just visiting for a short period like a week or so these are the areas not to pass on. I always recommend renting a compact or a sedan during your vacation, otherwise you can rent online on Expedia for my experience it is the most affordable way to find a rental car, and who doesn’t want to save a few bucks.
Table of Contents
- 1 Marigot
- 2 Grande Case
- 3 Pinel Island
- 4 Orient Bay
- 5 Terre Bass
- 6 Fort Louis
- 7 Frequently Asked Questions
Marigot is the capital of the French side in Saint Martin, it’s a small village like area full of great restaurants cafés bars and boutiques. Marigot is a port town and is also the main port of the French side of the island.
There are a number of ships docking here and many tourists come to visit this port in order to take advantage of the port facilities, to travel to Anguilla and St. Bart’s, mainly day trips and excursions. It also has two marinas both in the heart of Marigot, Marina Fort Louis and Port La Royale Marina.
Finding accommodations are easy, there are plenty of rentals and hotels in the area to fit your price range online. The Golfe Hotel is up and running in Bellevue, about half a kilometer away from the center. You can vacation a whole week or just stay a few days and move around the island to a different beachfront locations, which is what I prefer to do.
I like to stay a few weeks to a few months on the island and visit different parts, I usually end up booking a few different locations in advance through Vrbo or Expedia.
depending on the length of my stay. There are times when we have switched 3 to 4 apartments in a span of 2 months just to enjoy both sides of the island and experience the local cultures. Both with its great attributes to our vacation.
What I really enjoyed about Marigot is the shopping and restaurants, bars and the Bistros, one that I like frequenting when there, is the Bistro de la Mar right by the Marigot waterfront area. They have a full bar and serve delicious fresh seafood French style.
There’s also L’ Arhawak just as popular next door, if you want to make it a gastronomic experience of your vacation there are 42 restaurants in Marigot, I will highlight some in another article, all worthy of mention.
While I was staying on the French side in Marigot after the beach I used to go and have a strong coffee and French pastries along the waterfront. The whole cultural experience was very European nostalgic.
Sarafina’s Patiserrie is the one I really liked frequenting, the others to mention are La Sucrier, Croissant Royal, and TiBreizh if you love crêpes this is the place for you, I did love their Nutella crêpe. Aside from food the best part is shopping around the Marina Royale in the boutiques which are uniquely curated by their owners.
There is also a mall nearby the Marina Fort Louis called Le West Indies, Boulevard de la République, Saint Martin 97150, St Martin, where you can find great clothes and accessories European popular name brands, such as Diesel, G-star, RayBan, And much more. If you are into high end like Prada, Channel and such do visit St. Bart’s, you will have to make a day of it just to shop. Marigot is a popular place for tourists to shop.
Here you will find everything from legends and fables to souvenirs. You can even find different forms of tropical art at several of the stores. Marigot is a great spot for souvenir hunters, as well, so check out some stores that sell these items.
If you want to do a little shopping, more eating and drinking head to the Marigot market, which is open 9am to 3pm every day. The market is a huge market and includes both locally grown produce and seafood.
You can find fresh seafood from the Caribbean Sea, but also include local produce such as mangoes, papayas and bananas. In your shopping. The Marigot market is very colorful full of souvenir like items and island dress as I call the cotton sun dresses and t-shirts, hats.
Have fun negotiating. You can enjoy a meal here at the Marigot market. There are various restaurants for every taste, from seafood to Caribbean and French cuisine. When you’re done with your shopping, head over to one of the many cafés and pâtisseries for a great coffee and delicious French delight, by the port.
Visiting the area for a day is plenty of time for me, sometimes I used to like driving through in the morning on my way to a nearby beach like Baie Rouge just to grab a morning coffee and a buttery fluffy warm croissant just baked, still warm for breakfast.
At night however I didn’t feel comfortable wandering around alone in Marigot other than the Marina Royale where there are so many cozy Bistros set up by the water to enjoy dinner and have a drink, almost like Riviera environment. I always try to practice my French while in the restaurants and bars.
Grande Case is a ways away from the Princess Juliana Airport (SXM) about 20 to 40 minutes with traffic depending on the time of day and yes there’s only one way in and one way out into town. Basically there is one major road in town Boulevard de Grande Case.
This little fishing town facing Anguilla and Grande Case Bay is a romantic getaway, perfect for honeymooners. If you don’t have enough time to stay here you must visit the beach and spend the day at one of the beach front restaurants that offer great service with gourmet French cuisine and Creole style seafood.
Aside from the 5-star restaurants and local barbecue Lolos the beach is just stunning during low tide you will have enough beach for plenty of beach chairs and umbrellas, but low tide does recede the sand quite a bit. However, either way this beach is stunning turquoise blue water lined by beautiful golden sand and friendly locals.
Like I said a small town with beautiful people. Daytime you may want to park yourself at one of the beachfront restaurants for the whole day.
I like Captain Frenchy’s and Rainbow café, they are right next to one another at the end of the main strip of restaurants on Boulevard de Grande Case, away from the hustle and the bustle. After Irma there is quite a few restaurants that did not reopen.
These are the ones that are operating today, that I also like going to, Sunset Café, at 21 Rue de Petite Plage, for local fare at an affordable price check out, Scooby’s, Lolo No 6, Sky’s the Limit, and Talk of the Town. Do go there hungry for they always serve up big portions at the local restaurants, expect great barbecue ribs and delicious jerk chicken and hearty sides like potato salad and mac and cheese.
Evening meals are by European tradition a gourmet feast at the Grande Case famous restaurants like, Ocean 82 is a little pricey but worth every bit, the fois gras is as well as the lobster ravioli, Villa Royale again a great spot for Creole cuisine, and Le Temps de Cerise serves up French Contemporary European seafood cuisine, these restaurants have full bars with a great wine selections.
There are many apartments to rent in the Grande Case area, you can book these online but if you’re looking to be pampered opt into staying at the Grande Case Beach Club. Your other option is the Bleu Emerande Residence, both very quiet and relaxing venues to vacation or like I mentioned a romantic getaway with your partner.
My partner and I always enjoy our time here, we make a point of visiting Grand Case at least once a month for a romantic date night or a full day of great food and outstanding service at a beachfront restaurants, just to reconnect and enjoy a day of getting pampered together.
The hardest part of getting to Pinel Island is finding the parking lot to the “Ferry” transport. If you are driving go past Grand Case and keep driving towards Orient, you should follow the signs directing to a left towards Pinel and keep driving for about 5 minutes the road will end in a parking lot, and voilà you have arrived.
Otherwise, everything else is simple. First off do visit Pinel on a Sunday which is the most fun day to go there, do go early first boat is at 9:30 am and every half hour, until 5:pm. Get there early to get the beachside chairs and umbrellas don’t want to end up in the second row.
Expect to pay about $6 for the ride and $25 for the chairs. Yes Pinel is a bit more expensive to visit but well worth it. Once you are approaching this tiny Island you will realize what I mean. The water is turquoise and clear the beach is shallow and serene, very relaxing and great for little ones.
There are two main restaurants with full facilities on the island and serve on the beach all day long, if you like a break from the beach you can sit at one of their tables in the shaded open air restaurants, as well. The two restaurants are Yellow Beach, which is the closer one to the boat dock as soon as you dock just a few steps and grab your chairs and chill for the day.
My preference is just to walk past that to the left towards Karibuni which is the restaurant frequent since 1995, both places have fresh lobster and seafood respectively you will spend around a $100 to 150 for two people. Going to Pinel is a treat for me!
Orient Bay became popular and famous as St. Martin’s clothing optional beach, it is located in the north part of the island follow the signs pass Grande Case about 10 minutes you can’t miss it. It is like self-contained village by the Orient Bay beach.
If you are going to spend your vacation here it has all the amenities you require restaurants, bars grocery stores and more. It is a family friendly neighborhood lot of kids, and a huge beach to enjoy. After hurricane Irma it has less tourist traffic but you can still find a few restaurants on the beach to accommodate your every need to have a great time during your stay.
Hotels that are operating currently are, Esmeralda Resort, Palm Court at Orient Beach, and La Playa Orient Bay, to mention a few out of many hotels available on booking.com. Although again many apartments are available for short term and long term rentals online like Tripadvisor or Vrbo are usually the two sites I use.
I prefer to rent an apartment when I go away it gives me the freedom to move around and enjoy my vacation on my own schedule, not to say that an all-inclusive vacation can’t be fulfilling it’s a personal choice. Food is important in the Caribbean and in France, combines the two and you can get absolutely amazing food in Orient Bay Village and of course in St. Martin.
Some places worth mentioning are Bikini Beach which is a beach bar restaurant right on Orient beach. I have been visiting this restaurant for years and is one of the best bars to spend your day at the beach, great local fare with vegetarian options not overly priced a cool spot for everyone.
The other beach restaurant I’ve been to is the La Playa Bar they offer Cajun and Creole, French Caribbean food, also a great spot to spend the day starting with breakfast, they always have fresh warm croissants with strong coffee. For dinner and after hours try the Le Petit Bistro, in the Orient Bay Village.
They serve up French and European Cuisine Escargot oysters and a beautiful wine list to impress. The village have many restaurants and bars and grocery store, you can get everything you need in one small place very convenient if you are renting nearby.
Other restaurants in the Village to mention that I have tried are Le Piment Italian, French European with gluten free options are available, I like their pizza. If you are looking for authentic French cuisine do try Cote Plages just totally gourmet French experience with good portions.
Orient Bay beach used to be very touristy but after Irma it’s a bit more quiet which is what I like about it, it’s more relaxing, if you want no tan lines keep walking to the north end of the beach where it’s clothing optional or nude. Weekend are always a bit more hectic as usual every beach, Sundays are popular for this beach.
The Terre Bass neighborhood is the posh, serene and very private. This area is lines with ocean side villas which are rented out for quite a large sum. If you have large family or a wedding party of 20 plus people I would recommend rent a villa in this area.
Most of the villas offer services with the rental price so you don’t have to cook or clean but still maintain your privacy. This area is lined with beautiful untouched beaches, with no amenities.
Driving through you can get a glimpse of some of these mansions but for a better look best to go online to villarental.com or st.martinblue.com you can find rentals starting just under a thousand dollars per night and up depending on number of rooms and proximity to the beaches. These elegant villas have great views of the ocean or the lagoons sometimes both.
Terre Bass also known as The French Lowlands is located on the western side of the island the two stunning beaches that line the area are Long Beach and Plum Beach. The beaches are secluded and serene and almost private.
The other more popular beach is called Baie rouge which has two beach bars, and they are full service with chairs and umbrellas, barbecued goodies. The parking lot is a bit tricky to maneuver in too many bumps and holes but it’s a gorgeous beach well worth the trip, when you get a bit away from the bars the beach is clothing optional.
If you prefer to stay at a five star luxurious establishment you can enjoy the ultimate vacation at the La Samanna. This is the only resort in this exclusive area.
The Fort Louis is an historical monument near the Dutch side border, it is a tourist attraction. Built in 1767 on top of a hill obviously has incredible panoramic views of the Leeward side of St. Martin, worth the climb.
You won’t need a whole day for this excursion you can drive there yourself take about an hour from your day to see it and take great photos for social media,
I do love the French St. Martin, love practicing my French and feeling like I’m in Europe with the cuisine and the fashion, not to mention the people. As both sides of the island the locals are kind and friendly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the French side of St Martin safe?
The French side of St Martin is pretty safe, but you should always take the necessary precautions. There are not many serious crimes committed on the island, and most incidents involve petty theft or violence against tourists. The usual warnings apply to keep valuables in sight at all times and stay aware of your surroundings.
Is the French side of St Maarten closed?
The French side of St Maarten is open for business. The airports are running, the hotels are operational and people can travel freely to and from the island.
Do I need a passport to go to St Maarten?
Yes, you do need a passport to travel to St Maarten. If you’re traveling by air or ship, you will be required to you to show your valid US passport or other document proving your identity and nationality (such as a birth certificate) when you check in for your flight at the airport security checkpoint.
What language does Saint-Martin speak?
What language does Saint-Martin speak? French, Creole, Dutch and English are all languages that can be heard on the island of Saint-Martin.
Is Sint Maarten expensive?
Sint Maarten can be an expensive place to visit. It has a thriving tourism industry, and tourists spend a lot of money on accommodations, food, transportation, and souvenirs. For example, a typical meal for two at the capital city of Philipsburg costs about $60-70 USD. The average cost of a hotel room is about $250-350 per night.