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It sounds like a mystic land from a fantasy novel, but the French Antilles are actually a physical place. Nestled in the Caribbean Sea, the quartet of islands making up the Antilles – Sint Maarten, St Barthelemy, Guadeloupe and Martinique – offer something different compared to the islands that surround them. A melting pot of French, Creole and Dutch culture, let us show you why each island of the French Antilles is captivating.
This article focuses on Sint Maarten and St Barts. Part two, coming in October, will cover Guadeloupe and Martiniqueque.
Despite being a 10-hour flight away, Sint Maarten is actually part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Confusingly, Sint Maarten is actually the southern half of an island, with the northern part called Saint Martin and being predominantly French. Once you have wrapped your head around this, prepare to be met with Dutch and Caribbean influences, with a taste of France from over the border.
Many tourists pop to the capital, Philipsburg, for a spot of shopping or a night out. However, it does feel overdeveloped and, you will want to head into rural Sint Maarten to find the lagoons, beautiful bays and hotels nestled into the rainforest.
Whilst Simpson Bay is a beautiful stretch of coastline hugged by a sprawling luxury hotel, many want peace and quiet in the French Antilles. Mullet Bay Beach is quiet all year round and presents an opportunity to soak up the sun or take to the waves. The coastline is adorned with vibrant one-storey buildings, offering food and local crafts.
Alternatively, if your jet lag allows, Dawn Beach is just south of the border. Many are put-off due to the hotel which dominates much of the coastline. However, the beach is usually quiet and non-hotel holidaymakers can visit the beach to witness the best sunrise in Sint Maarten and unparalleled snorkelling.
Due to its size of just 37 square miles, it is easy to circumnavigate Sint Maarten multiple times during a stay. Many hire bikes to take in the Dutch side of the island and there are countless opportunities to learn more about the Sint Maarten’s past and explore what it has to offer.
To get an incredible view of Sint Maarten, head to Fort Louis. It is the island’s largest historical monument and is located above the town of Marigot. The fort was built in 1767 to protect Marigot from an attacking France. Head to the stairs in the Sous Prefecture carpark and ascent the steep stairs to the panoramic view and preserved fort. When the weather is clear, you can see all the way to neighbouring Anguilla.
Make sure you have an ample breakfast if you intend on going guavaberry tasting. Part of traditional songs and stories, the guavaberry is cherished in Sint Maarten and are very rare; only found in the centre of the island. The liquor is the final product and is made with a blend of guavaberry juice, oak aged rum and cane sugar. Understandably, the guavaberry headquarters are located on Front Street in the capital, Philipsburg.
The French-speaking Caribbean island of St Barthelemy, known as St Barts, is part of the French Antilles quartet. It was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and was occupied by the French in 1648. The volcanic island is the smallest of the French Antilles and one of the smallest throughout the Caribbean. It is somewhat regarded as a prestigious holiday location and many holidaymakers enjoy the luxury hotels, fine dining and yachting the island offers.
A small sheltered harbour shaped like a horse shoe, Gustavia is a busy port, often lined with some of the most impressive boats in the world. The fertile hills that envelop the azure waters are dotted with incredible properties, all with the traditional red rooves. With just 3,100 residents Gustavia is primarily an import and exports port, as well as a playground for the rich and famous. However, the capital has managed to retain much of its cultural heritage and the Wall House Museum is a great place to learn not only about the history of Gustavia, but the island as a whole.
As the harbour gives way to the streets of Gustavia, waltz from jewellery store to designer boutique whilst taking in the incredible stone architecture, much of which is of the Swedish era. For restaurants, head to the far side of the harbour, opposite the Rue de Bord-de-Mer.
Located in the northern part St Barts is St Jean. The town is famous for the Eden Rock Hotel, which separates an incredible stretch of perfect white coastline. The famous luxe boutique hotel has been visited by the rich and famous over the years and guests have included Greta Garbo, the Rothschild family and Bono. The 34 suites and villas which make up the intimate hotel are incredible and offer luxury living. Our favourite is the Christopher Columbus suite. Whilst it may not be the biggest, the bedroom has panoramic windows with unrivalled views out on to the ocean.
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