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St. Martin, isle of picturesque villages.
The best way to discover the way of life and customs of Saint Martin is to take a stroll through its towns and its villages.
Marigot, the cosmopolitan capital of the French side, is home to all the local government departments. Here, boutiques and trendy restaurants sit side-by-side with traditional stalls. Don’t miss the colours, smells and buzz of the local market.
A former fishing village, Grand-Case has a unique Creole charm. Along its magnificent bay you will find a large number of restaurants in traditional huts and wattle houses.
In the remote village of Colombier, which is surrounded by nature on all sides, authenticity meets identity.
Having sprung up only recently in the last ten years, Orient Bay Village is considered one of the “musts” of the Caribbean.
The town of Marigot appeared around 1969 and owes its name to the many swamps or marigots that used to occupy the zone. Marigot grew rapidly over the 18th century thanks to sugar cane production and became the capital of the French part, from where successive governors conducted their official business. In 1970, the filling of a section of the lagoon enabled the extension of the village. Another land filling project in 1990 facilitated the construction of the road along side the water front.
Today, a pretty promenade has been developed on the water front, running from Fort Louis Marina to the cemetery via the open-air market, in the warm hues of the sun. Now the headquarters of the "sous préfecture" for the two northern islands of St. Martin and Saint Barths, the town of Marigot is home to all the local government departments (Hôtel de la Collectivité, sous préfecture services, border police, customs, etc.).
Marigot is made up of a number of districts: Agrément, Hameau Du Pont, Galisbay, Concordia, Sandy Ground, Saint James and Bellevue.
Winding through the streets of central Marigot, visitors will love discovering old Creole houses, restored in the traditional Saint Martinoise style and often housing luxury boutiques.
St. Martin is the Caribbean capital of elegance, luxury and hi-tech equipment, all of it duty-free. Making the most of its tax-free status, Marigot has become a mecca for duty-free shopping, with a focus on luxury and French fashion. All the world’s prestigious and luxury brands can be found here. The same can be said of the West Indies shopping centre on Marigot waterfront, next to Fort Louis Marina. These luxury boutiques are interspersed with small stalls, often owned by Indians, Chinese and Saint Martiners, where far less stunning products are touted.
For more information see the section : SHOPPING.
One of Marigot’s main streets, Rue de la République boasts 19th-century traditional facades that have for the most part retained their architectural authenticity. The ground floors of these dwellings are of stone and lime mortar construction, while the first floors are wooden and built using traditional house construction methods. Facades face the street and have at least one upstairs gallery decorated with friezes, known as gingerbreads, and finely tooled balustrades. (Source: “Caraïbes Françaises Saint-Martin/Sint-Maarten Guide”, Sepcart publications)
Built on the Fort Louis road, the church was constructed in 1941.
Before this time, and due to the predominance of Anglo-Saxon, mainly protestant, culture on the island, Catholics found themselves in the minority and had no place of worship. St. Martin’s first priest arrived on the island in 1936. In 1941, Father Wall took up office in St. Martin and initiated the construction of Marigot’s Church. He also masterminded the construction of Grand Case Church, which was built at roughly the same time using the same stone and lime technique.
In 1971, a number of extensions, notably the presbytery, were added to the Marigot Church.
Very recently, the small chapel adjoining the presbytery was completely renovated by the young people of St. Martin as part of a hands-on school project under the supervision of the "Compagnons de France", using mid-20th-Century construction techniques.
Marigot market is best described as a melting pot of colours, smells and lively hustle and bustle.
Stalls manned by locals selling fruit and vegetables, spices, local meats and fresh fish caught that day are housed under a mass of open Creole huts along the water front.
Opposite the traditional restaurants adjoining the local market, a magnificent stone statue, erected by Martin Lynn and generously offered by an American to the then Municipalité of St. Martin, commemorates black female market sellers.
In 2006, as part of a series of events for black history week, a splendid fresco, again commemorating female market sellers, was painted by an artist from St. Martin on a wall opposite the market.
Marigot's market also boasts around a hundred craft stands manned by locals and foreigners, spread out in a small arena or in kiosks. Here, creators, artists or simply vendors lay out their wares every day of the week except Sunday.
Here, visitors can sample the full range of flavoured rums, subtle blends of rum, fruits and spices, and Shrub (orange peel crushed into rum). There’s a drink to suit everyone. Or why not try the Mauby, a local bark-based infusion? Served cold.
Visit Marigot market for guaranteed local charm and spiced scents.
Immerse yourself in the history of Saint Martin with a visit to the island’s museum.
Find out about the first humans to arrive on our island in 3200BC. These South American nomads cut their tools from stones and shells.
At the museum visitors can admire the superb pottery discovered at Hope Estate. Dating back to between 500BC and 600AD, sculpted figurines, polished stone tools, shell adornments and tombs will transport you to the heart of these neo-Indian cultures, who came to St. Martin’s shores from the Orinoco basin aboard a 60-person canoe.
The Saint Martin museum also tells the history of the colonisation of St. Martin by the Spanish, the French, the Dutch and the English, the history of the Treaty of Concordia, slavery, the era of the sugar farms and the exploitation of the salt ponds.
The journey through 5000 years of history is told over 200m² of exhibition space and culminates in a collection of historic vistas of St. Martin in the early 20th Century.
Saint Martin’s museum is located in an old building that dates back to 1789 and is situated 7, Rue Fichot in Marigot.
The museum is open from 9am to 1pm and from 3pm to 5pm. Contact: 06 90 56 78 92.
Overlooking Marigot Bay and with views across to Anguilla, Fort Louis was built in 1789 by the people of Marigot under the command of Jean Sébastien de Durat, then governor of Saint Martin and Saint Barths on behalf of the French Crown. The primary purpose of the fort was to defend the warehouses at Marigot port, where produce such as salt, coffee, sugar cane and rum was stored. Subsequently abandoned, Fort Louis fell into ruins. The fort was restored in the 19th Century but abandoned a second time. During this period the fort also witnessed struggles between the French and the English, the latter landing on a regular basis from Anguilla to loot the warehouses. Since 1993, restoration and redevelopment works have been undertaken under the auspices of the Hope Estate archeological association, in close collaboration with adapted military service units (SMA) from Guadeloupe.
Bilingual information panels provide visitors with a cultural history of the site, which offers breathtaking views over Marigot, Simpson Bay Lagoon, Simpson Bay, Anguilla, the Terres Basses and Baie Nettlé.
The large building at the foot of the Fort on the side of the mountain houses the" sous préfecture". To get to Fort Louis, take the steps from the "sous préfecture" car park.
Contact : 05 90 29 22 84.
Located down a narrow alleyway that leads up to Fort Louis, the prison was built at the same time as the Fort under the orders of Jean Sébastien de Durat, then governor of Saint Martin and Saint Barths on behalf of the French Crown.
Prisoners were detained here until 1968, at which time the prison was transformed into the Saint Martin fire station. Although the building has changed significantly, its Rue Pérrinon façade remains close to the original.
There is currently no prison on the French side of Saint Martin and prisoners are detained in Guadeloupe’s Basse-Terre prison. (Source: “Caraïbe Françaises Sint Maarten Guide”, Sepcart publications).
Built at the same period as Fort Louis and Marigot prison, Durat Bridge, which was built in 1789, it is a stone bridge on the edge of Marigot in the direction of Grand Case. The people requested that the bridge be named Durat Bridge in honour of their much-respected governor. A large stone at the centre of the parapet bore this inscription. However, the inscription, which the revolutionaries saw as a symbol of aristocratic power, was later removed.
Today, Durat Bridge, in the Hameau du Pont district, allows rainwater from the surrounding hills to run into Galisbay Pond. . (Source: “Caraïbes Françaises; Saint-Martin/Sint-Maarten Guide, Sepcart publications)
François-Auguste Perrinon, born in Martinique in 1812, was an active figure of the abolition of slavery. A shareholder in salt pool operating companies on Saint Martin, his 1847 work entitled “Outcome of experiments on the work of slaves” demonstrated that free and paid slaves worked harder than slaves who were mistreated. In 1848, he was part of Victor Schoelcher’s Commission, where he defended the idea of paying slaves. At the end of his political career he retired on Saint Martin to exploit the salt ponds once more and died here in 1861. His tomb can be found in Marigot Cemetery. (Source: Caraïbes Françaises; Saint-Martin/Sint-Maarten Guide, Sepcart publications)
To the southwest of Marigot, Spring sugar mill takes its name from a spring that was located nearby. Sugar production was started at the factory in 1772 by traders from Guadeloupe. For a century, the factory produced a significant output of sugar and rum.
Remains of the sugar plant can still be seen, including the large round limestone chimney and the animal-driven mill where you can still catch a glimpse of the grindstones used to crush the sugar cane. Other remains are visible here, too, including the purgerie, the furnace, where there were four great boilers, a still oven and a tank. (Source: “Caraïbes Françaises Saint-Martin/Sint-Maarten Guide”, Sepcart publications)
The ruins of the former plantation of Saint Jean can be seen from the main road out of Marigot towards Philipsburg.
The first mention of the plantation dates back to 1772. Chevalier Jean de Durat, governor of the island, married the heiress to the plantation. In 1795, revolutionaries from Guadeloupe sequestered the sugar factory. De Durat took back possession of Saint Jean in 1801 and died in 1814. His widow purchased the nearby sugar plant of Saint James, after the passage of a devastating hurricane, in 1819. His children and grandchildren continued to run the plantation until the abolition of slavery in 1848, at which time the Saint James sugar plantation was sold off in small lots, while the Saint Jean plantation remained in its original state. Sugar production stopped in 1860 and the buildings fell into ruins. Among the ruins are a two-tier animal-powered mill, sugar mill and a purgerie/guildiverie where the sugar was refined. (Source: “Caraïbes Françaises Saint-Martin/Sint-Maarten Guide”, Sepcart publications))
At 424 metres, Pic Paradis is the highest point on the island.The summit offers sweeping panoramic views over the entire island and neighbouring islands, too. Pic Paradis is also the starting point for many walks, and can be accessed on foot or by car. On foot, nature-lovers will love the lush tropical vegetation here.
Located at the foot of Pic Paradis, the highest point on Saint Martin at 424m, is Loterie Farm.
A former sugar plantation that was constructed in 1773 and ceased activity in 1855, its last owner was Georges Dormoy, first mayor of Saint Martin from 1838-1866. Today, the smells, noises and coolness of Loterie Farm provides a striking contrast with the rest of the island. The Farm is a real tropical gem, where plant and animal species are identified and carefully protected.
For some years now, this unique venue has offered a zip-linning forest adventure course for the young and old alike. The Hidden Forest Café and Tree Lounge will cater for your refreshment and snack needs. The Tree Lounge offers a selection of tapas and fast food dishes from noon onwards. Or why not sip a cocktail as you take in the exceptional views over Pic Paradis?
In April 2011, Loterie Farm has opened "L’eaulounge cabana club & piscine de source". L’eaulounge, it’s a free form multi-level swimming areas connected by cascades and surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and only 11 chic & stylishly designed cabanas for rent on a daily basis. Each cabana can accommodate up to 10 guests.
Information and opening hours : 0590 87 86 16
The remains of an Arawak village were found on this one-hectare plateau, 80 metres above sea level and overlooking the Grand Case plain. These American Indians arrived here from South America around 550BC and established a large circular-shaped village here, which they occupied until 450AD, leaving petroglyphs and many pottery items behind as they went.
Hope Estate takes its name from an old house where sugar cane was cultivated in the 18th Century. (Source: “Caraïbes Françaises Saint-Martin/Sint-Maarten Guide”, Sepcart publications)
Located on the east coast of the island, the offshore area of the Nature Reserve is delineated by a triangle that starts from Anse Marcel, passes east of Tintamarre and ends at the entrance to the Oyster Pond lagoon. A true haven for fauna and flora, the Reserve covers over 3000 hectares of sea and some 150 hectares of land that includes the islands off the east coast: Pinel Island, Petite Clef, Green Cay, Tintamarre and the small islands off the Baie de l'Embouchure. The famous Creole Rock, which overlooks Baie de Grand Case, is also part of the Reserve, as are the reefs within a 200-metre radius. The marshlands of Etang aux Poissons and the Salines d’Orient at Orient Bay are also part of this protected area. The mangrove swamps are a veritable nursery for most marine species.
The area of the Nature Reserve is protected by ministerial decree. Fishing and hunting are forbidden and visitors are asked to respect the natural balance of nature.
National Nature Reserve of Saint Martin, Anse Marcel : 0590 29 09 72.
Nature lovers and the generally curious should schedule a visit to the must-see Butterfly Farm, the first of its kind in the Caribbean, on the Route du Galion.
Under a 900m² greenhouse, hundreds of butterflies from all four corners of the world, in all shapes and colours, flutter and dance in a stunning tropical garden complete with small waterfall and pools filled with Japanese fish. Relaxing music and a soothing atmosphere are the backdrop to this insight into the amazing metamorphosis of butterflies, from microscopic eggs to exotic caterpillars and pupae.
The farm’s creators work alongside scientists to save endangered species. Outside, the shop offers a range of souvenirs.
Open 7 days a week, from 9am to 3:30pm. The Butterfly Farm - Route du Galion - 0590 87 31 21
The village of Grand Case has retained all its authenticity, particularly in its housing.
Having earned a reputation as the gourmet capital, many of the village’s restaurants are located in traditional huts and the last remaining wattle houses on the island. All through the year, fishermen and locals rub shoulders with the thousands of tourists taking a late-night walk on the Boulevard de Grand Case, the main road in the town. Grand Case really comes alive during the “Mardis de Grand Case” and the Harmony Night festival, where local crafts and cuisine are paraded at their finest, along with music of Caribbean jazz bands and orchestras.
Located on the Route de Quartier d’Orléans, after Orient Bay, The Old House invites visitors on a journey through time.
The visit starts at an old house furnished with contemporary furniture from the plantation era and decorated with a collection of personal items preserved for six generations by the owners.
The visit then leads to the former plantation, where there are many period illustrations (sugar cane harvesting, rum production, travels of Christopher Columbus, maps).
Open from 10am to 4pm. Closed on Monday and Saturday. Contact : 05 90 87 32 67.
After the Spanish abandoned the island in 1648, the Dutch and French families who had settled in the hills to grow cassava and tobacco asked their respective governments to take possession of the island. The Dutch arrived first and tried to prevent the French from landing. Chevalier Longvillier de Poincy, governor of Saint Kitts, organised a mass landing of 300 men. The two nations signed a treaty of collaboration on Mount Concordia on 23rd March 1648, dividing the island into two parts. Legend has it that the location of the border was determined after a race between two runners from each nation.Legend has it that the location of the border was decided after a race between two runners from each nation. The 1648 treaty, which allows free movement of goods and people between the two parts of the island, still applies today and the only indication that you have crossed this highly symbolic border is an obelisk, erected in 1948 to mark 300 years of peaceful coexistence by the two nations. (Source: “Caraïbes Françaises; Saint-Martin/Sint-Maarten Guide”, Sepcart publications)
When the first Dutch settlers arrived in 1631, the sandy strip separating Great Bay from Great Salt Pond was chosen as the site for the construction of a village. Originally built on the west end of the strip at the foot of Fort Amsterdam, the village spread gradually eastward. John Philips, a Scottish settler, developed the town between 1735 and 1746. The advent of the sugar factories on the island generated considerable economic growth and an influx of immigrants, and it became necessary to set up government services. John Philips was appointed commander of the island and encouraged the modernisation of sugar cane, coffee and cotton harvesting techniques. The sheltered bay facing the town was ideal for exporting agricultural produce and salt. The name Philipsburg appears for the first time in 1738, although Philips was not the town’s founder. Present-day Philipsburg now extends the whole way along the sandy strip and welcomes over a million cruise ship passengers each year.
Jewellery and souvenir stalls line the main street. A promenade has been developed along the waterfront and is lined with a vast range of restaurants and bars. There’s never a dull moment in this part of town. (Source: “Caraïbes Françaises; Saint-Martin/Sint-Maarten Guide”, Sepcart publications)
In this duty-free capital, the many shops lining Philipsburg’s two main streets, Front Street and Back Street, offer a whole host of products at duty-free prices, including jewellery, perfumes, hi-fi and household appliances and clothing.
Used as a court by successive governors, The Courthouse, located on Front Street, Philipsburg’s main street, is one of the most famous monuments on the Dutch part of the island. Ravaged by hurricanes, the courthouse has been restored on each occasion. The Courthouse is owned by the Government of Sint Maarten and is featured on its list of major historic monuments.
Located on Front Street in the centre of Philipsburg, the Sint Maarten Museum is a one-stop history shop where you can retrace major historical periods, from the time of the Arawak to the present day. It includes a display of local handicrafts, old photos and various objects from the past.
Sint-Maarten Museum - 7 Front Street Philipsburg. Tel. : (1-721) 542-4917.
Located in Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side of the island, the Sint Maarten National Heritage Foundation is a museum where visitors can learn more about the history of the island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten. Discover the origins of the island and find out about its earliest inhabitants, and learn why the island was divided into two parts. An exciting place for history buffs.
The zoo and botanical park at Sint Maarten Park houses over 80 species of animals. With the finest display of exotic parrots in the Caribbean, visitors can also enjoy reptiles, birds, monkeys, squirrels, ocelots, Bush Dogs, Golden Lion Tamarins and capybaras. A remarkable collection of animals living in reconstructed habitats.
Sint Maarten Park also has an original and colourful shop with many souvenirs, a large play area for children and a recreation area. Activities are scheduled regularly.
St Maarten Park - Arch Road - Ms Estate - (1-721) 543 2030
The ruins of this plant are located north of the Great Salt Pond in the built-up area of Sucker Garden. Built by a Franco-Dutch company in the mid-19th Century, this experimental plant enabled the company to speed up the salt harvesting process by harnessing the energy from a stream. This ruin is the last vestige of an era that saw an effort to modernise salt collection, which was stopped in 1962. (Source: “Caraïbes Françaises; Saint-Martin/ Sint-Maarten Guide”, Sepcar publications)
Fort Amsterdam was the first fort to be built by Dutch settlers in the Caribbean, in 1631.
The Spaniards seized the fort two years later and chose to enlarge it and strengthen its defences in order to protect the sea route to the Greater Antilles and Puerto Rico and to control access to Great Bay, opposite Philipsburg. In 1644, Peter Stuyvesant, founder of New York, then New Netherland, lost a leg in an attempt to recapture the fort for the Dutch. When the Spanish abandoned the island in 1648, the fort was destroyed.
Ruins and foundations have been uncovered in recent archaeological digs.
In 1737 the Dutch proclaimed it Fort Amsterdam. It was then occupied successively by the French and English until 1816. (Source: “Caraïbes Françaises; Saint-Martin/Sint-Maarten Guide”, Sepcart publications)
Built by the English in 1801, during the occupation of Sint Maarten, the fort was first known as Fort Trigge, after the officer who had ordered its construction. Captured by the Dutch, it was renamed Fort Willem I, as a tribute to the King of Holland.
With breath taking views over Philipsburg bay, the fort provided protection against enemy landings. Abandoned in 1846, only the core foundations remain today. Outside the walls are the foundations of a two-storey circular tower, the only structure of its kind on the island.