There seems to be a consensus among several professionals and organizations that 2022 will experience a major rebound in travel, both to the U.S and outboard to international destinations. As COVID infections subside and the desire to take action on travel bucket lists increases, the World Travel & Tourism Council predicts that tourism in the United States will reach pre-pandemic levels. Internationally, experts say we’ll see a nice bump this year as travelers shake their cabin fever, with previous levels returning in 2023.
Nevertheless, if you are ready to book that ticket and add new experiences to your spring, summer or winter travel plans, I have a suggestion if culture, amazing weather, water and adventure are among trip requirements.
French Ooh La La
As an island divided between two colonies (Dutch–St. Maarten and French – Saint-Martin), our exploration takes place on Saint-Martin, which has more than enough food, history and culture and water adventures to fill your itinerary, whether it is for a few days, a week or more.
Welcoming millions of visitors each year from around the world, Saint-Martin is one French Caribbean destination that should be on your bucket list. Best travel times are either May-June or November and December for great deals as well as good weather, especially if you are trying to miss the rain and hurricane season.
Part of planning your trip will include deciding where you want to stay and play while in Saint-Martin. Marigot is the largest city on this side of the island as well as the capital. Here you’ll find traces of the city’s colonial past with the houses and history of sugar cane production. You’ll also find some of the best restaurants, shopping and beaches, as well as tax-free trade for luxury goods and fashion.
Orient Bay on the east side of Saint-Martin has a reputation for luxury and fine living and dining with numerous private villas, boutique hotels, restaurants, salons and more. Known as the St. Tropez of the Caribbean, Orient Bay is also home to the clothing-optional resort and beach, Club Orient and Orient beach. So if you feel like really letting loose, feel free to do so here.
If eating your way through Saint-Martin is how you want to spend your time, the Grand Case area fits the bill. With diverse gastronomy experiences being the highlight, you’ll never leave hungry or unsatisfied thanks to the locals sharing their specialties through lolos or inexpensive local roadside restaurants, in addition to a myriad of restaurants boasting French, Caribbean and international dishes and flavors.
Eat and Drink the Saint-Martin Way
Known as the culinary capital of the French Caribbean, be sure to come hungry and curious as the food in Saint-Martin is as diverse as the people who live on the island; therefore you’ll get to experience different cultures through various bites.
From eating with and like a local to casual and fine dining, if you’re looking for it, you’re sure to find it. As mentioned earlier, Grand Case is your Saint-Martin destination for all things food, but Marigot and Orient Bay also lends themselves to delicious culinary escapades.
Highlights from a recent trip include a stop at Chez Leandra on Orient Beach for cocktails. Open daily from 11 am – 5 pm, the menu is a pleaser with options that range from cheeseburgers, jerk chicken, quesadilla and fresh lobster.
It’s all about French cuisine at Be Kool in Marigot, a family-owned restaurant where the cuisine is described as “spontaneous.” The marina views will undoubtedly add to the experience and conversation as the food prepared by siblings balances French techniques with Caribbean flair.
If elements of surprise on a plate excite you, scoring a reservation at La Villa Hibiscus will excite you even more. If you have dined at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, California, you’ll certainly enjoy the experience that owners and husband-wife team Sabine and Bastian have in store. Located on Pic Paradis, the highest point of Saint-Martin, sip carefully curated cocktails as you glance into nature or the open kitchen with Chef Bastian and his team meticulously plate each course using seasonal ingredients.
While wine, as well as rum, are staples on the island, you haven’t had the authentic Saint-Martin drink experience until you’ve tried guavaberry liqueur. Colombier Guavaberry Tradition, owned by Louis Maccow and his wife Maria, has been family-owned and operated for multiple generations and produces more than ten flavors ranging from passionfruit, coconut, lime, pineapple, mango and more. Enjoyed all year round, it is especially a celebratory must-have during the holidays.
For more great dining suggestions, check out this great Eater roundup.
Lastly, the island’s culinary event, Festival de la Gastronomie is scheduled to return this November 12 – 30, giving you plenty of time to make those travel plans now.