This sweet little town on the northwest coast of Saint Martin is known for its high density of gourmet restaurants, many of which line its main thoroughfare, Boulevard de Grande Case. Unsurprisingly, given the fact that much of the produce is flown in daily from Paris, menus generally boast high-quality meats, cheeses, rich sauces and complicated desserts. Grand Case is also known for its gorgeous white-sand beaches, which face Anguilla, its Leeward Islands neighbor. Watersports are popular in front of the fancy Grand Case Beach Club, which lords it over the far end of Grand Case Bay. Two miles south is a much more peaceful family beach, Friar’s Bay, where locals hold barbecues at weekends. A few miles north is an even more sheltered cove, Anse Marcel, another local favorite. There is a small marina here where it is possible to buy drinks and snacks for beach picnics.
The sand may be white and powdery, and it may be possible to hire loungers and umbrellas, but few go to Maho Beach to truly relax. This sliver of white sand in Sint Maarten—between the far more peaceful Mullet Bay Beach and Simpson Bay—is popular because of its close proximity to the Princess Juliana International Airport. Even before Instagram was a thing, thrill-seekers flocked here to take photos of jets practically skimming their heads as they touched down. Mid-afternoon is the busiest time, and its unique location has made Sunset Bar and Grill the most popular beach bar on the island. A five-minute stroll from the beach is Maho Village, a newly branded cluster of restaurants, bars and shops anchored to two resort complexes, the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Royal Islander Club La Plage, along with the Casino Royale.
This former fishing village on the western shore became Saint-Martin's capital during the reign of Louis XVI, who built a fort on a hill overlooking Marigot Bay to defend stores of Europe-bound sugar cane, rum and salt. Although little of the fort remains, it is still worth the gentle hike for the unobstructed views of Marigot and Anguilla. Faring better are the brightly colored creole houses, which have been restored in traditional Saint Martinoise style, with upstairs balconies decorated with gingerbread friezes and balustrades. Many are now boutiques, art galleries or restaurants. In Marigot Harbor is a daily produce market, which also has stalls hawking crafts and flavored rums to souvenir hunters. Popular purchases include shrub, a rum with crushed citrus peel; and mauby, a tree bark infusion.
Orient Bay on Saint Martin's east coast is a two-mile crescent of white sand. It is often referred to as Orient Beach, although it actually consists of five beaches: Kontiki; Kakao; Bikini; Waikiki and Coco—named after their respective waterfront restaurants and bars. Most of them play chill-out music after sundown, while DJs and live bands ramp up the energy on weekends. Each beach also has its own flotilla of pleasure craft, with kiteboarding, windsurfing, jet skiing and parasailing all popular. There are fantastic snorkeling reefs further out in the bay, and around the small beautiful islands of Caye Verte, Pinel and Tintamarre, which are accessible by boat. A major draw of Orient Bay is the clothing-optional beach—and the world-famous Club Orient naturist resort—at the southern tip.
Sint Maarten’s main town and capital occupies a strip of land between Great Bay and Great Salt Pond. Busy Front Street is full of jewelry, cosmetics and electronics stores offering duty-free shopping. It is also home to one of the island’s most important sites, the cupola-topped Philipsburg Courthouse, which was built in 1793 as the home of the town’s founder, John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy. The belfry is topped by a wooden pineapple, the symbol for hospitality. Three blocks away, another fruit has seeded one of the town’s most popular attractions, the Guavaberry Emporium. This former governor’s residence offers a Baskin-Robbins-length menu of products derived from the bittersweet berry—the walk-up bar does a brisk trade in guavaberry coladas. Parallel to Front Street, and close to the cruise-ship dock, is the lively bar-lined Boardwalk, which runs almost the entire length of the waterfront.