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krisek Marigot - A travel report by Krys
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Marigot,  St. Martin - flag St. Martin
10566 readers

krisek's travel reports

Why more neglected than its half brother?

  12 votes
Page: 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Saint-Martin is the northern, less developed half of a Caribbean island of the same name. Sint Maarten in the south appears better looked after, including its roads. Yet, Saint-Martin is a lovely little quiet country that feels a little like 1960s France.

Marigot's centre
Marigot's centre
The island is split into two dependent territories – the southern is a crown dependency of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, part of the Dutch Antilles – called Sint Maarten, and the northern is a French department called Saint-Martin. The border between those two does not exist, as it practically does not in Europe either, since both France and The Netherlands are part of the European Union, and both signed the Schengen Agreement. This has been the case for centuries, or since 1648. Both nations have lived peacefully all those long years, give or take an invasion. According to a legend, the island was also divided amicably. One day, a Frenchman and a Dutchman stood on a beach back to back and started walking along the coast. They marked the point where they met again and connected it with the point where the started drawing a line across the island, from coast to coast. The French side is slightly bigger, so the Dutchman must have been walking more slowly. The story claims that a French female had been distracting the Dutch guy along the way, or perhaps it was the delicious French wine that slowed his metabolism in the mornings.

The division is really obvious. The Dutch side is glamorous, very civilised, full of shops selling diamonds, jewelry, expensive clothing and the waterfront is packed with funky clubs, restaurants and lounges, including upholstery placed directly in the sands of the beach. The French side, looks a little neglected. The roads are in a poor state, and the tourism infrastructure seems to have been forgotten some time in 1960s. It is charming in its own way, probably more subtle than the party-loving southern side. Marigot, the capital, does not have a sandy beach, but its restaurants at the rocky waterfront are more classy and the food looks better. Yes, the town's building had been crumbling and the streets are a little disorderly, but therefore it is less 'in-your-face', almost an unpretentious small town with good weather.

Favourite spots:
Marigot's street
Marigot's street
I didn't have a favourite spot, so let me tell you about my first contact with the island's local. My taxi driver didn't speak Papiamento or French, which I found interesting. I figured he must've arrived from a poorer Carib state. He also told me in his heavy Caribbean accent that he could not hate more doing jobs for the local people. He did realise it was racist but could not helping telling me. He mentioned that the locals often lived in difficult to reach places, on dirty roads and carried smelly bags. He said it was ruining his van and leaving it smell of fish or dead goats.

Apparently locals carried a lot of dead meat and fish with them. Tourists, like me, on the other hand, were always clean, headed to civilised places and had money. Yes, he told me he had been tricked on many occasions that the locals had not had enough money or had relied on friends or relatives at the destination to pay, who either had not had money either, had not been at home or had never existed at all.

What's really great:
Marigot's low rise architecture
Marigot's low rise architecture
I immediately felt the charm of the island. Well, to be completely honest, I could not believe the chaos with taxis at the Dutch airport. Then, I was definitely unimpressed with the traffic. I had to land in Sint Maarten as its airport is much larger than the one in Saint-Martin, and accepts all types of passenger aircraft, even the largest one in service.

I crossed to the French side of the island the next morning, with the aim to have breakfast at one of Marigot's 'countless cafes'. Surprisingly, the French side appeared seriously underinvested. Whilst Sint Maarten appeared like a separate state of the Netherlands, with its own flag and currency, Saint-Martin definitely demonstrated that it was a French Department (perhaps poorer than average), fully integrated with the Republic of France, flying both the blue/white/red French flag and its own, dealing in euro and riding French car registration plates - Mediterranean not Caribbean! Charming, as well. It had something about it...

Marigot's seafront
Marigot's seafront
There were a few colonial French buildings around but not enough to create elegant ambiance. It was a pity. Many were in a very bad state of disrepair, which was a shame. Many of them were just low rise wooden structures with the once bright paint falling off them. Some of the grander mansions had classic ornate latticework of wood carved into delicate forms, decorating the balustrades and arches of the balconies. Some of them were made of wrought iron instead. The Fort Saint Louis on the top of the hill was ruined and not much of an interest anymore, but offering a fantastic view of the island and the neighbouring Anguilla. And... there is not much else in town to see.

The streets were disturbingly calm with virtually no people around. I have to say that I expected a little more of Saint Martin. But now, I understand that this might have been in purpose. For people who want peace there should be islands, too. Not everyone is into Ibiza style nightclubbing.

The Pasanggrahan Royal Hotel in Philipsburg, at the Dutch side
The Pasanggrahan Royal Hotel in Philipsburg, at the Dutch side
I miraculously checked in at the most chic (and the first ever) hotel of Philipsburg, the Pasanggrahan Royal. I did not make a reservation, so I was taking my chance. The place was pretty full and I was really lucky to get a room, as someone cancelled in the last minute. My room was comfortable, decorated with stylish furniture, squeaky clean and air-conditioned. It had a balcony-cum-veranda and almost a seaview!

I landed in an extremely comfortable ottoman on my personal veranda in the evening to relax and soak the atmosphere. If the crimson bougainvillaea had not grown so tall I would have enjoyed the view of the beach more directly. Instead, I lied down out of anyone's sight and listened to one of the bands playing at the Get Wet Bar nearby. I guess Philipsburg made a great impact on me as it was the first town so far on my holiday with beach-front facilities, hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, etc. First in the three months of travelling.

Marigot's low rise architecture
Marigot's low rise architecture
Marigot did not have a funky seafront, and that is is why I preferred Philipsburg a little better. In the evening its beach-front entered into a different form of life. Many of the bars sponsored bands to play live, some of which were quite good when sticking to easy songs. Others tried to perform more ambitiously with rather mixed results. So mixed that I could not really listen to it, and I had to moved on. There were a few places to choose from. All of them looked really inviting, and some had little balconies, where one could enjoy a chilled pint of beer or glass of dry white wine. The older part of town - at the western end of the beach had a casino and some vintage sailors' clubs with rustic furniture, sailing equipment and seafaring clientelle.

Bright colours of Marigot's centre
Bright colours of Marigot's centre
I walked around the small town of Marigot for about an hour, rather unimpressed and bored. I found a very nice marina, Marina Port la Royale, with super chic apartments but they were so clustered that the area did not feel very comfortable. The yacht basin was packed with posh vessels but the piers were narrow and could only fit small venues. Yet, it was quality not quantity that mattered. The cafes and restaurants were more chic than trendy and the view of the yachts would not be a choice of all, but it was still pleasant to sit down in a very comfortable armchair in the shade and sip cold drinks or nibble on classic French little afternoon snacks.

The top of the Fort Saint Louis hill was a great place to hang out, too. The view was spectacular, and if you brought your own picnic, you were set for a jolly good venue - not much shade there, though, but giving a nice perspective, taking a helicopter view of the life stirring down in the town.

One of seafront restaurants - I had rather average shrimps here
One of seafront restaurants - I had rather average shrimps here
In Marigot, I was also hoping for a larger number of French-style cafes and bars. I really saw only few. I could not even see the French baguette breads around. The eateries were opening very late as well. I could not make up my mind where I should sit down and relax, breakfasting on something hybrid, combing French and local cuisine, or try something more predictable. The several cafes and simple eateries in the main harbour looked simple, if a little shabby, but the service was friendly and Caribbean. I stopped at The Villlage to try a fusion breakfast. This was small shrimp in fried rice served with peas with a spicy sauce. Coffee was however nicely French, and they made wonderful juices.

The posher restaurants at the Marina Port la Royale might have had more sophisticated dishes and the chefs spent more time on the presentation, but the service was more of a 'and what do you want?' less friendly kind.

Other recommendations:
Balconies of the St Martin's capital
Balconies of the St Martin's capital
Philipsburg's town beach was superb and a megaclean beach-level promenade separating the beach sand from the hotels' and households' buildings was a pleasant surprise. I loved that esplanade. It was so well organised and looked after! Some of the beach-front bars and eateries placed comfy couches and armchairs directly in the beachsand among baby palmtrees. How cool was that? During the day, the atmosphere was chilled and life seemed unhurried. The street parallel to the beach, just behing the single layer of beach front buildings was the the main shopping drag, specialising in diamond-based glittering jewelry. And yet, it was still moving slowly and people appeared just browsing rather than taking out their credit cards. The beach promenade was converting into a party scene in the evening, full of the live bands performing covers of known hits. Whilst Saint-Martin was a calm and relaxed, the other side was full of action. That seemed like a perfect combination.

Published on Monday July 21th, 2008

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Tue, Jul 22 2008 - 06:15 PM rating by here-i-come

TQ Krys... You did sound tired and had quite enough with this Caribbean port to endure further and whilst I followed you closely behind (in your feedback) and you didn't notice until after this, I could relate the sad show this once and for sure, resplendent town may have been. Time to discover something much colorful & richly flavored I'd say... good to note you returned with no belly ache. Is worthy of a "Good" as it was a challenge to highlight the place in light of the circumstances, good job there!


Mon, Jul 21 2008 - 04:19 PM rating by eirekay

Another wonderful report! Sounds like Marigot has a pace of its own!

Mon, Jul 21 2008 - 04:10 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Very informative and useful report. Thanks.

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