Where To Find French Food and Culture in St. Martin

Picture a tropical paradise where you have delectable French croissants for breakfast, overlooking crystal clear waters. Surrounded by European travelers, you converse in fluent French. With sailing yachts, blue skies and charming boutiques, it feels a lot like south of France. But you are on the Caribbean island of St. Martin.

This unique island shares two governments, and has much of a European feel with a Caribbean flair. Stark contrasts don’t only end there. You see million dollar private villas, as well as public housing apartments. There are street shacks near French fine dining establishments. Small fishing boats surround mega yachts.

Originally a fishing village on a swamp for which it was named, Marigot is a charming capital city. From Fort St. Louis, you can see a lovely view of Marigot Bay, sprawling neighborhoods and the hills beyond. And along the alleys, street murals depict life of people on the island.

Like most islands in the Caribbean, St. Martin faced devastating destruction by hurricane Irma. As a result, many businesses closed. Then COVID-19 hit the tourism industry. Now, the island is back open with a renewed attitude towards showcasing its local culture while highlighting small entrepreneurs.

French murals
Wall murals in Marigot

Visit One Island, Two Countries

Now there is often confusion about St. Martin, as it literally has a neighbor sharing a similar name. The 37-square-miles are two countries – the Dutch side is called Sint Maarten, and the French side is know as Saint Martin. When you fly into SXM airport on the shared island, you land on the Dutch side of the island. But as soon as you leave the airport, you can be on the French side without having to cross any borders.

The two countries, however, operate separately in every way. They have different currencies, languages, governments, and even different electric grid systems. Make sure to carry adaptable travel plugs if you plan to stay on both sides.

orient beach hotel
Modern room at Orient Beach Hotel

Stay at a French Boutique Hotel

Most travelers choose to stay at French style boutique and apart hotels, that offer a relaxed family friendly atmosphere. Orient Beach Hotel is located right on one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, Orient Bay Beach. It has 35 junior suites that are comfortable and modern. The large rooms have kitchenette, balconies and sweeping views of the Caribbean Sea. Hotel guests get free access to neighboring Bikini, Kontiki, Wai, Kao and Coco Beach. If you are looking for more upscale accommodations, there is an-all inclusive adult-only Secrets Resort and Spa, Belmond La Samanna, as well as private villa rentals.

relaxed french beach
Sunset and rainbows at Orient Bay beach

Spend a Day at The Beach

The French St. Martin constitutes the northern part of the island, and there are lots of pristine beaches where you can swim, snorkel, or simply sunbathe. There are in fact 37 beaches dotting the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and some of them are even clothing-optional!

Many locals chose to spend a day on the recreational Pinel Island. You can take a public water taxi or hire your own yacht, and sail by Creole Rock, snorkeling around its clear waters, then stopping for lunch of grilled lobsters at Le Karibuni restaurant on the beach. Spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing under an umbrella with your feet in the white sand, gazing into the turquoise waters. P.S. Please don’t pet or feed the iguanas!

Loterie farm
Loterie Farm is fun for all ages

Zip Line at Loterie Farm

Backing up to Pic Paradis, the island’s highest mountain, the 135-acres nature reserve and conservancy is a cooler place to experience the island’s lush green countryside. Plan to spend an entire day hiking on the trails where you can see ruins of sugarcane mills. Ride one of the three zip line adventures (depending on your skill level), soak in the pools, and relax in one of the cabanas with a chilled Moët Chandon. The Treetop Adventure Tour of Loterie Farm is a unique forest canopy tour with zip lines, elevated bridges, and platforms, built around the densely forested areas. You can opt for the Fly Zone or Fly Zone Extreme obstacle courses where you are surely going to challenge your physical and mental strength.

The lunch at Jungle room was one of the best meals I had on the island. The curry chicken with spinach, fried bananas, rice and salad was served in an open-air modern Caribbean atmosphere.

french perfume
Master perfumer for a day at Tijon

Make Your Own Perfume

Learn about the French practice of perfume making at Tijon in Grand Case. The husband and wife run lab and shop offers guests a unique experience to play around with over 300 types of mixing oils. You then make, label and bottle your own perfume to take home as a souvenir. With a lab coat and workbook, I felt like a master perfumer for a day.

You can also archive your personal formula and reorder more bottles when you need them. I actually wear my own fragrance quite often.

St Martin food
Typical local plate with curry shrimp

Taste Franco-Caribbean Food

Grand Case neighborhood has a great selection of restaurants located along the waterfront. Here you can find everything from shacks selling classic chicken curry and BBQ, to upscale French restaurants serving foie gras and escargots. The semi-circle plaza, La Place Du Village, has several international restaurant and sometimes, live music. LoLo’s are St. Martin’s name for casual low cost outdoor eateries that sell fresh made local plates all day. Here you can get a generous portion of ackee, boiled eggs, journey cakes, and plantains for as little as 10 Euros.

local food
Hot Spot by Bush Tea is one of the best Lolos

If you can score a table at La Villa Hibiscus, you won’t be disappointed at all! The family-owned dual functioning B&B and celebrated restaurant is one of the best places to eat on the island. Owner/ chef Bastian Schenk was trained by Michelin star chef Joêl Robuchon in France. He offers artfully created nightly tasting menus for handful of guests, so you have to book well in advance. Arrive early to see a 360 view from one of the highest points on the island.

Lulu’s Corner is also a local gem where you can find healthy plant-forward dishes, fresh juices, and homemade pastries. The menu changes daily based on locally sourced ingredients. Here, you can relax with a cup of latte at the patio and enjoy the cool sea breezes.

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At Marina Port La Royale, Be Kool restaurant has excellent French seafood in a casual environment. You can bring your boat right up to the restaurant and grab some creme brûlée.

rum culture
Shopping for guavaberry rums in St. Martin

Drink Guavaberry Rum

For a true taste of local St. Martin culture, head to Colombier Guavaberry Tradition. Wild guavaberry fruits are found in the hills located in the center of the island. You can visit the area and a home based factory for a behind the scenes tour. This liqueur is traditionally enjoyed at Christmas, and every St. Martin family brews their own blend for the holidays. Take home banana, coconut, mango, mint, or original flavored rum to make your own cocktails.

St Martin food festival
Cooking demo at Grand-Case Beach Club

Attend a Culinary Festival

In November 2021, the island hosted its first Le Festival de la Gastronomie of St. Martin” culinary festival. The event showcased speciality menus at a host of participating restaurants, and live cooking demonstrations with celebrity chefs. Sweet and tangy cocktails and flavorful entrees cleverly incorporate the theme ingredient – tamarind. The businesses compete for the ‘Best Table’ award, judged by mystery diners. I even got to be a judge!

The island’s enthusiastic high school students participated in a Mini Top Chef competition. The top prize was a two-week immersion course at one of the best culinary schools in France, as well as an internship at the restaurant.