A visit to the tiny Caribbean island of Saint Martin is reminiscent of traveling to France and the Netherlands. People arriving at the airport at Grand-Case on the northern half of the island will immediately see and hear the distinctively French influences in the language, shops and food. For those visitors, such as William Mulrow, whose travels have taken them to Paris and other parts of France, St. Martin may seem like a return to the European capital.
As a French overseas territory, the northern portion of the island maintains close ties to the government and culture of France. The French president is the chief of state of Saint Martin, but locally the northern half of the island is governed by a territorial council.
Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain in 1493, but it was the Dutch who had the greatest impact on the island. Dutch settlers claimed the island in 1631 after the discovery of salt deposits. The Dutch temporarily lost control of the island two years later when Spain reclaimed it. France and the Netherlands ousted the Spanish in 1648 with each country making claim to portions of the island.
About 43 percent of the island is an independent nation formally known as Sint Maarten. As a member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Sint Maarten depends upon the Netherlands for its military and foreign affairs, but the local government on the island has full control and autonomy over domestic affairs.
The island of Saint Martin is located 190 miles east of Puerto Rico. International air travel is through the Princess Juliana International Airport located on the Dutch side of the island adjacent to Maho Beach. A smaller airport at Grand Case on the northern part of the island is primarily for small jet or propeller aircraft traveling between islands in the Caribbean.
Saint Martin’s tropical climate entices outdoor lovers such as William Mulrow with an average yearly temperature of 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The island’s limited rainfall and gentle trade winds make it the perfect location for visitors to its white, sandy beaches.
The French and Dutch influences on the island are just part of the multicultural aspects of Saint Martin. The population of the island contains more than 120 nationalities speaking over 10 different languages. It is the island’s multiculturalism that fascinates tourists as music, dance, food and culture from the many nations can be seen, heard and sampled.
Tourists have broad choice of accommodations regardless of which side of the island they are visiting. Large resorts, picturesque hotels or quaint guest houses are available throughout the island. Villa rentals have become a popular alternative for guests to the island. Families and groups visiting Saint Martin will find luxury villas for rent in the Orient Bay and Lowlands regions of the island.
As the calendar changes, so do the events and activities happening throughout the island. For example, from January to April, Tuesday nights in Grand Case are dedicated to food, music, and arts and crafts as the streets are turned over to pedestrians. Other local and island-wide events held throughout the year cater to the many interests of visitors to Saint Martin.