The island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is written this way, with two names, because it is an island shared by two cultures, two nations, France and the Netherlands. It lies to the north of St Kitts and Nevis and to the east of the Virgin Islands.
The northern part of the island is French St Martin and, as is the case with other French territories overseas, it is considered part of France. The southern part is Dutch Sint Maarten which is an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the same status as Aruba and Curacao.
The two nations have shared the island since the 1648 Treaty of Concordia. Despite some difficult periods over the decades they agreed early on to allow free travel between the north and south long before the European Union was a reality. The story goes (as told to us by a taxi driver, so it must be true) that to decide where the final border would be a Dutchman and a Frenchman started walking towards the centre of the island at the same agreed time from opposite sides of the island. Where they met was the border. The Frenchman walked slightly quicker and so the French part is a little larger.
Each half of the island has a quite different feel to the other.
Dutch Sint Maarten is resort central. Plane loads of North American and European tourists regularly fill the said resorts. The capital, Philipsburg has a very tourist oriented feel with it's beach and boardwalk festooned with tourist restaurants and souvenir shops.
French St Martin is much less high rise resort and much more small scale relaxed. Both sides have good beaches but the consensus is that the French side wins.
We decided to experience both with a few days in a mega resort in Sint Maarten followed by a small beach hotel in Saint Martin.
We stayed at the very comfortable Simpson Bay Resort near the international airport in the south of Sint Maarten. The resort is vast, with all conveniences and mod cons. We had a small apartment with a full kitchen. There is a supermarket on site so we were able to self cater.
There are also a number of restaurants if you don't feel like cooking. And a casino. And six swimming pools and it's own beach!
Ferries to Saba and Anguilla also leave from the resort (see our post on our trip to Saba).
It was very pleasant and, being low season, was only around $US105/$AUS140 per night.
Our digs in Saint Martin, by contrast was a small hotel across the road from the public beach with only a hand full of rooms. It was called Hotel Hevea.
At 85 Euros or $AUS130 it was comparable to the resort pricewise, but the vibe was totally different, much more low key and low rise.
It sits across from the pleasant long white sand of Grand Case Beach, not far from the capital Marigot. The main street has a number of very good restaurants, including Caribbean Creole Bar and Restaurant.
While both halves of the island are quite different both have their benefits and charms. Our recommendation would be, if you are lucky enough to visit Sint Maarten/Saint Martin make sure that you spend a bit of time on both sides.