The main thing you should know about Sint Maarten is that if you plan on leaving the vicinity of whatever resort you’re at, you should rent a car. I wish this had occurred to me before my trip. I didn’t realize how semi-isolated each bay and key are and assumed I’d be able to do a lot of walking on the fairly small island. In this assumption I was wrong, and we spent a small fortune on taxis getting to and from various parts of the island, but our taxi driver Margarita couldn’t have been lovelier so in a trade-off I appreciated the time spent listening to her talk about her work and family, even if she wasn’t entirely clear on directions when we went into the French portion of the island.
Sunset beach bar and Maho Bay are NOT overrated. Touristy, yes but worth spending sometime watching airplanes. We got lucky and had some time in the afternoon on our first full day on the island to spend at the bar having lunch and watching various sized planes take off and land. As many videos and photos as you may have seen of giant Air France planes landing just above the beach it is far more impressive in person. It goes by so quickly, first you see on the very edge of the horizon the speck of an incoming plane, then suddenly the roar of its engine is on top of you and the plane is overhead blocking the sun, it’s really something to see.
Despite our poor planning in transportation for the trip and the women on our tour who clearly had never ridden a bicycle before, we managed a historic bike tour through Phillipsburg. Our tour guide “M” was incredibly patient with the women who didn’t know how a kick stand worked and kept falling over on her e-bike that she HADTO HAVE. In between picking the woman up off the ground and repeatedly readjusting her bike “M” managed to share with us some interesting facts about the island, one being that the uneven way in which the island is split was determined by a race between a Frenchman and a Dutchman, the two began the race from the same point on the coast but then each head in different directions (the French north and the Dutch south) and the dividing line of the two countries would be drawn at the point the met again. Each man headed out with a drink from his native land, the Frenchman with wine and the Dutchman with gin…well the combination of the heat of the island and gin proved to encumber the Dutchman more than the French wine and thus the French ended up with 2/3 of the 37-mile island.
Our adventures to the French side of the island were limited, due to poor transportation planning, but we headed up to Loterie Farm for a hike and a drink. We only completed about a quarter of the hike because I underestimated the difficulty and nearly accidentally killed my mother going uphill. Whoops.She was a trooper for as much as she could handle and then while she sat down I climbed up ahead to check the difficulty going from where we stopped (near some friendly monkeys) and made the call to head back down from where we were. I wasn’t about to be the subject of a “mysterious tropical death on a cliff” plot-line for Netflix’s next crime series. The “farm” itself is worth checking out, they host a bar and restaurant, hiking trails, pools, cabanas, ziplining, and a kid's play area. Our other excursion to France saw us in Orient Bay eating dinner at L’Atelier a French steak house that was absolutely fantastic. The owner mingled with guests and while I would recommend the place anyway for the food I recommend it even more highly after hearing the owner speak to the next table. They had been there a few years ago and recalled that he had rescued a dog that had been hit by a car, when they asked him about it he went onto explain that the dog was doing well after he got her to the vet. So really, you can’t go wrong with a great menu and a dog hero all in one place.
Admittedly, the majority of the trip was spent relaxing on the beach or at the pool. This was not a great adventure expedition but a much-needed respite in a beautiful setting that I would recommend to anyone looking for a short escape from reality.