Live like a Local in St. Maarten
St. Maarten is governed by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, although there are very few signs of the Dutch influence remaining. Today, this Caribbean island (shared with Saint Martin, a French overseas collectivity), is a lively island nation (approximately 100 miles east of Puerto Rico), that has become a major port for cruise ships and a holiday destination for international visitors.
While some Caribbean destinations have been making headlines because of crime and mysterious deaths, St. Maarten continues to receive cautionary recommendations from the UK Foreign Travel Advisory. The website recommends vigilance when venturing beyond hotel perimeters and walking along empty beaches. Valuables should not be taken to the beach, purses and totes should be closed and not easy to snatch and keep strolls to tourist areas. Before taking taxis, make sure they are registered and negotiate a price before the ride as most do not have meters. According to AreaVibes.com, the overall crime rate on the island is 1 percent higher than the national average; however, the island is safer than 39 percent of the cities in the USA ( https://www.areavibes.com/st.+martin-ms/crime/ ).
If you are renting a car, be ready to drive on the right-hand side of the road and be prepared for some rustic conditions and narrow roadways plus heavy traffic (especially during rush hours).
While St. Maarten is still recovering from the devastation of a Category 5 hurricane, the main services are up and running. The airport is functioning although the systems for entering and leaving the buildings are long, slow and congested, testing the patience of even the most seasoned travelers.
Whether the problems exist because of understaffing, the absence of technology, or just a desire for visitors to “feel their pain,” the process for being admitted to and leaving the country is challenging.
Even before putting a sandal on the beach, arriving passengers are alerted to the fact that when they leave the island, they should arrive at the airport 4 hours before flight departure. To those of us waiting endlessly to enter the country, having fewer hours on the beach or at meetings seemed harsh. Unfortunately, the advice is solid…arrive at the airport – early…because the process for leaving the terminal and getting to the departure gates is very slow!
Do not rely on the food vendors to meet your need for nourishment. Food kiosks are open but they are understaffed and offer limited options. Better safe than sorry – so, be prepared and bring you own sandwiches and snacks, along with a bucket-size quantity of patience. The exit process requires every skill-set developed in yoga and meditation classes.
Where to Stay
Now that we have finally gotten through the airport hurdle, it is time to select accommodations. While there are hotels available, at a variety price points, it is better/best to stay at a villa, where personal needs/wants can be addressed and satisfied.
Do not attempt to go the villa route without a licensed and experienced local broker. What you see in an online brochure may not be what you want to walk into; the last drama you want is to be surprised by inadequate housing in a difficult/challenging, inappropriate location as the way to jump-start your holiday.
I recently met with Maia Pilzer of IRE Vacations, a local brokerage firm that specializes in vacation villa rentals and sales. The company offers concierge services, including: airport pickup, car rental assistance, housekeeper and chef services, villa provisioning with groceries and appropriate wines/spirits, restaurant recommendations, massage treatments, children’s activities (and nannies), medical emergency contacts, private yacht charters, recommended island activities, and other needs/wants that may be of importance to the guest(s). As a villa renter it is comforting to know that there is someone available 24/7 – “just-in-case.”
Properties for Consideration
Joy Estate (Cay Hill)
Located on Beethoven Drive with an OMG view of the Caribbean Sea, this recently renovated a/c, Wi-Fi, 5-bedroom villa offers guests a private pool and deck with outdoor dining opportunities, a fabulous modern kitchen, and lots of space for family and friends. While tastefully designed, it is not handicap accessible (many stairs).
Villa Amalia (Guana Bay)
For modern design fans, Villa Amalia is a perfect rental (I could check-in for at least a year). Partially handicap accessible (there is a spiral staircase), it is said to rival the villas of the Terres Bases on the French side of the island. Located only 5-minutes from Philipsburg, it is close to a sandy beach (that may have to cleared of seaweed, based on the season). The area is noted for surfing and a sunken barge in the nearby waters is perfect for snorkeling.
The villa features 6-bedrooms en-suite, modern/contemporary furniture/fixtures, a full modern kitchen, smart TV & Cable and incredible views. A fabulous amenity is the 600 sq. ft. heated saltwater lap pool with a shallow area that works well for toddlers and tanning. There is a Vondom lighted bar set-up with refrigerator and full sink, a BBQ, pool accessories and an outdoor ping pong table. The villa also has a small gym and separate spa area.
Daily maid and chef service are part of the amenity package as well as an in-house laundry and personalized evening turndown service plus free WiFi and a printer/scanner for guests who insist on working.
Once settled in your villa – which you do not want to leave, two local artists will meet with you – next to your swimming pool. They will be delighted to show you their Vogue – magazine worthy designs, and then discuss your personal wants/needs in order to design jewelry and bags just for you!
Jolie, means pretty in French, but this does not begin to describe the incredibly beautiful bags (of all sizes) that Duzon creates – as each is a work of art. The colors and designs are statement pieces that will enhance every outfit – from morning exercises at the gym, to cocktails and dinner in the evening (at the trendiest bars and restaurants). The Duzon creations are inspired by European sophistication and Caribbean colors and lifestyles.
Duzon was born in Sint Maarten and started drawing at the age of 8. By the age of 10 she was cutting miniature body figures of women on cardboard and embracing them in fabric. Her schoolmates, jealous of her stylish dolls, encouraged her to make clothes for their dolls…and thus began her career in fashion. When Duzon turned 18 she left the Caribbean with a scholarship to study economics in the Netherlands. Not happy with this career path she applied to the Amsterdam Fashion Institute and was accepted into their Design and Styling program. In 2011 she began Jolie Duzon in Rotterdam.
Currently her handbags are available online and by appointment in St. Maarten. For additional information: https://www.facebook.com/JolieDuzon/
If you like to be noticed in a crowd, you will want to start collecting jewelry designed by Christal LeGrand. This extraordinary designer started life as a crafter, expanding her love for color and fabric into a successful enterprise. She tried to develop a career as an accountant, but her skill-set and love for color and fabric lured her away from a traditional business career, and into life as an entrepreneur. Her work can be seen by appointment in St. Maarten. https://www.facebook.com/amanjadesigneraccents
A Villa to Own
Now that you have fallen in love with St. Maarten, it may be time to think about building your own villa and/or office building/shopping plaza. This is the perfect moment to set up an appointment with Dutch educated, futurist architect, Damien Richardson.
Richardson was born in St. Maarten and was awarded a MS degree in Architecture, with Honors, (2002) from the Technical University, School of Architecture, the Netherlands, the third highest ranking school of architecture in the world. In 2007 he joined VROMI as the Head of the Department with the responsibility for managing the Building Permits division and Policy Development. In addition, he a member of the faculty at the Caribbean Metropolitan Architecture Department (CMA) at the University of St. Martin (USM) and Chair of the Social Economic Council of St. Maarten. For additional information: [email protected]
Space by Design
Once your spaces have been planned, it is time to bring in the interior designer, and special event planner to celebrate your wise decisions.
Dion Gumbs attended Milton Peters College and the University of St. Marten and was awarded his bachelor’s degree in business management from University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). Currently he is an interior design consultant with Kooyman Megastore, St. Maarten and an Event Planner. He has designed unique programs at the airport, and hotel venues for over 600 people with unique themes (think Black & Bling, Ice & Fire, Back to the 80’s, Black & Gold). Gumbs is also noted as a wedding planner, handling all the details from the design of his/her jewelry, appropriate bride/groom/bridesmaid dresses and suits, to food/beverage/ flowers and entertainment. By appointment in St. Maarten: [email protected]
Rhum for the Party
As you get ready to celebrate your holiday and new acquisitions, it is the perfect moment to stock the bar with Topper’s Caribbean rum, produced a few miles from your villa.
Melanie Daboul started making rum in her kitchen and it is thanks to her gourmet palate that the rums have uniquely creative flavors. Topper and Melanie Daboul own 2 restaurants and a rum factory in St. Maarten.
The rum business started in 1994. At the time, it was served exclusively in their restaurants as an after-dinner treat. Increasing demand from guests encouraged them to increase supply, making the products available for sale at the restaurants and local stores.
In 2012 they partnered with Mike and Thelma King to build a distillery for the production of Topper’s Rhum, producing the first bottle in November. The Rhum has won many awards including, The World’s Best Tasting Rhum.
The original Caribbean White Rhum has an alcohol content of 43 percent and is considered a good “sipping” rhum. The spiced rhum pairs well with cola and ginger ale. Other flavors include white chocolate raspberry, banana vanilla, mocha mama, and coconut (mix with pineapple, mango or guava juice). For $25 visitors can schedule at 1.5-hour tour of Topper’s Rhum Distillery, learn how to make Caribbean rum, and sample unlimited tastings of the artisanal rum products while enjoying a taste of rum cake.
The tour covers the 6,000 sq. ft. distillery and includes a look into how rum is fermented, distilled, filtered and blended, and how each bottle is handcrafted. There is no need to leave your rum dreams and wishes behind as visitors are offered the opportunity to bottle their own Topper’s Rhum to take-away. Topper’s is the only St. Maarten-made product that is exported and currently available in the USA and other countries.
GetAway. St. Barthelemy
Need a break from your St. Maarten villa? A short charter flight away is the French-speaking, star-noted Caribbean island destination of St. Barts’. You cannot be so close (12 minutes by air) to this sanctuary for the rich and famous and not spend a few hours/days/weeks on the island of fame and fortune. Saint Barthelemy was originally a town within the department of Guadeloupe, becoming an Overseas Collectivity (2007), electing Bruno Magras as President.
The Honorable Bruno Magras
For visitors on a budget, look for accommodations from April – June, with the priciest times in the winter. Temperatures vary between 70s-90s, year-round, with rain expected in September – November.
Getting to the Playground for The Wealthy
The Saint Barthelemy Airport (SBH) has a notoriously short runway so many visitors select to fly into Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM), St. Maarten, reserving a shuttle/charter flight or ferry to the island. To charter a 7-passenger flight from SXM to SBH, budget +/-$1400 (high season); +/- $1240 (low season).
Where to Stay
For villa rental, IRE Vacations maintains an office in St. Barts’ and for hotel accommodations, one suggestion is a relatively new property on the Island, Le Barthelemy, where rates start at (in August) at $775 per night (Rate includes rental car, 100 Euros resort credit per day, daily buffet breakfast, ground transfers from airport or harbor, and beach chairs; excludes 5% local tax).
What to Drink
De Castellane Brut Champagne France. Grapes: Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
This value priced champagne delivers an incredibly delicious palate experience. Pale golden yellow to the eye with high-energy effervescent fine bubbles, it offers a crispy/high acidity wake-up call to the palate, with brioche, citrus and vanilla aromas delighting the nose. Perfect as an aperitif or served with prosciutto.
De Castellane has won many awards including: International Wine Challenge (2016), Bronze; Decanter World Wine Awards (2016), Bronze; International Wine & Spirit Competition (2016), Silver; Decanter Wine & Spirit Competition (2016), Silver.
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.