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St Maarten Cruises

Saint Maarten is thirty seven miles of verdant green rolling hills, garlanded by glorious pearl white beaches, and amicably shared between two nations for several centuries.

The Dutch influence is evident everywhere in sturdy, cosmopolitan Phillipsburg. Water taxis race across the sparkling briny to a beach dotted with two story clapboard bars in a riot of pastel shades, with rickety furnishings, ceiling fans, ice cold Dutch beer and the subtle, all pervasive lilt of reggae. Idle palm trees stand against a sky of cobalt blue almost unruffled by the ghost of a breeze.

The shopping is quite incredible, and some of the best duty free bargains in the islands are to be had right here. In particular, electrical goods are a real deal if you want to indulge your inner pirate, and pick up some real life booty of your own. Or maybe nothing appeals more to you than some delicious local jerk chicken, and an indolent hour or so spent in a hammock, with a back drop of jet skis tearing up the electric blue waters and a frozen margarita to keep you company?

The scenery here is simply bewitching. Low, rolling hills form a mountainous spine to the island, a ragged patchwork quilt featuring numerous subtle, eclectic shades of green. Hibiscus and oleander abounds, bright pink against the flawless sweep of sand at beaches like legendary Orient, where waterfront bars and bistros serve up something for every taste.

The town of Phillipsburg itself is a bustling place, an intriguing mix of old Caribbean charm and modern convenience. Harley Davidson’s cruise past beach bars where groups of suntanned tourists lounge on sofas grouped on the sand. Fishing boats thread their way gingerly past giant white cruise liners, their enormous flanks washed by fresh, early morning sunshine. The scent of a riot of local produce, from spices to exotic fruits, hangs in the air like so much fine perfume.

Over on the other, French side of the island, the town of Marigot is less frantic, more demure and old world. Few cruise ships actually go there, but this merely serves to burnish the considerable charms of this small French enclave in the sun.

Fleets of idly bobbing yachts sit sedately at anchor like so many contented swans, floating on a sun dappled sea. Croissants and café au lait in the languid morning sun point up the distinctive Gallic charms of this small, perfectly formed town. More beaches nestle nearby, while restaurants and bistros emphasise authentic French cuisine, and some more ambitious ones served up with a subtle, yet distinctive Creole twist. Here, all pervasive reggae sounds fill the air as shoppers stroll between bargains, beaches and bistros in what amounts to one of the best all round vacation experiences in the entire Eastern Caribbean.

Saint Maarten or Sint Martin? What is important is not how you say it, but merely that you savour it. Two worlds co-existing peacefully on one dreamy little island idyll. The stuff that dreams are made of, yet all too real, and easily accessible.