When visiting St. Maarten/St. Martin, most boaters anchor in the lagoon or in one of the bays. Cruisers tend to do their errands on the Dutch side, where it is cheaper, and visit Marigot once in a while to obtain French goodies. But Marigot is more than cheese and wine. There are attractions, sights and activities to keep you busy for a whole day. You can shop (or window shop) for fancy clothes or local crafts, or take pictures on a day excursion to a hill with marvelous views, having passed historic buildings along the way. All the while, plenty of opportunities arise to enjoy those ever present aromatic smells escaping from patisseries and cafés with outdoor seating.
One of Marigot's nicest attractions is Fort Louis, which overlooks the town and waterfront. The path and steps leading to the historic fort start east of the old customs and immigration building. It is a pretty strenuous climb, especially in the heat of the day. Once above the street noise, the views get better and better, until you are rewarded with a 360 degree view from the top. You can see Anguilla, surrounded by all the shades of blue you can imagine, Simpson Bay Lagoon, Princess Juliana International Airport, Marigot Bay, its waterfront, the bustling town center and, if you're really lucky, Saba's distant crown. A bench encourages you to relax for a moment and take in the views. Don't forget to venture around the ruins and read the informative signs. Come back to watch the sunset, it's well worth the effort.
Another thing to do while in Marigot is browse the colorful souvenir and produce market. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, you get a chance to buy fresh fish. If money is not an issue (and style is), or you need a little break from the heat, check out the West Indies Shopping Mall, a fancy, air-conditioned European-style mall at the north end of town. More high class shops can be found in the Marina Port La Royale area bordering the lagoon. This is also the place for that special occasion dinner or evening stroll.
Once you leave the touristy waterfront and start exploring the back streets, you find more than just restaurants and clothing stores. The center of town houses the sturdy courthouse, the Methodist Church, library, police station and City Hall – officially called Hotel de la Collectivité. Don't try to book a room here! Close by you will find Rue de la République, showcasing historical town houses with façades dating back to the 19th century. If you're planning a short and cheap bus ride to Grand Case, following this road south (and left at the intersection), brings you to the bus stop.
Ready for a little bit of architecture and history? Walk back towards the ocean, locate the Catholic Church and read the information about its past. You can walk through the bright and modern interior to enter the small garden in the back. There, steps also lead you towards Fort Louis. Next to the church and up the hill sits the Museum of the Arawak where you can learn about St. Martin's history. Ask or find your way to nearby Perrinon Street to see the old prison, a hidden attraction. It was used until 1968.
If you prefer an activity filled day or would like to rent a car, visit the booths at the Gare Maritime (here you can also take the ferry to Anguilla or St. Barth) or check out the yellow stand in Marina Port La Royale. The Office de Tourisme is the obvious choice to gather a map and a lot of information. The cemetery across the road contains the tomb of François-Auguste Perrinon, a Martinique-born business man with abolitionist ideas.
Whether you are anchored in Marigot Bay, preferring clean and calm water, or in a comfortable spot in the lagoon, Marigot's dinghy docks are within easy reach. Or, you can take a bus from the Dutch side. Start the day with a delicious French breakfast and then, if you can, ignore your nose for the rest of the morning. Follow your eyes while discovering all that Marigot has to offer and take advantage of the many informative signs. Don't forget about the long noontime breaks while planning your visit. The French will be French!
Liesbet Collaert is a former teacher and freelance writer who lives and cruises on S/V Irie with her partner, Mark, and their dog, Darwin. For more stories and pictures, check out their website www.itsirie.com.