Saint Martin

The pleasures of St. Martin are legendary, from its haute cuisine to its golden beaches. When you enter St. Martin, you’ve entered France, and not just figuratively speaking. St. Martin is as much a part of France as Marseilles or Nice, and a flight here from Paris is a domestic flight.

Visit the capital Marigot on market day, when, in front of the harbourside bistros and boutiques, vendors fill the parking lots with goods from home-brewed alcohol to burlap sacks overflowing with cinnamon, nutmeg and chili peppers. St. Martin is action-packed but also laid back. Orient Beach, perhaps the Caribbean’s best-known clothing optional strand, is also its premier location for watersports from windsurfing and jet skiing to “parascending” on a boat-towed parachute.

For a different kind of adventure, visit Loterie Farm, where a former slave trail leads you upward to breadfruit trees descended from the original plants brought to the Caribbean aboard the H.M.S. Bounty. A trail leads to Pic Paradise, the island’s highest point.

You can feast at one of the Caribbean’s largest collection of restaurants, but you can also eat well even on a small budget. In the village of Grand Case, fine eateries line a beachside road, yet amid these culinary palaces lie the “lolos,” a series of wooden shacks overlooking the sea where you can feast on a mountain of stewed conch, fried fish, rice, beans and plantains — all for about $10. From the lowland area called Sandy Ground to Marigot and the less visited Nettle Bay, savvy cooks are waiting to tempt you. It’s a good idea to eat heartily, because your days will be spent in a variety of activities, from a visit to the Butterfly Farm — where such beauties as the Cambodian wood nymph and the Brazilian blue morpho turn your day into a fluttering parade of colour — to the Mont Vernon Plantation, where you’ll journey back through the history of rum production to view the life of days gone by.