Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is bathed in raucous history and the Caribbean island’s cultural secrets hide within ubiquitous souvenirs across the land. Check out the stories behind the mementoes before deciding which to bring home.
Saint Martin Rum
Rum on the island is legendary, infused with folklore, and delivers a unique sweet bite. Distilling dates back to the 1800s when private homes produced it from the plentiful sugar cane by-products without government regulation.
Hand-painted bottles from Ma Doudou Punch, a hard-to-find shop stocked floor-to-ceiling with liquor in the St. Martin town of Cul de Sac, are considered a must for their famously smooth flavours (banana vanilla, anyone?). Plastic bottles made on site start at US$8 for a half litre.
Ruby Bute Art
Locally revered Ruby Bute is a poet, a painter and a storyteller. Her impressive 1,500-sq.-ft. gallery sits on her overgrown property in St. Martin, just beyond a gate that is opened by request. Her colourful pieces depict many shades of island history. Grab a print, starting at US$10, and let her tell you the story behind the image.
A Bag in Marigot
Shoppers in the know go to Marigot. This is the heart of St. Martin’s French style, where clothes are shipped straight out of Paris and authentic French influences make up the city’s inner workings—particularly when it comes to what to wear.
Throughout the island’s history, France has occupied the entire area at various times, leaving a deep footprint in the local culture. For US$2 each at the Shipwreck Shop, a lacy old-fashioned bag is a stylish (and affordable) nod to a faded colonial power.
Guavaberry Barbecue Sauce
Spicy and sweet are popular flavour combos on the island, so a US$9 bottle of this sauce straight from the Guavaberry Emporium in Philipsburg is a great way to bring the island’s taste home. The shop was once the governor’s house and now serves as the headquarters for this berry and the concoctions deriving from its cultivation.
The island is said to have the highest concentration of guava berries on the planet, and while the fruit was never a source of major local commerce, its use in jams, juices, tarts and cakes dates back more than a century.
Cigars (Preferably Chocolate-Flavoured)
The country’s economy was fuelled with the salt, cotton and tobacco trade during the halcyon days after the Treaty of Concordia in 1648. While the Dutch side paved the path in tobacco production, farms sprouted across the island and tobacco still plays a major role in the local culture.
A savoury case of Saint Martin-brand chocolate-flavoured cigars from the Cigar Emporium (US$10) is hand-rolled nearby and adds a bit of decadence to your history lesson.
Where to Shop
The Wednesday and Saturday morning markets in Marigot, set up along the wharves on the Boulevard de France, are free to browse and famous for their wide variety of produce, fish, seasonings, and arts and crafts. The makeshift shops allow for leisurely shopping while gazing at the crystal-clear Caribbean waters. Find high-end fashion and jewellery in a cluster of stores at the Marina Port la Royale all week long.