This well-developed, cosmopolitan island, with its two national faces — the French northern half of St. Martin and the Dutch southern part dubbed St. Maarten — gives off an air of Continental (dine on fine French cuisine, enjoy buzzing nightlife), while its still-distinct Caribbean roots lend the essential carefree vibe (hang for an afternoon in a dive-ish rum hut). Be sure to explore all sides at all elevations; not simply sand for miles, the island has pretty green peaks that make picturesque backdrops to the beaches.
Finally get that beach home with shared ownership at Dawn Beach Club (dawnbeachclub.com), which is connected to the Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort & Spa. Condos sleep up to eight (perfect for family time) and start at a modest buy-in of $17,000 (plus association fees). Think Time Share 2.0: Owners have access to Westin amenities like three restaurants, a spa, a casino and a private beach, plus laundry and cleaning service — and ocean views, of course.
For fine French dining with a local twist, L’Estaminet in Grand Case in St. Martin is a must. Also, while you’re out shopping or sightseeing by day, make sure to pick up a bottle of the island’s own Guavaberry Rum. Or, even better, stop into any bar on the island to try a Guavaberry colada.
St. Martin’s terrain is ideal for a great sightseeing drive or hiking; the highest point, Pic Paradis, rises to 1,391 feet. For a break from the beach, head to the Butterfly Farm (thebutterflyfarm.com), a large, mesh- canopied butterfly zoo that boasts dozens of kinds of the most beautiful and interesting butterflies and moths, all flying freely (unless they’re landing on your — hint! — brightly colored shirt).