The Little Island That Could

Few islands boast as much history as Tintamarre. Even fewer with such history are small enough to fit comfortably inside Central Park—ten times over. Dive into this tiny destination that promises to make a large impression.

Read time - 2 min

The word Tintamarre comes from the Middle French for “uproar” or “great confused noise”. Ironic, considering that today the island is serene and completely uninhabited. These days, all you’ll be greeted with is a windswept rocky coastline, white sand beaches and flat terrain. For the Saint-Martinois, ‘Flat Island’ is the appropriate nickname commonly used.

The island’s biggest attraction is its abundant marine wildlife, best explored in the early morning. Hawksbill sea turtles, schools of dolphins, fire corals and sea urchins are plentiful. From January to March, humpback whales migrate to the warm surrounding waters for mating season. As early as 1764, Governor of French St Martin Auguste Descoudrelles praised the bountiful fauna. “The coastline of this island is the most abundant in fish in the surrounding area.”

In the midst of such astounding natural beauty, the island’s exciting past can be overlooked. During the 18th century, it was a site of great contention between the French and the British. The location of St Martin, and by extension Tintamarre, is in the strategic and highly contested waters of the Lesser Antilles. This little island was once the catalyst of a succession of land grabs between the nations, playing a pivotal role in Caribbean history.

At the turn of the twentieth century, St Martin businessman D.C. Van Romondt boarded up his home and settled on Tintamarre, reportedly to avoid taxation. Taking with him several dozen workers from the parent island, he cultivated the land, raised livestock and even produced his own currency. He rose to fame in 1913 when a French daily paper dubbed him “The King of Tintamarre” and reported on his bachelordom. Legend has it that following the article, numerous letters were sent to Van Romondt by European suitors, each hoping to become the Queen of Tintamarre. None were successful.

The final chapter in this tiny island begins and ends with the short-lived history of a local airline: the Antillean Airline Company or CAA. Founded in 1946, it operated a small fleet of repurposed airplanes out of Tintamarre, flying to Dominica, St Lucia, Martinique and Anguilla. The airstrip provided new routes, and with them, smuggling opportunities. In 1951, the tricksy trader Rémy de Haenen was convicted for the illegal possession of 30,000 crates of whisky. By 1950, after three ill-fated take-offs, the airstrip was shuttered, never to be used again.

Today, among the low-lying shrub and small, grass pastures, the airstrip has vanished along with most signs of the island’s storied past. What remains is local lore. Tintamarre, the flat island of the Lesser Antilles, embodies the swirling mysteries of the Caribbean. The legends and the swashbuckling stories passed down from generation to generation. From the neighbouring haven of La Samanna, A Belmond Hotel, St Martin, visit the island as it begs to be seen: on a pre-dawn boat sojourn, greeted by a multitude of marine life.

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