St Martin has a unique heritage. After 140 years battling for its control, French and Dutch colonists decided, in 1648, to divide the territory between them. And from the moment you enter this tropical paradise, you’ll understand why neither were willing to leave.

TODAY, THIS 37-mile-island is the smallest inhabited territory to be shared by two nations. A carefree Caribbean charm radiates throughout and there’s no need for a passport should you wish to cross the border. Yet a cultural divide remains: the north has the feel of a sleepy French seaside town while the south buzzes with the vibrancy of Amsterdam.

Stunning beaches steal the spotlight, and none more so than Baie Longue. Many of our guests rarely leave the unspoiled, mile-long stretch with powder-white sands and resident pelicans. It is calm epitomized. Sip champagne at sunset aboard our 32ft catamaran or stroll along the beach toward Pointe du Canonnier, serenaded by the soothing sounds of nature. Venture north along the coast to Baie Rouge and Grand Case, where shelter from the Trade Winds affords excellent snorkeling opportunities.

French culinary traditions have permeated life in St Martin and around Grand Case, affectionately known as Gourmet Beach. L’Auberge Gourmande serves haute cuisine in a charming former creole household. Le Tastevin pairs classic Parisian cookery with stunning beach views. Don’t miss the island’s lolos, simple road or beachside grills, serving only the freshest seafood. They may be kitted out with wooden benches and paper plates, but these eateries boast some of the St Martin’s best cuisine. We recommend Scooby’s in Grand Case and the nameless shack on Baie Rouge.

Between these two beaches is Marigot, the island’s alluring French capital. It marries the vibrancy of the Caribbean and the sophistication of the south of France. There are fresh fruit and fish markets, sensational patisseries—macarons at Sarafina are truly a delight—and chic boutiques, all of which have duty free status.

The Dutch capital, Philipsburg, is somewhat busier yet still worth a visit. The small Sint Maarten Museum offers profound insights into the island's history. Come dusk, Great Bay Beach’s boardwalk is the perfect promenade for an evening stroll. Thirsty? Sample the local guavaberry liqueur—a sweet and fragrant drink made from rum and local fruits. Different flavors are available at the Guavaberry Emporium—a bottle makes a perfect souvenir and is great with fresh lime and soda.

South of the city, former Dutch defenses Fort Willem I and Fort Amsterdam offer breathtaking views over the island and out to sea. A brief trek is an energizing way to spend an afternoon. Mark Yokoyama’s book The Incomplete Guide to the Wildlife of Saint Martin makes a great travelling partner. Since moving to the island in 2009, Yokoyama has spent much of his time documenting the island’s fauna and has photographed over 400 different species.

And once you’ve explored all 37 square miles? Chat to our concierge about arranging a boat to trip one of our neighbors. After all, chic St Barts and Anguilla are just a short ride away.

Explore St Martin with Belmond