Travel Treasures from St. MartinPosted by in Travel Shopping
I love to visit new places to experience the culture, soak up the scenery, enjoy the food, and immerse myself in a different life. But let’s be honest here, the thing that gets me the most excited is the shopping (to the dismay of my teenage son).
Caribbean islands are tough nuts to crack when it comes to local artisan shopping. Although there are seemingly many artists who make their homes in this area of the world, seeking them out is harder than it should be. St. Martin was no different.
St. Martin has a French side and a Dutch side. There are two large cities, Philipsburg (Dutch)
and Marigot (French). Philipsburg has the largest number of tourists due to the cruise ships that dock here. Colombian Emeralds and Diamonds International make me shudder. I want locally created crafts and art. The only shop worth visiting in Philipsburg was the Guavaberry Emporium, where you can buy guavaberry, an alcoholic spirit that is a specialty of this island. I was hoping to find some other guavaberry items in the shop, but other than honey, everything is alcoholic in nature. My daughter brought home a bottle of this to add to her limoncello from Italy.
Marigot was another disappointment to me. There is a lovely harbor in this town but the shopping is disappointing. If you want designer goods, head to the West Indies Mall. Gucci is not a souvenir I need
however, so instead we went to the Marigot market which happens every Saturday and Wednesday right on the harbor. The market is similar to those you’ll find in most other Caribbean ports – lots of goods made in China or India, very few from the island. This market did offer some locally produced goods, but not as much as I had hoped. There was a booth filled with hand painted tiles showing scenes from the island. There were a few painters scattered throughout. But all in all, I was not impressed. I did buy a small wooden turtle box for my son, but I doubt it was made in St. Martin.
The Cupecoy beach area on the Dutch side sounded promising. There is in fact a small courtyard with a cute collection of shops. Unfortunately all but one were closed the afternoon we made it there (I really wanted to visit the Bloomin’ Baskets shop). I did go in the Shipwreck Shop here. The Shipwreck shops are an island chain with several locations – I’d breezed through one in Philipsburg, but this shop didn’t feel like a junky souvenir shop as the one in Philipsburg did. There were some very nice collections of Fresh Produce clothes (a brand you find in Florida and the Caribbean) as well as some other beach-y brands.
My daughter bought a very cute bathing suit cover up here. I found 2 notecard sized prints of
paintings I liked, a set of two bookmarks, and I bought a wooden box with hand-painted tile set in it. I also found a coffee table book of St. Martin (I always buy one wherever I go). And I found my magnet (another item I always buy). I almost bought a small steel drum that had been hand painted, but walked away from that.
I’ll be doing another post about the food in Grand Case (not to be missed!), but it was also the place with the best shopping. We actually shopped this tiny town twice (which is easily walkable from one end to the other). Many shops are open in the evening, when the restaurants are open, which is when we shopped.
Tuesday nights are when the town has its weekly street festival and this is when you really want to be sure to go. The main street is closed to traffic (meaning you park outside of town and hoof it – it wasn’t too far however). The street is lined with vendors selling jewelry, handcrafts, art, food, and alcoholic drinks, in addition to the regular shops.
In a funny little shop called Oops we each bought a piece of larimar jewelry. Larimar is from the Dominican Republic and is sold throughout the Caribbean. It’s a beautiful light blue stone with more marbling than turquoise. I bought the necklace and my daughter got the ring. The shop sold the jewelry according to weight, which was an interesting method. At the same place I bought a sheep. I have a large flock of sheep that I tend to and am always adding to it. This sheep was made of something I’d never seen before. It’s called vegetable ivory and is made from the seed of the tagua palm tree. The seeds fall from the trees, harden into what looks like ivory and are carved. This was a fantastic find and one I will definitely treasure.
There are several clothing and jewelry shops in Grand Case, and my daughter bought a scarf with silver and blue beading at the ends of it at one of them. We ogled but did not buy the many white flowy tops and dresses at one store, as well as a shop that sold a variety of fine Dogeared.com-style necklaces with the tiny round charms.
Grand Case is home to Tijon, a perfumery. They sell a full line of lovely fragrances for men and women and also offer classes.
At the street fair I found an artist I liked, named Asif Hakh. Originally from Guyana, he lives and works on St. Martin. Although he gave me instructions for how to find information about him online, all of the pages are no longer working, so I can’t share any links with you! Asif had a large collection of prints, of which I bought two (one shows Orient Beach the most famous beach
on the island, and the other shows the Radisson Blu where we stayed). He also had some original work that incorporated rope or string to create multi-media pieces of hammocks or wicker chairs in a tropical scene (I’m adding these to the gallery in my mind).
A small table near the end of the street held baskets freshly woven from palm leaves – and the artist was making them as we watched. I’ve seen this method before on other islands and have a flower made by a peddler who went around a restaurant in Puerto Rico. What intrigued me was the beautiful pattern in the center of the basket, so I was happy to bring one home to add to my basket collection. It’s still green, so it will be interesting to see how the basket changes as it dries.
I was happy with my finds, but wouldn’t you know it? As we drove to the airport to leave, we passed a handcrafts store? No time to stop, so I’ll always
wonder what I might have found there….
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