Philipsburg, Netherlands Antilles

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Cruising to Philipsburg, St. Maarten

European culture in the Caribbean sun

If you thought France and Holland didn't share a border then you'd be wrong, as while the two countries may be separated by Belgium in mainland Europe, over in the Caribbean they claim joint ownership of the fascinating and beautiful island of Saint Martin, with each nation occupying roughly half of the landmass. Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side - known as Sint Maarten - and is the perfect place to come if you're looking for a mix of European culture and Caribbean sunshine.

As one would expect from any destination in this part of the world, Philipsburg is known for its beaches, with the stereotypically turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea gently lapping the palm-fringed white-sand shores that flank the city. The downtown area is in fact located right on the coast, so you can switch between sunbathing and browsing through the local shops and market stalls at your leisure.

To learn more about the island's history, meanwhile, head to either the Sint Maarten Museum or the Sint Maarten Archaeological Museum, both of which contain fantastic collections of artefacts that provide an insight into the area's indigenous and colonial heritage. Native Arawak art and other objects give visitors a glimpse of what life was like here before the arrival of Europeans, while items from the plantation era depict island life during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. For a look at how the ruling authorities protected themselves from the legendary pirates that swarmed the waters of the Caribbean during this period, head to Fort Louis, which was built at the request of French king Louis XVI in 1767.

Elsewhere, Sint Maarten Park is the largest zoo in the Caribbean, with more than 80 native species on show, while the nearby Butterfly Farm is a truly enchanting place to spend an afternoon.

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