St. Martin/St. Maarten: Paradise in Any Language
|Aerial shot of St. Martin (DigitalVision)|
Thirty-six beautiful beaches ring this tiny half-French, half-Dutch island in the West Indies. Once a sleepy European-flavored cousin to the busier U.S. and British Virgin Islands to the north, St. Martin/St. Maarten has seen developmentand tourismrise dramatically over the past decade. But even if the beaches aren't quite as empty as they once were, the island is still a charming, relaxed Caribbean destination.
The village of Grand Case, on the northeastern edge of the island, is often recommended for its collection of fine French-accented bistros and cafés, but it also boasts a lovely beach that cups the natural harbor of Grand Case Bay. And if you forget your bathing suit (or need a spur-of-the-moment wedding ring), the capitals of Marigot (on the French side) and Philipsburg (on the Dutch) offer loads of quality, duty-free shopping.
La Samanna Resort (B.P. 4077, Baie Longue) provides a luxurious combination of privacy and pampering. Located on the western tip of the island just over the border on the French side, this lavishly landscaped, 100-acre complex right on the beach at Baie Longue has a Caribbean-Casablanca vibe, white stucco archways and domes, oceanfront villas and suites, and a beachside bar. It also includes the requisite tennis courts, outdoor pool, and the well-appointed Elysées Spa. The prices can be as breathtaking as the azure sea-and-sky views, but the hotel offers couples several enticing romance and honeymoon extras, and as always in the Caribbean, off-season rates are significantly more affordable.
Within walking distance of Grand Case Bay are two sister hotels, the Hotel L'Esplanade Caraibe (B.P. 5007, Grand Case) and the aptly named Le Petit Hotel (248 Blvd. de Grand Case). Walk barefoot along the powdered-sugar sands, watch the sunset from your balcony, or sip a rum punch from L'Esplanade's swim-up poolside bar. As the sun falls into the sea, head over to dine on the Creole cuisine at Le Pressoir (30 Blvd. de Grand Case, 5220.127.116.11), served in a breezy West Indian house-turned-restaurant. Hotel Esmeralda (B.P. 5141, Grand Case), on the east coast and just a few minutes walk from lively Orient Bay, offers clusters of villas, each with its own pool, along with two restaurants and a tennis court. French-style (that is, topless) sunbathing is popular on the beach; strip down and soak up the rays au naturel at the far end.
With so many beaches, opportunities for water sports are ample. Once you've had your fill of paddling in the stunningly clear turquoise waters, any hotel concierge can arrange all manner of ocean adventures, including diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, and kayaking. Chartered boat trips to the steep green island of Saba (the five-mile-square peak of a now-extinct volcano) are also available, as are sightseeing yacht trips and ferries to other islands. Cruising around the Caribbean, the sun on you backs, cocktails in your hands, and you'll quickly agree life together doesn't get much better than this.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication