St.. Martin (French side) January 2010
In January 2010, together with other 9 French Destination Specialists I’ve been invited to visit French side of St. Martin.
I flew from Tampa connecting in Miami. I took carryon with me, so it was relatively easy flight and connection. I was able to get both flights my favorite seats in exit row 13. On arrival to St. Martin we’ve met tourist board representative Suzanne, who would spend all 5 days with us. I also met my other traveling companions. We were taken by minivan to our hotels. We were staying in 2 hotels at Orient Bay beach – Esmeralda and La Plantation. I was assigned to La Plantation, http://www.la-plantation.com/ small boutique hotel. My room was a studio, a part of the villa – 3 rooms can connect to 3 bedroom. I had large porch, kitchen, high ceilings, separate shower and toilet. I was given a tour of the room and shown how to operate everything and was left alone. Website says all rooms have oceanview, but it was only a glimpse of oceanview since hotel is on the hill. There is a quite a walk – about 10 mins to reception from some rooms. My room was next to the path which took me to the beach.
In the room, queen bed was covered with pink net – either romantic or from mosquitoes. It looked kind of romantic, however when I went to sleep, it did not shield me from mosquitoes. I made a mental note to buy mosquito spray next day. When falling asleep and reading a book, that net was tangled. In the middle of the night when I got up, I got tangled in this net. After this, I developed distastes for nets around beds.
Later this evening, we were due for dinner at Grand Case Beach Club’s restaurant. We toured Grand Case beach club. It was nice 4* resort, located directly on two beaches. The accommodations there are studios, some with lofts, 1 and 2 bedrooms. The restaurant, Grand Case Café, had terrific food. I had snails in blue cheese sauce as an appetizer and lamb chops in a clay pot for main course. Others chose red snapper in papillotte baked with vegetables and lobster bisque. Everybody loved dinner. The dinner was accompanied by french wines. Desert was the same – hard chocolate dense cake which was delicious and followed by petit fours … The resort is located in Grand Case where there are many restaurants and night life.
January 9. We started day at 8am. I asked for wakeup call but it never came.We did not have time for breakfast at hotel so we went straight to Grand Case. We had breakfast in patisserie Serafina. It has delicious pastries, brioches, baguettes. It was located on the market square. After breakfast, we stopped at market and saw fish, vegetables, and fruits. We bought spices at spice vendor. She explained what each spice mix is for and wrote on each bag.
Next we went to inspect hotels. First one was Beach Plaza Hotel in Nettle Bay. The French owner was very characteristic and enthusiastic. He explained his hotel is not for everybody. Families will be bored. No activities, no bingo, etc.. People who stay there do not need to be entertained. There is a small beach. The advantage is location in center of Marigot. Walk to nightlife, shops, restaurants. There is a ferry to other islands nearby. Rooms were lovely. Nice 4* hotel. In this hotel, I would suggest to get oceanview rooms. Very often people stay there few nights, enjoying Marigot and move on to more secluded resort type location.
Next one was Le Flamboyant nearby. It has also nice beach but it is being under renovation so I would wait 6 or so months until it will be completed.
We visited Mercure, also on the beach – the hotel is standard 3* hotel typical of this French chain.
Lunch was at Don Camillo restaurant at Marina Port Royale. It is owned by Italian family (from Sicily). The owner served us personally and we had nice conversation. Food was very good. Pumpkin soup was delicious. Since owner announced there is no cream in the soup, we asked why it was dense. He said used potatoes instead of cream. Interesting result and I will try to recreate it. Main Course was for me red snapper in pistachio crust and both fish and sauce was exquisite. Some people had Veal Milanese with tomato relish and it looked also very good. Desert was bonnet with chocolate sauce. At the end of the meal, we walked to few shops next door and we found delightful little store owned by french couple and we bought some interesting clothes. The clothes were french chic but at Caribbean prices. I also negotiated price $1 to 1euro so it was a good deal. After big lunch we were sleepy however next step of our exploration was adventure activity at the Lottery Farm so we need to summon all our energy left.
We arrived to the farm and were asked who will be zip lining and who will hike. Few people just chose to relax at the bar with drink. 3 of us went hiking on our own in the forest. 3 of us took zip line. Unlike other zip lines, this one was combined with obstacle course – walking on the rope, bridges, etc. We’ve heard screams from the above: “What, I am auditioning for the Cirque de Soleil?”. The helmets were not mandatory, which surprised me. . I with other people walked in the forest. After Farm, we went to Radisson hotel for inspection. It was very nice, on secluded beach.
We went back to hotel to rest a little and get ready for dinner at Blue Martini Restaurant at Grand Case.
Dinner was selection from the menu: Choice of Greek Salad or Pumpkin soup. Main course was either chicken curry or steamed mahi-mahi with vegetables. Dessert was chocolate mousse or tiramisu. Wine was choice of red, white and rose. Comparing with previous night dinner at Café Grand Case, it was just OK.
Sunday – we were free of inspections this day so tourist office booked for us catamaran for full day to snorkel and swim on a Tintamare Island. The catamaran was 60ft, almost new, the captain was cute 19 year old, the first mate was 18 year old girl from France, great crew, it turned out the most relaxing day we had. They served lunch from catering with delicious french salads – chicken, couscous, potato, cold salmon with sauce, accompanied with wine and bread was wheat baguette. Desert was plate of french cheeses. We snorkeled from the boat but I did not see much fish. We considered to kidnap captain and force him take us to sail to St. Barth, but he said we need passports so we abandoned idea. J The Tintamar island had beautiful soft sand, great swimming, picture perfect. You can get there only by boat. On Sunday, there were many boats so it was as secluded how it usually is. It was perfect day. At the end we sailed back, the captain took sails on but wind did not cooperate. With motor, we were back at Radisson Marina in 5 minutes. Back to hotel in time for next meal.
Dinner was at Esmeralda hotel L’Astrolabe, it is considered one of the best restaurants on the island. I had foie gras sampling for an appetizer, lamb for main course, and chocolate sampler for desert. It was delicious. Walked back to hotel to sleep.
January 10. After breakfast at hotel we went in town for a painting class with Sir Roland Richardson.
Afterwards we went to tour La Samanna, this is the best hotel on the island, member of Orient-Express hotels. Beautiful beach, setup. We talked with cave cellar manager who showed us his collection of wines in the cellar and said it is possible to produce special dinner on request at “La Cave” .. Good to know.
We had nice lunch at La Samanna. I enjoyed salad with sardines. After lunch, we went to visit hotels on Orient Bay. We saw small hotels Palm Court and La H’oste. Small hotels on Orient Beach. Location is great. Hotels are basic.
Dinner was at “Talk of the town” BBQ restaurant. This was something like “Soup Nazi” – “BBQ Nazi”. It is a very casual barbeque place, with ribs, chicken, lobster. Our guide asked us in advance if we are OK with lobster. Most were OK except 2 people who asked for ribs. We arrive to Talk of The Town and were seated at the table with benches. The waiter brought us one page menu. While we were studying the menus, the owner came and took menus away. She said “ I know what you are going to eat”. Keep in mind, this group of travel agents, well travelled, well versed in food and wine and specializing in gourmet vacations. In all restaurants we went, we ordered different food, sampled all food from each other plates and rated it. So .. we waited what we are going to get. The owner came and confirmed what we agreed before – lobsters and ribs. The main course came with sides so she said she will choose sides for us. We sipped water and punch and soon we finished water. We asked for more water but waitress said – no more water. She brought us instead rum punch in large water bottle. As for sides, we all got different 2 sides with our main course on each plate. Not sure how she figured who wants what but looks like skinnier people got more starch J . We gave up and as usual, sampled from each other plates. Having said that, lobster and ribs were delicious, all sides were very good too. Potato salad was very simple but I liked it. Dessert was homemade ice cream and we were asked to choose 2 of each flavor : coconut, chocolate, vanilla, banana. Since we were 10 people, each chose different combination – chocolate vanilla, chocolate coconut, etc.. The waitress got really confused. She asked our guide – manager of tourist board to come up to help her… We were asked again to raise hands what desert we are going to have. At this time I got really loaded on rum punch – I do not drink any hard liquors – only wine. I kept rising hand on each flavor – just in case I will not be overlooked. Finally ice cream order was taken and we enjoyed homemade ice cream. Overall it was a good dinner, but on another spectrum of L’Astrolabe and La Samanna. But this is was required from us on this trip – sample different food and see different hotels. Another great evening with great food and laughs with newfound friends.
Our last day in St. Martin. We came to love this island, want to return and I want to move here!!! My traveling companions point on neglected building in Grand Case which can be bought, decorated and open my business “Concierge by Sophia”. I can very well be happy here ….
We met Leslie – owner or manage of Les Caraibes – villa rental agency. We visited few spectacular villas I will not got into details, let me know if you are interested in villa. Next time I will definitely will stay at villa. It is less expensive, has more privacy, especially if you have 2 couples or family. The driver pointed to villa of Stew Leonard’s , the owner of famous Stew Leonard’s store in CT. It is not for rent though .
The best villa was 12 bedroom beachfront estate Mes Amis. We had some refreshments there and left for airport. We had some time before flights. We drove through dutch side, completely different from French, many condos, highrises… We had snacks at bar near airport and watched planes arriving – flying just above our heads. Then our driver picked us up to go to airport and that concluded our vacation on this beautiful island.
Beautiful, sophisticated European island. Food to die for. No all-inclusives on French side. If you travel there, it is recommended to rent a car and sample restaurants and night life. Orient Beach used to be naturist beach but now is taken over by clothed people. You can still see nude joggers on the beach, but official nude beach is at Club Orient.
Best hotels are La Samanna and Radisson. Other hotels were small, characteristic island hotels. Most hotels we’ve seen had kitchens which is very convenient to explore this island. The supermarkets have food flown from France, USA and UK. I liked variety of patisseries, charcuteries and interesting products from Europe.
I highly recommend this island. It is not cheap comparing with other islands, but unlike in other Caribbean islands, you have many things to do and indulge in gastronomy. It is safe enough to venture on your own.
Contact me for more information or reservations. http://www.sophiastravel.com/