St. Martin, the French-side of a French-Dutch island in the middle of the shimmering blue Caribbean, was devastated in 2017 by a passing hurricane. But, now, after one-year of energy, love and rebuilding directed toward the island, it’s back and ready to welcome guests who crave a luxury travel moment.
The French side of St. Maarten/St. Martin has always been known as the chicest – of course. The quiet beaches, the private villas overlooking serene bays, French bakeries that line the streets of Grand-Case or small jewelry stores scattered throughout the area – they all come together to exude an ambiance that is incredibly subtle and lovely.
St. Martin was indeed crippled by the hurricane that came through in 2017, a moment that made those who love this island and who live and work here stop and catch themselves in excruciating pain. Not only is this place a beloved spot in the sea for tourists who come year after year, but for locals who are an integral part of the fabric that make-up St. Martin’s charm. It was they who lost businesses, homes, possessions and dignity. But, with the strength of their spirit and dedication to returning to a normal life, they rebuilt stronger and, some might say, even better.
I visited St. Martin recently and stayed at a private home overlooking Orient Bay. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived, but was curious to see how far they had come. I arrived at Princess Juliana Airport, on the Dutch side of the island, and realized that the airport had been effected. The terminal, currently being restored, was set-up in a make-shift white tent that housed passenger waiting areas, customs, security and more.
I was collected at the airport and driven across to the French side St. Martin, where things appeared to be in better shape. Although the airport is fine to fly in and out of, and most carriers having resumed normal operations to the island, it’s clear it has a long way to go before looking like a “normal” airport.
I spent five days on St. Martin, never leaving the French side of the island. I wanted to feel the place and imbed myself into the fabric as a local and visitor. I was surprised and overjoyed at just how wonderful that experience was and how far the island has come.
Luxury travelers who gravitate toward St. Martin will find that everything you could want or need is up and running. Whether you are yearning for a private villa experience and want to rent something beautiful on the sea, or stay at the famed Belmond La Samanna (reopening December 10, 2018), you can design your St. Martin experience whichever way you’d like. I stayed in a private villa, and it was heaven. Since the island is reemerging, now is the time to visit. You will have many beautiful beaches and attractions all to yourself.
For travelers who would like to visit now, and now is absolutely the time, there is a whole host of things you can do to enjoy St. Martin. Choosing accommodations is key, as we love the Belmond re-opening in December, but staying in a private villa or home is ideal for privacy and for the feeling of living like a local. But, many of these homes provide housekeepers, chefs on demand and other concierge services for your needs – so you’re not missing out on a luxury experience.
While on the island, take a boat trip to Pinel Island and Tintamarre Island for a private day at the beach. Walk the streets of Marigot to visit art galleries, shop or sample incredible French/Creole cuisine at Lucy’s. Visit Loterie Farm, in Pic Paradis, for the day to hike the trails, glide over tree tops or have an incredible lunch. Pack a picnic lunch from one of the many gourmet bakeries in Orient Bay or Grand Case and head to the beach with a bottle of Rosé. Or, visit Tijon to create your own custom perfume. There’s so much to do here to keep you busy for days.
After five days on the island, and spending that time between exploration and water-related activities it was clear that St. Martin is ready for travelers. There are many islands in the Caribbean Sea that offer unique appeal, but St. Martin’s French-ness and way of life is most intriguing. You won’t find that on many other islands, especially wrapped in the natural beauty that exists here. Make your plans to visit the island now, before word gets out and everyone begins to make those exact same plans.