St. Martin, the Villa Experience
by Michael Chisholm, Severine Degnan, Lidy Schalekamp
In early June we flew down to the Caribbean and visited St. Barth, St. Martin and Anguilla, on a wonderful if fast-paced trip designed to familiarize us with a range of Wimco properties on these three delightful islands. Despite the geographic proximity they share, each is decidedly unique and each qualifies as a vacation destination in its own right. We’d like to concentrate on St. Martin in this report. It is a hub of sorts, a significant Caribbean stepping stone, but it offers so much in the way of lifestyle, culture, beauty and villa accommodations that many would argue you need go no farther in the quest for an ideal West Indies escape.
The first advantage you reap on a trip to St. Martin is the ease of getting there from the U.S. east coast. People often compare St. Martin to other Caribbean islands by noting that it involves "one less flight." Naturally it makes a big difference to be able to fly direct without the nuisance of connections—especially if you are traveling in a group or with young or elderly family members. Among the major U.S. carriers, American Airlines offers daily nonstop service from New York and Miami; Delta offers daily nonstop service from Atlanta; US Airways offers nonstop service from Philadelphia and Charlotte; Continental Airlines flies direct from Newark. There is something very seamless about hopping onto a big bird stateside and sitting back until the beach scene at Maho Bay whizzes by an arm’s length below you on the dramatic approach just hours later, moments before touchdown at Juliana International Airport.
Which brings us to one significant housekeeping item of which you should be aware: You must carry a passport to travel to St. Martin; this is as important upon arrival there as it is upon reentry into the United States. The rule is relatively new and it is enforced. The world is a different place today and the familiar assumption that you can meander through the Caribbean with a driver's license and a birth certificate just doesn't cut it anymore. Wimco advises that you carry a passport wherever and whenever you travel internationally, period.
Onward, to St. Martin. As you probably know, the island consists of two distinct principalities, French and Dutch, which amounts to a nominal territorial division with subtle though notable differences from one side to the other. The French side—St. Martin—observes as its capital the charming town of Marigot, infused with the French “way,” bustling with crafts, culture, cuisine and international appeal. The Dutch side—St. Maarten—observes as its capital the village of Philipsburg, where casino-fueled nightlife, duty-free shopping and a very indigenous Caribbean quality define its presence. The island overall is internationally diverse—some say truly unique in its cultural mix—and the people are friendly. Certainly we found it so in June.
Beauty and the Beach
Both the physical character of St. Martin and the standard of living strike you positively on a holiday here. More than three dozen beaches with white sand lapped by gin-clear Caribbean and Atlantic water gild the perimeter. Our favorite and the pick of most people who come to St. Martin was mile-long Orient Beach on beautiful Baie Orientale in the northeastern corner of the island. It is clean and clear, with marvelous beach bars of varying ethnicity along its length, a few restaurants and shops, and watersports kiosks for the more active. We also liked the beach at Baie Longue—more private for sure, off the beaten track and without the vender presence. Another beach we frequented was at Baie Rouge—close to Marigot, quite beautiful and minimally commercial. And we can’t get away without mentioning the beach at Baie de Grand Case in the northwestern corner of the island, where a series of tiny coves and long stretches of sand support snorkeling and other watersports and provide the backdrop to this Mecca of seafront atmosphere and dining.
Wimco's properties occupy the Terres Basses, or Lowlands, section of the island on its western extension beyond Simpson Bay Lagoon. The area is flanked by Baie Rouge, Pointe du Plum and Baie Longue; it also happens to be where one of St. Martin's premier hotels, La Samanna, sits on 55 acres of land overlooking white sand and the Caribbean beyond. The villas in Terres Basses are all part of a gated community, immaculately tended and great for families with young children because it is so self-contained and so safe. The drill for guests is simple: We were picked up at the airport upon arrival and brought straight to our house along with our luggage, where the rental car we had ordered awaited us in the driveway and fully stocked provisions awaited our culinary hand inside.