Why St. Martin is Still Magical

Coming Back to St. Martin

It’s been a number of years since I’ve been to St. Martin. There was a stretch of time, though, when my family and I spent three nights there in December, before the holidays in St. Barths. The porters in St. Martin are still the same – many of them still working there for decades. They are still clad in their black pants and mustard-yellow button downs. Seeing them, I was immediately transported to a different time.

The Belmond La Samanna

I was lucky enough to stay at the Belmond La Samanna. It is a place that fills many of my memories of the island. The hotel is ten minutes from the airport, and so it’s an easy overnight should your flight to St. Barths or Anguilla be delayed. Or even better, split up your travel and arrive to your next destination already in your sandals and sunhat.

Lined with stucco and bougainvillea, the entrance to the hotel reminds me of The Marbella Club, an old-world hotel I stayed at for a wedding in Spain last summer. St. Martin is not unlike Marbella. Both occasionally get a bad rap for being more commercial, less exotic, and of course, both home to casinos. And yet at both these spots, the beauty is in the scents, the flowers, and the joyous delight in hospitality.

La Samanna Hotel in St Martin

How Little It’s Changed

For fans of La Samanna, you might be wondering if they still greet you with a welcome drink. They do, and it’s still fabulous and the same recipe – the hard-to-master fruit punch – with just the right amount of grapefruit and guava. Of course, you can opt for a touch of dark rum as well.

Scents and colors of St. Martin. St Martin Beaches

Walking around the property with the sounds of the sugar birds and the rustle of the breeze against the palm trees, I had a striking memory of being fourteen or fifteen: I imagined that this would be the type of place I’d come back to for a getaway with a boyfriend (I suppose dreams of the future always involved travel). It’s quiet here, and yet not due to isolation in the way that some resorts are. Fifteen years later, I feel the same way—it’s the perfect spot for a romantic getaway.

Whether you’re coming from New York for a long week-end, from Europe or the West Coast for a week, or just for three nights before spending the holidays in St. Barths or Anguilla, this is a romantic spot that does indeed make you slow down. But I also firmly see why our family came here. It is a true resort – with something for everyone (a spa, jet skis, tennis, and I assume a still-epic VHS & DVD library).

La Samanna is a True Resort

I played a quick game of tennis with the resident pro at around 6pm, just before it got dark, the cicadas percussing in the background. There are wonderful hotels around the world, but a true resort has opportunities for sport right on property. La Samanna is one of them. Eating by myself the first night at La Samanna was decidedly pleasant. With the music at just the right level, the crashing of waves below, and the flickers of boat lights in the distance, it was a restorative combination of senses.

Tennis court at La Samanna Hotel, St Martin

Reflecting on Family Vacations

Dinner at L'Oursin, St Martin

At dinner I saw a family not dissimilar from my own: two daughters, close in age, maybe on Easter break from college. I admired them from afar, somehow sharing in a secret with the parents that this would be an important moment for them—a time to be savored. Yet seeing them, I also longed for my own family. And not just the four of us together, but that specific place in time…a nuclear family together on a trip made possible only in the way that school schedules allow. I remember those times so clearly. My sister and I would recount stories to my parents, long-winded stories about certain friends, a weigh-in on a moral dilemma, summer plans, or a subject we had written about recently in school.

Of course, in the moment, we think these times will last forever. But the truth is, it does change. In many ways it gets better: significant others add joy, a sense of stability, and their own stories and subjects of authority. Grandchildren add delight so unimaginable it’s contagious. Each month they change and begin to see the world in a more focused way; the steadfast fascination with a grasshopper or a wandering turtle gives us who are decades older pause. Reveling in nature is entertainment enough. And yet, despite the joy of new additions, the nuclear family in a certain period of time is a treasure. Seeing La Samanna give this family that time of connection that was so indelible to me made me happy.

I settled in to my room that night, the sheets crisp, over-the-moon cozy, and the blinds drawn. I slept better than I had in weeks.

Breakfast and a Property Tour

La Samanna has always offered one of the best breakfast spreads, and post-renovation, it still holds up. While the change of breakfast venues (from the balcony seating to over the pool) wouldn’t have been my first choice, it’s still so pleasant. There’s a mountain of pastries, crisp bacon, and fruits whose names you don’t even know. It was always my favorite part of the resort, and still is.

I spent the rest of the morning touring all the rooms and villas on property. One of the reasons that La Samanna is such a draw for families is the layout of the rooms and villas they offer. There are bungalows with two floors, ideal for families with teens or nannies. All have a private terrace for sunning or room service. All of the rooms walk out directly to the beach. This beach is one of the most gorgeous in the Caribbean. The water is warm only in that Caribbean Way, and extremely swimmable. The beach is long, wide, ideal for morning or sunset walks, and the sand melts under your feet.

Views from the suites

Villas and Reflections

In addition to suites for small families, the resort offers 6 private villas, both as three bedroom or 4 bedroom villas. While adjacent to the resort, the villas have their own private entrance with a security guard. They are wildly spacious, over 4600 square feet, and each have their own private pool on a large yard. I could imagine families spending the holidays or Spring break here, or a group of friends for a long weekend in the summer. With their own kitchen, laundry room, and beautifully appointed interiors, it’s a terrific option considering you also have the water-sports, spa, and dining options at the hotel next door.

It was a quick trip to St. Martin, but I felt I could have stayed a week. There’s something about the jasmine at every turn that lulls me into nostalgia and relaxation. I hope to return to this special island soon, and I hope you and your family will consider it for your next vacation.