So you’re planning a getaway to St. Martin! An exciting choice!
Known as the “friendly island,” this dual-nation isle has two sides: St. Martin and Sint Maarten.
St. Martin, aka Saint Martin, is the French side of this Caribbean gem (and Sint Maarten, aka Saint Maarten, is the Dutch side.) Each has its own unique blend of Caribbean charm and European vibe – St. Martin (French) and Sint Maarten (Dutch).
French St. Martin is particularly known for its classy beach clubs, gourmet dining and charming boutique hotels.
Now, when it comes to pinpointing the best area to stay in St. Martin on the French side, it’s often considered a toss-up between the sun-drenched shores of Orient Bay and the culinary haven of Grand Case.
So which one is the best fit for your vacay on French St. Martin?
Best area to stay in St. Martin, French side
We can help. We’ve spent a good deal of time on the island, checking out its fabulous resorts.
Here we share our insights on where to stay in St. Martin (French side) plus the best hotels there!
Difference between the Caribbean and Atlantic sides
The first point you’ll want to be aware of is the difference between the Caribbean side and the Atlantic side of this island.
We’ve mentioned that two of the best areas to stay on French St. Martin are Grand Case and Orient Bay.
Grand Case is on the Caribbean side, while Orient Bay is on the Atlantic side.
They’re home to two of the most popular St. Martin beaches – Grand Case Beach and Orient Bay Beach, respectively.
The Caribbean side of St. Martin (the west coast) is more protected from the wind than the Atlantic side (the east coast). The water is also calmer for swimming on the Caribbean coast.
If weather conditions are really windy on the island (which it was in early March on our second St. Martin visit), it’s more pleasant sitting out on a beach facing the Caribbean Sea.
You also get at least another hour more of sunshine at the end of the day on the Caribbean coast. When the beach clubs in Orient Bay shut down around 5:00 pm, the sun still shines on the Caribbean side until about 6:30 pm.
Conversely, the Atlantic side is the best part of St. Martin to stay for windsurfing and kiteboarding.
Orient Bay Beach is also picture-perfect, with a glorious stretch of white sand stretching more than a mile long. It’s one of the best beaches on the entire island, let alone the French side of St. Martin.
Grand Case and Orient Bay each also have their own distinctive feel.
In fact, even though they’re only a 10- to 15-minute drive apart, staying in one village feels like a completely different beach holiday compared to staying in the other. (We get into this in more detail below.)
Renting a car is recommended to explore all the activities the island offers.
But the beauty of staying in Grand Case or Orient Bay is that you don’t need a car.
Within both Grand Case and Orient Bay, you can get around on foot. And a taxi between Grand Case and Orient Bay is only about $20 USD.
About Grand Case, St. Martin
Apart from its calm waters and beautiful beaches, a big draw to staying in Grand Case is “Restaurant Row.” A string of superb French restaurants are sprinkled along the main street in Grand Case.
Before Hurricane Irma blasted the island in 2017, the village of Grand Case was known as the “culinary capital of the Caribbean” – and since the rebuilding of these restaurants (along with the addition of new ones), it’s reclaimed that honor.
It’s hard to beat beaching by day, followed by dining at night at these wonderful Grand Case restaurants – some of the best in the Caribbean – all within walking distance of your hotel.
Best hotels in Grand Case, St. Martin (Caribbean side)
Nestled on a verdant hillside overlooking Grand Case Bay, the exquisite 24-room Hotel L’Esplanade is a boutique standout in St. Martin and one of the best Grand Case hotels. We’ve stayed here twice now – and loved it both times!
Options range from cozy studios to spacious one-bedroom suites. And each room boasts a full kitchen, Brazilian woodwork, Balinese furniture and private terraces with panoramic ocean views.
An inviting outdoor pool, spa and yoga center round out the amenities at this resort.
All this luxury is just minutes on foot from Grand Case Beach and Restaurant Row.
For a deeper dive, see our Hotel L’Esplanade review.
Le Petit Hotel
A Mediterranean-style boutique villa, Le Petit Hotel is tucked away at Grand Case Beach’s southern end.
It has just 10 bright suites with full kitchens and balconies overlooking the sea.
Enjoy complimentary daily continental breakfast, easy access to beach clubs and the option to use the pool at its sister hotel, L’Esplanade.
If you’re trying to choose between Le Petit Hotel and L’Esplanade, Le Petit Hotel has the benefit of being right on the sandy beach. And it’s very quiet for a romantic stay. But it doesn’t have a pool and it’s a longer walk to get to Restaurant Row.
Grand Case Beach Club
The Grand Case Beach Club is nestled at the north end of Grand Case Beach. It’s one of the best resorts in St. Martin for families, in particular, seeking beachfront bliss.
It offers two pristine beaches, free use of water sports equipment and accommodations ranging from studios to spacious 1,400 sq. ft. suites, all with full kitchens.
It’s also just a short walk to Restaurant Row.
Check our detailed Grand Case Beach Club review for more insights.
Le Temps des Cerises Beach Hotel
If you want to be in the heart of the action – with lively party vibes around you – Le Temps des Cerises Beach Hotel is where you’ll want to drop your bags.
Right on Grand Case Beach in front of this little 8-room boutique hotel, the scene is set with chill tunes and a front-row seat to some fun people-watching.
From the glass balcony of your room, you can almost reach out and tickle the sea.
As you’re smack in the center of Grand Case village here, you’re surrounded by a smorgasbord of tempting restaurants just outside the hotel’s entrance.
About Orient Bay, St. Martin
The morning sun wakes up Orient Bay.
Tanned beach boys haul out cushions and umbrellas and get beach clubs ready to receive guests on the powder white sand of Orient Bay Beach.
The wind stirs up waves, and windsurfers and kiteboarders zip across the glittering blue ocean.
The boutique hotels in Orient Bay stretch out behind the beach bars and clubs, hidden behind palm trees and other foliage.
When hunger strikes, the beach clubs offer fresh seafood, wine and other essentials of life.
For dinner, La Place du Village is just over a five-minute walk away from most of the best Orient Bay hotels.
This popular restaurant village in Orient Bay has several indoor/outdoor restaurants – French, Italian, Asian, Mexican and more – all conveniently clustered around a courtyard in one central place.
Best Orient Bay hotels, St. Martin (Atlantic side)
Esmeralda Resort is a tranquil 4-star oasis at Orient Bay, with 50 ground-floor rooms and suites (all with kitchenettes) housed within 14 Caribbean-style cottages. Each cottage has its own swimming pool.
Orient Beach is just a short walk away, and as an Esmeralda guest, you get complimentary lounge chairs and umbrellas at various beach clubs. (Usually you have to pay to use the beach club amenities.)
Don’t miss dinner at its French restaurant, L’Astrolabe – one of our favorite restaurants in St. Martin!
Bonus: Esmeralda offers great value compared to other Orient Beach accommodations.
For more information, see our review of Esmeralda Resort.
La Playa Orient Bay
La Playa Orient Bay is a 4-star gem – and one of the best hotels in St. Martin with an enviable Orient Bay location.
This chic boutique hotel offers the ultimate blend of luxury and Caribbean flair.
Its 56 spacious rooms are a stylish mix of blonde wood and boho-chic decor, each with a private balcony. Many feature a hidden kitchenette, complete with cooktop, microwave and fridge.
For extra luxury, opt for a 710 sq. ft. executive suite, featuring a full kitchen on a breezy terrace.
The hotel also its own pool, beach club (complimentary) and restaurant. La Place du Village, with all its different eateries, is just a hop and a skip away.
Orient Beach Hotel
Right next door to La Playa Orient Bay is the newer Orient Beach Hotel. It’s just as lovely as La Playa.
In fact, both hotels look quite similar in design.
It offers 35 beachfront rooms (517 sq. ft. in size), all with blonde wood floors and private terraces or patios. Each is equipped with a kitchenette.
Rates at this hotel include complimentary access to several beach clubs on the white sands out front.
Other areas and best places to stay in St. Martin
Anse Marcel and Marigot (the capital of St. Martin) are the two other main areas to stay on the French side of Saint Martin.
But you’ll find hotels scattered about other areas of St. Martin too.
Belmond La Samanna
If you’re looking for the most deluxe resort on St. Martin, say hello to the Belmond La Samanna! It has charmed big-name celebrities from Jackie Kennedy Onassis to Oprah, Salma Hayek and Anderson Cooper.
Perched above the silky sands of Baie Longue (Long Beach) on the southwest coast of St. Martin, it has 83 rooms and suites.
Some suites even come with private pools. Or splurge on one of their large villas and indulge in 4,600 sq. ft. of space and an infinity pool.
It was hard for us to tear ourselves away from our beach chairs here and move up to the restaurant. But we forced ourselves – and dined on delicious fresh seafood and wine from their 15,000-bottle wine cellar.
Exceptional service, along with amenities like a gym, yoga center and tennis courts, ensure a luxurious experience at this exquisite retreat.
Le Martin Boutique Hotel
A new 2023 addition to St. Martin’s hotel scene is Le Martin Boutique Hotel.
Located in peaceful Cul de Sac on the Atlantic Ocean side, it’s the best place to stay in St. Martin for quick access to Pinel Island and its sheltered beaches. (While off the Atlantic coast, Pinel Island has beaches facing west, protected from the wind.)
You’ll find six cozy rooms with terraces, along with a pool.
It’s not right on the beach, but the sea’s just a skip away. Kayak or snorkel to Pinel Island for free, or hitch a quick water taxi ride.
Secrets St. Martin Resort & Spa
Secrets St. Martin Resort & Spa is an all-inclusive resort in St. Martin.
While many St. Martin resorts (French side) are “adult-friendly” (i.e., more suitable for adults than families), this is one of the few resorts that is only for adults.
It boasts a lovely secluded location on Anse Marcel. But many guests say it could do with a renovation, which we hear will happen in 2024.
Orient Bay vs. Grand Case: Which is better?
Orient Bay, with its vibrant beach bars and water sports, buzzes with energy. It’s a slice of paradise for those who love to mix sunbathing with a bit of adventure.
For windsurfers and kitesurfers, in particular, it’s the best place to stay in Saint Martin.
On the other hand, Grand Case is a foodie’s dream. Restaurants on the beach and along Restaurant Row serve some of best French cuisine this side of the Atlantic.
Grand Case is the best area to stay in St. Martin if you’d like to be walking distance to all this deliciousness.
Last words on where to stay on St. Martin
And there you have it – a blend of luxurious hotels and charming boutique finds, all set against the backdrop of beautiful beaches! No matter your choice of area, you’ll be wowed by the St. Martin French-side hotels.
To fully experience the best of St. Martin, consider splitting your time as we did. A great option is to spend a few days in Orient Bay and another few days in Grand Case.
Enjoy your stay on the French side of this delightful Caribbean island!
Photo credits: 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 11 to 13 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase