Sprinkle gourmet restaurants serving fois gras, frog’s legs and a delectable choice of sommelier-recommended Grand Crus bordeaux. Toss in a one-mile stretch of golden sand beach embracing a Caribbean bay. Mix with Hotel L’Esplanade and Le Petit Hotel – two impeccably-run, Provencal-style boutique hotels.
And you have the recipe for a très élégant beach holiday in beloved Grand Case, St Martin!
Saint Martin (or St Martin) is the Caribbean island with dual personalities. The Dutch side is known as Sint Maarten (or St Maarten); the French side is Saint Martin.
Badly damaged by Hurricane Irma in September, 2017, the island is coming back to life and welcoming tourists again.
St Martin boutique hotels in Grand Case
We recently returned from a St Martin visit – staying at Hotel L’Esplanade before a Star Clippers cruise, then finishing up at Le Petit Hotel (its sister hotel) after our cruise.
And as we discovered, Grand Case is the place to treat yourself to the most tantalizing French food, short of visiting Paris.
Owned and operated by the Petrelluzzi family since it was built in 1992, Hotel L’Esplanade is the best of the resort-style Grand Case hotels. But think “resort” on a small scale.
Built on a hillside, the hotel only has 24 rooms.
Guests return year after year, booking ages in advance; if it wasn’t for the hurricane which had closed the hotel for more than a year, we probably wouldn’t have been able to get in.
The hotel is now completely renovated (unlike some of the island’s hotels which have partially opened but are still restoring other sections).
All “rooms” are really large suites with kitchens and Bali-style furniture.
The smallest are the deluxe studios at 560 square feet in size. The largest are the one-bedroom suites (1025 square feet), which feature a private bedroom separated from the kitchen and living room space.
Our one-bedroom suite was modern in style, with grey slate tile floors and white-washed walls.
The oversize bathroom had double sinks, a pebble-walled shower made for two and a selection of organic toiletries.
In the kitchen, a welcome basket of goodies sat on the kitchen counter.
Coffee? Good. Cookies? Not so good for the figure. Fresh baguette and jam? Great.
We especially loved the huge stone terrace with a double hammock and a dining table and chairs for four.
Overlooking greenery, it offered views of the sea with sailboats bobbing in Grand Case Bay.
Before going out for dinner, we’d light candles (supplied) and have a glass of wine on the terrace, enjoying the cool breeze and listening to frogs and cicadas.
The only small niggle was that we couldn’t get the TV channels to work. (Mind you, we could have asked for help.) And it was refreshing to take a CNN break.
In the garden, the hotel has a pretty tiled pool, a few minutes’ walk down a rope-lined path. You can get drinks, lunch and snacks (like grilled shrimp) from the bartender there from late morning to early evening.
Access to the beach:
While Hotel L’Esplanade isn’t on the beach, it’s close to popular beach clubs on Grand Case Beach.
It’s about a 10-minute walk through the hotel’s property and down the hill to the Grand Case Beach Club. The walk to the Rainbow Café beach club is a bit longer – about 15 minutes. (See details on these beach clubs after Le Petit Hotel below.)
Guests of L’Esplanade may also use the lounge chairs and umbrellas at Le Petit Hotel (about a 20-minute walk away) free of charge.
Spa and Yoga:
The hotel’s Ti Spa offers a full range of massage treatments. And the newly rebuilt Ti Temple offers complimentary yoga classes for guests, including morning and evening sessions.
Le Petit Hotel, St Martin
Boasting a coveted position at one end of Grand Case Beach – one of the best St Martin beaches – Le Petit Hotel is a three-storey white stone villa.
And it is indeed petite; there are only 10 rooms.
All rooms (except one) are sleek studios with full kitchens.
They come with cool grey slate floors, king-size beds and white corian kitchen countertops. The white-washed walls are decorated with beaten silver wall sconces and plates, lending the rooms a slightly Moroccan feel.
Bathrooms are large, white and bright, with oversize sinks and rainshowers.
From the red-tiled terrace of our top floor room, we had splendid views of the beach and Grand Case.
The best rooms are the two on the main floor, with private terraces and direct access to the beach.
One is a one-bedroom suite; the other is an oversized deluxe studio.
The beach was so inviting, all we wanted to do at Le Petit Hotel was to lie on a beach chair under an umbrella and read a book, occasionally rousing ourselves for a swim in the sea.
And that’s what most guests like to do here.
If you feel like being more active, take out the (complimentary) SUP board for a paddle.
Le Petit Hotel doesn’t have a pool (just the whole ocean right at your doorstep).
The reception is staffed during the day, but not in the evening or night.
Rates include a complimentary continental breakfast. Between 8:00 and 10:00 am, you pick up a basket from reception with coffee, fruit and pre-ordered items (ham-and-cheese croissant, apple turnover, etc.), which you take to your room.
Beach Clubs in Grand Case
Orient Bay Beach was once the most popular beach in St. Martin – known for its nude section. But almost all of its bars, restaurants and hotels were destroyed by the hurricane and have not re-opened.
Not quite the case (oh, bad pun) with Grand Case Beach. Several restaurants and beach clubs are open.
Rainbow Café, St Martin:
The Rainbow Café is the place to be. Both times we were there, it was hopping!
This is a classy beach club, with bright red lounge chairs and umbrellas lined up on the beach.
When it’s time for lunch, gravitate to the open-air restaurant and enjoy a delicious long lunch the way the French do.
Don’t expect burgers (remember, we said this place is classy). Think crusty snails in garlic butter on a crusty pastry bed, a creole fishpot or roasted duck breast with foie gras sauce.
All washed down with a fine bottle of French wine, of course.
Grand Case Beach Club, St Martin:
Half the hotel re-opened in November, 2018.
For non-hotel guests, the beach club section of Grand Case Beach Club is also now open.
You can rent very comfy cushioned lounge chairs and umbrellas, set up on a darling little cove of beach (Petite Plage) just below the hotel.
An inviting bar and restaurant at the water’s edge is also open for drinks and food.
Grand Case restaurants
Before the hurricane, a slew of legendary French bistros, gelato parlors and coffee shops lined Grand Case Boulevard – Grand Case was known as the “gourmet capital of the Caribbean.”
Today, Grand Case is on its way to reclaiming that honor again.
More than a dozen Grand Case restaurants have been refurbished and are now back in business.
Serving ribs and fish from the barbecue, Lolo’s is popular with locals and visitors looking for a tasty but inexpensive meal. The elegant Le Pressoir (white tablecloth dining) offers a fixed price menu. We enjoyed a very fine dinner of duck confit and other French delicacies at Le Cottage.
When walking down Grand Case Boulevard by the harsh light of day, it’s a bit disheartening to see so many buildings that still need to be repaired. But at night, when the lights are twinkling and people are out and about enjoying themselves, the place takes on a Caribbean charm.
If you’re trying to decide where to stay in St Martin, whether for a pre- or post-cruise hotel or a week-long holiday, do yourself (and your tastebuds) a favor and book either (or both!) of these luxury St Martin hotels. Trust us, you’ll have no regrets – they’re two of the best hotels in St Martin.
The kitchens are an added bonus and make both hotels very comfortable for week-long (or longer) stays.
Flying to St Maarten
The international airport on the Dutch side of the island, Princess Juliana Airport, operated out of tents until late 2018. But there now are air-conditioned arrivals and departure halls (complete with washrooms, bar, food kiosks and restaurants).
Flights from Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Winair, West Jet, Air France and other major airlines are bringing in plane loads of happy sun-seekers from the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Wouldn’t you like to be one of these vacationers?
We stayed at these two luxury hotels in St Martin for purposes of review on our blog. But our hotel reviews are always wholly our own, and we let you (our readers) know if there are any cons.
Craving more Caribbean travel inspiration?
Photos 8 to 12, 15, 16, 19, 21, 23 and 24 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Photos 1, 3 to 7, 13, 14, 17, 18 and 20 courtesy Hotel L’Esplanade and Le Petit Hotel | Photo 22 courtesy Rainbow Cafe | Photo 26 courtesy Le Cottage