Serene, Charming & Intimate: Hotel L’Esplanade, St. Martin
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Tags: Caribbean Hideaway Grand Case Saint Martin L'Esplanade Hotel Saint Marten
We’ve been around the Caribbean a few times. Some places once, others twice, a few of them quite a few times. Barbados (we got married there), Bermuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, Anguilla, St. Barth’s, Aruba, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Palm Island, Key West, Tortola, Union Island, Curacao, Cancun, Cozumel, Roatan, Honduras, St. Barth’s, Isla Mujeres, Let’s not forget Belize, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Ambergrise Caye, Cuba & Puerto Rico. I think I may have forgotten a few.
Needless to say, we became a little jaded after so many Caribbean stays. At one point we switched things up a little and went to Asia to explore somewhere a little further afield. But then the time came when the Caribbean beckoned again. We had that craving for turquoise water, white sandy beaches, Margarita’s, Mohito’s and Pina Colada’s the way that they can only make them in the Caribbean. But we needed a “new Caribbean” experience.
“Steve found a small, intimate hotel on an island we had never considered going to before, called St. Martin. We were intrigued when we did our exhaustive pre-booking trip research.”
A Caribbean island, one-half French and the other Dutch? An invisible “line in the sand” cutting across the island? Euro’s being spent on one side and Guilders being spent on the other? And everyone getting along just fine? (No fence? No customs agents? No borders or security?) How refreshing!
The gorgeous little hotel Steve had discovered (one of his great talents) is called L’Esplanade. Our first concern was the fact that it isn’t located on the beach. As intense beach lovers, an “Oceanside” or “Beachfront” hotel is usually one of our priorities. But something about it really appealed to us, and we decided it would be a refreshing change from our usual routine.
Our very first test of a hotel is always to send e-mail and request personal contact for more information. If a hotel does not respond to our request within a day, we don’t bother going any further. We’re pleased to say that L’Esplanade passed the test with flying colors. Their response was within hours, and their manners so pleasant, we were hooked! Looking back now, making the decision to stay with L’Esplanade that first time is one of the best travel decisions we have ever made, as it has become our home away from home, our second family, and our quiet oasis of calm away from the stresses of real life.
Located on the French side of the island, L’Esplanade has only 24 suites, and it is nestled on a steep hillside surrounded by scrubby Caribbean brush and the charming, small island homes of the locals. Scruffy yard dogs bark in the distance, wandering cows dot the hillsides, and curious chickens cluck and rustle about in the bushes, occasionally visiting the ground floor patios to say hello. It is a real experience to awaken in the morning to hear a clucking noise at your patio door, and see an endearingly funny little chicken staring in at you! Hummingbirds and butterflies are regular visitors to the masses of well-tended flowering bushes, Frangipani, Hibiscus, and Bougainvillea to name just a few. Tiny yellow & black bananaquits chirp & chatter on your patio as they search on little toothpick legs for breakfast crumbs or the unattended glass of orange juice into which they can dip their beaks. Small gecko’s, or “anoli lizards” laze about in the sun, occasionally flicking out a tongue to scoop up a tasty morsel of insect. Now and then, the anoli’s will inflate their “dewlap”, a colorful yellow or orangey colored flap which they blow up like a tiny balloon on their throat – usually as a deterrent when it is trying to protect itself, or more commonly when it is trying to look attractive to a pretty girl anoli. Just sitting on the patio and watching all these small life-forms interacting is enough to put you into a zen-like state without having to do any yoga or meditation at all.
The bonus of being located on a hillside is the beautiful view from all the suites. The higher the floor, obviously, the better the view, but the ground floor suites have the added bonus of spacious terraces, some with hammocks, padded sun loungers, a breakfast table and chairs. Plentiful coconut trees and swaying palms provide a soothing soft-rattle on the breeze, as doves nestle into the fronds and coo softly, a melodious background lullaby for the ultimate in relaxation.
L’Esplanade is associated with a charming car rental company called Justice. We have been privileged to get to know Harry, who is always waiting to pick us up at the airport when we arrive. The 45 minute drive from the airport to L’Esplanade flies by as we converse with Harry about any recent changes to the island that we might not know about, as well as updates about his children and family. We really like the way Justice does business – they always have an employee meet you, and they will drive you to L’Esplanade in your rental car. You complete the paperwork at the hotel. It’s especially great for first time visitors, as you don’t need to worry about having to navigate unknown roads as soon as you step off the plane, when you are tired and stressed from the flight. You are taken to your hotel, the car is left there for you when you are ready to drive, and there is absolutely no stress! After you are greeted so charmingly at L’Esplanade, one of you can handle the check-in and the other one can deal with the car rental paperwork. The same routine is employed when you sadly have to leave. Harry is waiting for us at check-out, loads our luggage up and we have our good-bye conversation on the way to the airport.
Reception at L’Esplanade has always been a wonderful experience for us. They are warm and inviting, polite and efficient, and seem genuinely happy to welcome you. The open-air lobby has a stunning view of the ocean in the distance, and a lemon-water dispenser is on hand for a quick pick-me-up. There is a public computer tucked in a corner, connected to the Internet, which is free, and a large selection of restaurant menus and flyers for local attractions are available for browsing. We always request a specific suite, which we fell in love with years ago, and we usually will book our vacation time around the availability of this suite. It feels like our second home.
Each suite has a small kitchen which has a coffee-maker, microwave and oven, and a good collection of plates, cups and cookware, everything you will need for your stay. A welcome starter basket is provided in each suite, with enough coffee for a day or two, creamers and sugar, some Famous Amos cookies and a fabulously fresh loaf of French bread. You have the option of requesting a continental breakfast be delivered each morning. We have done this a number of times, and love having the loaf of French break, croissants & pastries, freshly baked, with butter, jam & honey, and my favorite, a carafe of hot chocolate (my weakness!), freshly brewed coffee or tea, and cold fruit juice delivered t our door. To sit out on the terrace and chill out while having a simple breakfast of bread and honey is absolute paradise.
We have stayed in three different suites over our many visits to L’Esplanade. Two of them have been the one-bedroom suites, which have been our favorite. We also really loved the over-sized Loft unit which we tried on our second visit – it had a charming living room with a nice balcony (amazing views of the ocean!) and a staircase up to a really large, open air loft bedroom and a charming bathroom. Another small balcony opened off the bedroom, which was really nice for star-gazing before bed. The bed itself was a large and very romantic four-poster.
The unit we prefer is large and spacious, with patio doors opening off both the living room and the bedroom onto your private terrace. We love to spend as much time as we can outside when we are on vacation, and the large terrace is heavenly to us. We have a view of the ocean in the distance and have seen some spectacular sunsets from this suite. The bathroom is large, with a huge, ceramic open-style double shower, and the water pressure & temperature is always fantastic. Never a cold shower here! Amenities are plentiful, towels are nice and soft, and room service is excellent. Beach towels are happily replaced regularly, the terrace is swept clean & your dishes done when you leave your room for the day. Fresh flowers are often left throughout the suite, colorful frangipani blossoms in the bathroom and on the living room table – a very nice and welcome touch. The island ladies who make up the rooms are so pleasant, smiling and happy. I always try to leave them a nice tip for the excellent service they provide.
We love the pool area at L’Esplanade. “In season” the small bar serves a great selection of island drinks until just after sun-set, and the friendly bartender Alan and him mom, Rose, provide a welcoming and homey feeling. Guests gather around the small bar and chat, others float in the small pool, and others, like us, just relax, read and feel the tension drain away. Though we have never eaten here ourselves, casual food is on the menu, with apparently amazingly good burgers. “Off season”, the pool is always open and usually so nice and quiet it’s like having your own private pool. We bring a bottle of wine or champagne down with us, and we float the afternoon away in sheer bliss.
We have our own particular routine now when we visit St. Martin, and after our beautiful check-in and getting settled into our second home, we pop over to the fairly new U.S. Market – a fantastic grocery store just three or four minutes drive from L’Esplanade. It has everything you will need to stock your kitchen for a week or two, including fabulous cheeses from France, and an excellent array of wines, champagnes and spirits. To sit and sip a gorgeous St. Emilion Bordeaux accompanied by a fresh baguette and some cave-aged Gruyere, listening to the music of nature is a magnificent thing. Usually I am honored by a visit from the hotel house-cat, a very beautiful cat whose name is “Au Lait”. For some reason, she has taken a liking to us and seems to know when we visit. She sits at my feet and purrs for me as we unwind.
Just as the sun is about to set, we head for the pool for a before-dinner dip. We can watch the sun go down with our toes in the warm pool water, watch the pelicans and frigate-birds wheeling out over the ocean, and cool off after the heat of the day. Then it’s back up to our room to get ready for a fabulous dinner of French Cuisine at one of the dozens of outstanding restaurants in Grand Case, just a short five minute stroll down a charming, grassy path into town. Excellent steaks, amazing seafood, fresh lobster, all within walking distance. Each restaurant also has an amazing wine-list, with great selections of reasonably priced bottles to choose from. Most restaurants are run by husband-and-wife or partner teams, so the service is usually hands-on, intimate, caring and excellent.
We usually indulge in a mouth-watering, creative dessert accompanied by dessert wine, and then stumble our way back up to our suite, where we enjoy a bottle of fine champagne on our patio, and sometimes have just one more dip in the warm pool water before bed. At L’Esplanade, sweet dreams are guaranteed.