By night, Grand Case Boulevard glittered with lights of restaurants and boutiques as we made our way onto the main drag from the hilltop L’Esplanade Hotel. The stretch on St. Martin’s French side is captivating from the get-go and unmistakably French from the cuisine to the culture. The area morphs from casual beach town by day to sexy-chic gourmet haven by night, with a number of upscale French restaurants concentrated within a half-mile stretch.
We ventured over to Grand Case as a day trip from Anguilla for a pre-birthday celebration leading up to the big 3-0. We often dismiss St. Maarten/St. Martin as the far-too-busy and congested neighboring island that mostly functions as a hub for international travel and a destination for necessary hotel purchases. Beyond one memorable weekend bouncing between La Samanna and the LOVE Hotel in Grand Case last year, we’d hardly spent any time of note exploring for leisure.
My birthday weekend changed that, and ended up changing our perspective on St. Martin as a great escape for a quick break. A brief twenty-five minute ferry ride separates Anguilla from Marigot, and we’ve mastered exiting immigrations and hopping in a rental car in about 10 minutes flat once we’ve arrived on our neighboring island. For me, St. Martin is one of the more intimidating places to rent a car and explore, but Scott knows the island nearly as well as he knows Anguilla so there’s a major comfort and cost-effectiveness to renting a car (between $40 and $50 for the day) and having the flexibility to explore.
Following our afternoon at Pinel Island, we headed to L’Esplanade to get settled in and enjoy some pool time, more of a rarity for us than beach time. When we travel, staying at luxury boutique properties that are similar to Frangipani is a goal; it’s valuable for us to see what other people are doing well and what service elements are standouts to set them apart. When it comes to boutique hotels, Grand Case is the best destination in St. Martin for high-end, smaller properties. L’Esplanade is one of a few that are highly praised – most often likened to us for St. Martin goers – but Grand Case Beach Club and L’Esplanade’s sister property, Le Petit Hotel are often recognized as great escapes for boutique hotel lovers, too.
Our biggest decision when heading to Grand Case was simply figuring out which restaurant we wanted to visit for dinner. We’re always amazed by the quality of dining in Anguilla and the sheer number of fine dining establishments on our island, but Grand Case is a close contender when it comes to culinary accolades. Unlike Anguilla which has a more diverse range of dining, Grand Case mainly sticks to what it knows best: impressive French cuisine. There are other spots that challenge that (Spiga, for example, an acclaimed Italian spot) but for the most part, it’s French restaurants that take the cake when it comes to standout dining. After much deliberation (really, it was our biggest decision of the day), we settled on La Villa in the heart of Grand Case Boulevard for a meal that didn’t fail to impress.
If we could have mustered up the energy after a bottle of wine, our fill of escargot and a totally unnecessary dessert, we would have spent more time at nearby Calmos Cafe to enjoy the post-dinner scene on the strip (very different from Calmos Cafe by day). There’s always next time, right?
I’m possibly willing to say that our day and night in Grand Case was enough to make us converts. While I’d still pick Anguilla over St. Martin for a beachy escape, a day on Pinel plus a night in Grand Case could possibly be the perfect way to explore St. Martin for visitors wanting a dose of the French West Indies.
Have you spent time in St. Martin/St. Maarten? Which areas are your favorite?