Escape the Crowds in French St. Martin

1. Where to Stay

The Karibuni Lodge offers free boat rides to nearby Pinel Island.Photo: Courtesy of the Karibuni Lodge

Explore eighteen lush waterfront acres at the Radisson Blu Resort Marina & Spa (from $194, including breakfast), tucked away in the Anse Marcel cove on the island’s northern end. Decorated in cheery yellows, greens, and blues, each of the hotel’s 250 rooms and suites was renovated in December 2011, and the property features all of the things you would expect from a resort, including a massive infinity pool that overlooks the ocean. For a private balcony with views of gleaming yachts, book a Marina Suite, which starts at $899 during the high season but is currently discounted at $638.

Lounge in the poolside hammock at the charming Karibuni Lodge (from $283, including breakfast), a two-and-a-half-year-old, family-run boutique property with six color-themed suites that boast king-size beds and simple island-inspired décor. (Book the Pink Suite for your own private pool.) Perched above the Bay de Cul-de-Sac, the hotel is perfectly situated for a day trip to the nearby islets: Pinel, Little Key, and Tintamarre.

Enjoy a secluded two-mile, white-sand beach with butler service at the newly renovated La Samanna (from $445, including breakfast), located near the French-Dutch border on the western coast. All 83 rooms and suites feature sea views and an updated white-and-beige décor, but for a splurge you can book a one-bedroom suite featuring a terrace and private plunge pool for $1,145, down from the high season rate of $2,500. You’ll have the property nearly all to yourself in spring and summer, which make the two pools, massive floating trampoline, and new open-air Baie Longue bar all the more enjoyable.

2. Where to Eat

The open-air dining room at Dreams.Photo: Francesco Amiaud

Have the catch of the day at Le Ti Provençal, a casual French-Caribbean restaurant near the beach in downtown Grand Case. Chef Hervé Sageot serves local fish varieties (like trigger tail, hogfish, and old wife fish) so fresh that you’ll be able to make your selection tableside before they throw it on the grill (from $34). Everything on the menu is made in-house, from the complementary olive tapenade to their classic French desserts, including a must-order mouleux au chocolat ($14).

Pretend you’re in a Burgundian wine vault at La Cave, a candlelit private dining room in La Samanna’s 12,000-bottle wine cellar. Enjoy a custom-made five-course tasting menu for two ($180 per person; book at least 24 hours in advance) prepared by chef Gil Dumoine. If you wish, head sommelier Christian Mirande will pair each of the five courses with heavy hitters (think Dom Perignon and Premier Grand Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc) from the hotel’s fantastic collection ($450 per person for wine pairing and dinner).

Spend an afternoon lunching and lounging at six-month-old Dreams, restaurateur Bruno Lemoine’s (formerly of Le Cottage) open-air, Asian-inspired restaurant overlooking pristine Nettle Bay. Order their excellent Thai-style tuna tartare ($20) or sushi (from $13 for a roll; $76 for a large sashimi/sushi combo for two) and a bottle of rosé and then head out to the beachfront chaise lounges for a few hours. The restaurant is not well marked, so keep an eye out for the small sign.

3. What to Do

Kite-surfers at Orient Beach.Photo: Courtesy of Wind Adventures

Rent a kayak ($16 for a half-day; $22 for a full day) from Caribbean Paddling at the pier at Cul-de-Sac and paddle twenty minutes out to tiny Pinel Island. With its impeccable beaches, crystal-clear water, and lack of crowds, this is escapism at its best. Rent snorkeling gear ($13 per person) from Isabelle, a diving guide and marine biologist, at Eco-Snorkeling (you’ll see her small stand on the island). Book ahead and take a 45-minute guided tour with her ($40 per person, including equipment) of the island’s colorful underwater snorkeling trail, part of St. Martin’s National Marine Reserve.

Zip-line ($46 for intermediate level) through the tropical forest in a 135-acre nature reserve at the bottom of Pic Paradis, the highest peak on St. Martin. They offer three levels of zip-lining, mixed in with moderately challenging tree-top obstacle courses—the Extreme Course ($72) is only available three times a day at specific times, so plan ahead.

Spend the afternoon kite-surfing ($188 for a 90-minute private lesson), a thrilling combination of wakeboarding, windsurfing, surfing, and paragliding, at Orient Beach. Though it’s one of the most beautiful and action-packed beaches on the island, it remains blissfully unpacked during the low season.

Hike the 2.8-mile Froussards Path (part of the National Nature Reserve) on the north end of the island, along the coast and through the maritime forest to the stunning—and totally deserted—Petites Cayes beach. The hike is rigorous, but you’ll have the beach completely to yourself, as it’s only accessible by hiking. The round trip is 5.6 miles, so budget about three hours and make sure to bring all the food, water, and sunscreen you’ll need since you won’t find any shops here.

4. Insider’s Tip

Loterie Farms' cabanas can be rented while you wait for your flight.Photo: Courtesy of Loterie Farm

Rather than wasting time in the airport between a morning checkout and an evening flight, book a poolside cabana (from $261) for the afternoon at Loterie Farm. You’ll get a bottle of bubbly, free storage for your luggage, and access to showers post-swim. For an additional fee, they’ll even arrange your airport transportation.

5. Oddball Day

The stalls of Marigot Market, with hilltop Fort Saint Louis in the distance.Photo: Courtesy of the St. Martin Tourism Board

After all of your adventuring, take a day to enjoy some of the island’s slower-paced cultural treats. Start your day in the port town of Marigot, with a café au lait ($3) and exceptionally flaky croissants ($1.30) at Sarafina’s (Boulevard de France; 590-5-90-29-74-32), an authentic French bakery near the harbor. Next, wander through stalls of clothes, handmade jewelry, fresh fruit, and just-caught fish at the open-air Marigot Market along the waterfront (Wednesday and Saturday are the biggest days). Walk along the bay through downtown Marigot, then trek up the hill to Fort Saint Louis, St. Martin’s largest historic monument (named for Louis XVI). The fort, completed in 1789 to protect Marigot from foreign invaders, offers one of the best views of the island. Head back into town and sample the island’s specialty of johnnycakes with saltfish ($1.50 each) from Enoch’s, one of the local food stands in the market. Afterward, take a one-of-a-kind perfume-making class (from $90; arrange in advance) at Tijon, a family-run boutique perfumery in Grand Case. You’ll don a lab coat to create your own custom-made perfume from more than 300 aromatic oils and then head home with your own signature fragrance, plus a goody bag of sample-size lotions, sunscreens, and lip balms. Get cleaned up and do a foodie tour of Grand Case, the island’s culinary capital. Start out with cocktails and tapas at Love, a boutique hotel with a great beachside lounge. Then have a proper French meal at the excellent Le Pressoir, where you can order grilled frog’s legs ($18) and roasted guinea hen with foie gras ($35). Finish off the evening with an aptly named Pain Killer—a rum, orange, and coconut concoction ($10)—at the beachside Calmos Cafe, where live salsa and reggae bands play on Thursdays and Sundays.

6. Links

Read about the island’s 37 beaches (and much more) on the official tourism site.

Learn about St. Martin’s Marine Reserve, just off the northern coast of the island.

Rent your own private villa throughSt. Martin Vacation. features useful maps of the island and gives the lowdown on what to do on both the Dutch and French sides.

Book a charter boat, plan a snorkeling trip, research parasailing classes, and more at SXM Activities

Escape the Crowds in French St. Martin