Mais Oui: French St. Martin and the Grand Case Beach Club
By Melanie Reffes, Special for TripSavvy.com
Say Bonjour to French St. Martin at the Grand Case Beach Club
Ringed by thirty-seven beaches, St. Maarten and St. Martin is a little French and a little Dutch wrapped up nicely on one island. On the winter getaway hot list courtesy of a plethora of flights from the U.S., the island is a cosmopolitan slice of Caribbean life with only a ‘welcome’ sign separating French St. Martin on the northern side from Dutch St. Maarten to the south.
Popular with American and Canadian sun-seekers, both sides of the island dish up a boatload of holiday fun from casinos, shopping, and all-inclusives on the Dutch side to gourmet eats, bustling markets and cozy hotels in the north, including the low-key Grand Case Beach Club.
Grand Case’s Sweet Suites
You won’t find bottles of aged rum in the fridge at the Grand Case Beach Club, nor rose petals in the bathtub, titanic buffets, or butlers who unpack your bags. You will find comfy suites, awesome views around every palm tree, and staff so friendly you’ll think you’ve met them before.
Fringed by sea grape trees and red bougainvillea, low-rise buildings house 71 suites with vistas of the gardens and the Caribbean Sea. Our two-bath, loft-style suite fits the bill for a family while the studios and one-bedrooms come with a patio that leads to the beach or a balcony on the upper floor rooms. Modern kitchens are ideal for whipping up midnight snacks, Wi-Fi works resort-wide, and for the get-off-the-beach-chair crowd there are tennis courts on property.
Indulge in Sports — and the Sport of Shopping
The boutique run by keen shopper Marga Wright, who is also the wife of the resort’s general manager, is worth a look-see for souvenirs that go delightfully beyond fridge magnets and key chains. Next to the boutique you’ll find the watersports and tour desk, gym, and the Sunset Café for breakfast, lunch, afternoon cocktails, and dinner. The resort also can arrange car rentals and day trips to the neighboring islands.
For the less active, there are plenty of sun loungers on two beaches that bookend the resort, and circling the brand new pool perched high above the sea. “We are a terrific example of word-of-mouth advertising,” says Steve Wright, an affable Brit who has been general manager for two decades. “More than half of our guests are repeat guests, and often request the same room at the same time of the year. “
Flip-flop and Fendi-friendly, the quaint village of Grand Case is a short stroll from the resort; this is where you’ll find an array of restaurants, boutiques, bakeries, supermarket and a pharmacy. The French St. Martin capital city of Marigot is 15 minutes from the resort and popular for its bustling fish, vegetable, and craft market and the many cafes, bistros, and patisseries that line the town square. Marigot is also where the ferries depart for nearby Anguilla and St. Barths.
Snag a beach chair by the big pool on the hill and you’ll remember why you booked a vacation in the first place. While the Grand Case Beach Resort might not have the flashy bells and whistles that are the trademarks of many other seaside resorts, it does have poolside perfection seen nowhere else on the island.
With comfy sun loungers to take five (or longer), and circled by clear glass railings on the edges of the deck, uninterrupted vistas of Anguilla are particularly pretty at night with the lights twinkling in the distance. Nearby Creole Rock and the perfectly sandy beach never get old, either.
Motion of the Ocean
Fronting the Sunset Café and just a few short steps from the suites, Petite Plage (‘Little Beach’ in French) might be better named the ‘Best Siesta Beach.’ A daydreamers’ favorite, the ocean at this beach is so clear you can wade in waist deep and see your toes and the sand — so soft you’ll be tempted to forgo the blue-and-white striped sun loungers in favor of a towel spread out by the water’s edge. Leisurely mornings morph into midday naps with nary a distraction, apart from a resident pelican chilling on the offshore Creole Rock and the breeze ruffing through the sea grape trees.
The name says it all at the Sunset Café, where breakfast (included in the cost of your stay) is a fresh glass of orange juice, a strong coffee chaser, and a basket full of ooh-la-la fabulous chocolate croissants. For those with larger appetites, the eggs Benedict are divine.
Lunch is a treat, from salads with crusty goat cheese smothered baguette to pineapple carpaccio marinated in ginger while dinners are to-dine-for starring lobsters buttered to blissful perfection. An impressive wine and cocktail list and a glimpse of the green flash at sunset seals the deal for a glorious dinner.
With Grand Case around the corner from the resort, dinners on the town are a must-do. Choices run the gamut from fine French dining to beach barbecue grills called ‘lolo’s which, according to local legend, is short for ‘local, low cost.’ For no more than US$15.00 per person per meal, chefs work their magic on ramshackle grills that were once metal oil barrels. The hungry sit shoulder-to-shoulder at seaside picnic tables chowing down on big portions with tasty sides and frosty mugs of Carib beer. Sky’s the Limit is our choice for chicken, ribs and the catch of the day.
On the way back to the resort, stop by Calmos Café on the beach, where a spirited cast of regulars keep tourists entertained as locals bands take the sandy stage.
For those who like to graze, head to the main drag in Grand Case — which is more like a narrow street that runs parallel to the ocean — and taste-test St. Martin’s Dine Around program, which comes with a clever keepsake passport that each restaurant stamps after a visit.
Start with apps (we recommend the grilled garlicky clams, flown in daily on the Air France flight) at Ocean 82, then walk across the street to Le Tastevin for a lobster or rack of lamb main, Bistrot Caraibes for a local nibble and for a diet-ditching dessert and a nightcap. L’Auberge Gourmande seals the deal with fruity cocktails and decadent sorbets.
Take the golf cart from the resort for the short trip to Grand Case ($6 per person) or enjoy the 10-minute walk. “There are so many fabulous restaurants right around the corner,” notes Wright. “A night or two on the town is part of the St. Martin experience.”
Tuesday evenings through the end of April, the village hosts ‘Mardi Du Grand Case’ with seaside grillers filling plates with specialties like white-conch sausage, bartenders pouring potent shots of Guavaberry Liqueur (made with the little red berries that grow in the hills), and sidewalk vendors hawking arts and crafts. Boutiques stay open late, and steel drum bands keeping the beat until the wee hours.
So Happy Together
The Grand Case Club does big business with couples tying the knot, celebrating an anniversary, and renewing vows. Catnip for twosomes on a mission to escape the nine-to-five at home, romantic extras include a bottle of wine on arrival and a shot of coconut rum after dinner.
If saying ‘I Do’ on the beach is on your bucket list, weddings are easily arranged with discount rates for groups reserving ten or more rooms. “Our mission is to make things better tomorrow then they were today, and that has been very successful for us over the years,” says Wright as he greets long-time guests from Florida. “We are simple and unpretentious, available but never intrusive, and genuinely glad that you are here.”
The French Connection
For fans of heady rum in pretty bottles, Ma DouDou sits pretty in a petite pink cottage in Cul-de-Sac. Off-the-beaten-track, but well worth finding, the shop is chock full of rum in hand-painted bottles and rummy edibles like hot sauces and jams. “Our recipes are our secrets,” says shopkeeper Claudine, who likes to keep her surname a secret. “We’re the Caribbean version of Coca-Cola.”
A two-decade old family business, the rums are spiked with local fruits and spices and come in 20 flavors, including pineapple, mango, and orange infused with ginger.
To make your own perfume, Tijon on Route de l’Espérance in Grand Case is the fragrant go-to. Owner and lawyer-turned-chemist John Berglund vacationed in St. Maarten in 1998 and decided to swap the cold winters of his native Minnesota for island living. “I auditioned St. Barth’s and St. Thomas,” he says, chatting up a gaggle of cruise passengers, “but decided St. Martin has everything I was looking for.” Visitors watch the perfume made in the on-site laboratory or roll up their sleeves and blend their own in a two-hour class. Stay a while and meander the gift shop for tres chic collectibles.
Sir Roland Richardson is the most decorated artist on the island and, yes, a real ‘Sir’ — knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 2007 for his lifelong artistic contributions to St. Martin. Born in 1944 in the circa 1840 house that is now his gallery at #6 rue de la Republique, the impressionist painter opens his red-shuttered gallery every day for visitors to not only see his wonderfully colorful work but to stroll the gardens and chat with the artist.
One of the liveliest open-air markets in the Caribbean, Marigot’s Marche is busiest on Wednesday and Saturday with vendors selling everything from fresh fish, vegetables and spices to art, jewelry, and souvenirs. Get there early as the first sale of the day means good luck to many of the vendors and they’re happy to bargain for a lower price.
To unwind after a few hours of shopping, grab a table at Sarafina’s and linger over a cappuccino and pastry hot from the oven or a spicy plate of shareable barbecued chicken at Bruno’s Place built around a stately tree. “St. Martin offers our visitors a taste of France and the vibe of the Caribbean,” says Alexandra Carty, who is the Trip Advisor (not that one) with the St. Martin Tourism Office.
Grand Case Beach Club Information
Grand Case Beach Club
21 rue de petite plage
Saint Martin 97150
Phone: +590 590 87 51 87
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