Far from the casinos and cruise ships of popular St Martin, La Samanna, a Belmond Hotel, on Baie Longue beach is a quiet oasis of whitewashed suites tucked high on a cliff, with gentle waves, lush gardens, a cabana-dotted private beach and a spectacular hilltop spa. The ocean is never far from view or mind: each room has the inky blues and coral colours of the sea, and the restaurants specialise in fresh fish brought in from the surrounding waters.
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A two-course lunch for two at Laplaj Restaurant (excluding drinks)
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability and a fee. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £713.44 ($946), including tax at 4 per cent.
Rates exclude breakfast (from $35), but include non-motorised watersports.
Borrow a set of racquets and hit one of the three professional tennis courts for a friendly match, or polish your game with a one-on-one lesson with Peter Burwash International. The fitness centre is equipped with a full range of cardio equipment, circuit machines and free weights; private training is also available on request.
The hotel closes during hurricane season, from mid summer until the autumn.
At the hotel
Spa, gardens, tennis courts and a gym. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, mini fridge, minibar and WiFi.
Our favourite rooms
One-Bedroom Beachfront Suites, set beyond the Laplaj, have the most direct access to the sea, with coral and ink-blue fabrics that mirror the shore views. Groups should go for the Three Bedroom Cottage, which not only has lots of space, but is right on the seafront. If a pool-toting terrace is a dealbreaker, go for a One Bedroom Plunge Pool Suite. Specialty suites in the main building are particularly spacious, with excellent views.
There are two freshwater ones. The main pool, set by Corail restaurant, is open daily from 9am to 5pm and has wrought-iron deck furniture, drinks service and lit fountains at night. The infinity pool by the Laplaj beach bar is set against a backdrop of rocks and agave plants, with drinks service; it's open daily from 9.30am to sunset.
Set up on the hill, the candlelit spa is an immaculately tranquil space with treatment cabins surrounding a manicured courtyard. There are eight cabins, including five with a private patch of the lush tropical gardens. Treatments, which use luxurious European brands like Sisley and La Sultane de Saba, include massages, manicures, facials and the cooling Sunburn Rescue. Relax with a tropical Lomi Lomi massage or get ready to hit the beach with a Roucou pre-sun treatment. The fitness centre has a full range of equipment and personal trainers available on request.
Apart from dinner attire for L'Oursin, you’ll need little more than your swimsuit.
The hotel offers free yoga classes by beach bar Laplaj two days a week.
Welcome. The Two-Bedroom Suites and Three-Bedroom Villas are ideal for families and the hotel can provide free baby cots and rollaway beds. Babysitting is available for children aged 4 to 12, from $60 an hour, with a three-hour minimum.
Two-Bedroom Suites are ideal for families.
Children are welcome at the pool by the Beach Bar. There are no lifeguards on duty, so parents must supervise.
The casual beach bar Laplaj is ideal for kids during the day, with a menu of sandwiches and small bites, and ample high chairs for little ones. Interlude is good for dinner, with a kids' menu and high chairs available. Children over age five are welcome at L'oursin, though the kitchen cannot prepare child-friendly dishes.
Babysitters are available for a minimum of three hours, for $60 a child child, an hour.
Nab a spot on the terrace, which overlooks the beach. Tables by the pool will get a glimpse of the elegant fountains that spout at night.
Billowing maxi dresses, linen pants and sandals will work well at both dinner spots. By day, beachwear is fine. L'Oursin is the smartest.
There are three. The more formal L'Oursin has a terrace, as well as a chic dining room with dark-wood tables and mirrors set to reflect the sea and sunset. The restaurant serves what it calls ‘contemporary island dining’ with French influences that show up in dishes like tuna tartare, grilled squid and duck breast, and, of course, lots of just-caught seafood. The more casual Corail serves alfresco breakfasts on a patio overlooking the sea and the swimming pool. Laplaj serves grilled Caribbean and Creole dishes, with Western classics thrown in for good measure.
Baie Longue Bar, opposite the reception desk, is an intimate space with an extensive cocktail menu – including special rum drinks – served all day. By the water, Laplaj serves tropical daiquiris and rum punches, including the national cocktail of rum and guava. La Cave is a dimly lit European-style wine bar that is ideal for hosting a cocktail reception, drinking rare vintages or hiding from hot sun.
L'Oursin serves dinner from 6.30pm until 10.30pm. Corail serves breakfast from 7.30am until 10.30am. Laplaj serves lunch from noon to 4pm, but is open for snacks and drinks until 9pm.
A room service menu is available 24 hours a day with options including sandwiches, pastas, burgers and sushi.
La Samanna, a Belmond Hotel is set on Baie Longue beach on St Martin.
Princess Juliana International Airport is three miles away. The airport serves New York (www.jetblue.com), Washington (www.united.com), Paris (www.airfrance.com), Miami (www.aa.com) and other international destinations. For an added fee the hotel can arrange for a thirty-minute boat transfer across the lagoon and onto the hotel’s beach.
Car hires are available at the airport, though the drive can be winding and harrowing along one stretch. If you do choose to drive from the airport, turn left on the main island road (toward Marigot), take the first left after the French border, then look for the hotel entrance on the left.
Worth getting out of bed for
The big draw of the island is, predictably, its beaches, and La Samanna is set on one of the very best spots there is. The hotel has plenty of watersports to occupy most vacations, including snorkelling and kayaks. There are three tennis courts, open until 9pm, and lessons can be organised. The waves are gentle and the sand soft, but if you’d like a change, head to nearby Mullet Bay, Long Bay or Baie Rouge to spread your beach towel. The hotel can also arrange boat charters for those who’d like to fish or scuba.
In the capital town of the French side, visit the market on Wednesdays or Saturdays to see the fish market in action, with local fishermen selling their daily haul.
For a glimpse of other islands, there are daily ferries to Anguilla and St Barths.
A wine connoisseur decided to create a space to showcase wine, and the foods that pair with it, at Bacchus in Grand Case. Set on Hope Estate, the space includes a 465sq m wine cellar with bottles from around the world, and a notable collection of cognacs, Armagnacs, aged rums and Ports. There is also a take-away selection and an excellent coffee programme. With spectacular sea views and a relaxed dining room, Le Tastevin in Grand Case serves French-Island cuisine for lunch and dinner, with a special tasting menu. Signatures include rum-infused foie gras pâté, duck with merlot and cocoa, and a crumble of pineapple, vanilla and coconut. Set in the Marigot marina, Le Chanteclair has harbour views and French-Caribbean dishes, with special menus just for lobster and foie gras ( +590 590 87 94 60).
Get a taste of local barbecue from a lolo, or barbecue shack. There are several on the water in Grand Case, which serve grilled meats on picnic tables. On the Marigot Marina, the waterfront La Belle Epoque serves salads and sandwiches for lunch. The restaurant also serves pizzas and a Creole menu, with heartier entrees at dinner.
Every hotel is visited personally by members of our team and given the Smith seal of approval. As soon as our anonymous reviewers have returned from this boutique hotel in the St Martin and unpacked their snorkel gear and kaftans, a full account of their beach escape will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside La Samanna hotel…
A bright-white colonial looker on a cliff above the Caribbean Sea, La Samanna, a Belmond Hotel, has it all: sand, sea and spectacular views.
Perched above one of the best private beaches in St Martin, the hotel’s garden-lined walkways wind down past a beachfront bar to a scattering of thatch-roofed cabanas lining the sandy shore, where guests can snorkel, sail or sit back and watch the gentle waves roll in.
Even up on the hill, the ocean is never far from mind. Rooms are situated to maximise ocean views, with oversize windows, panoramic roof decks and room decor that mimics the inky blues and bright coral colours of the beach. Naturally, the restaurants all serve the freshest seafood, focusing on fish hauled in from the nearby waters, and the bars specialise in tropical rum cocktails that taste like they were invented for sipping in the sand. It’s a Caribbean ideal at every point.