The wine and music lover’s quintessential stop in the Caribbean is a resort called Hotel La Samanna, found at Baie Longue on the south western side of the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten. You won’t find a calypso beat in this posh hideaway. Instead you will be treated to the sounds of a French cabaret as you partake of your choice of amazing wines in the ultimate tropical island setting. But I am getting ahead of myself…
This island, tucked away in the leeward side of the Caribbean chain, has a split personality, literally. St. Martin/St. Maarten is the only island in the Caribbean with two sovereign nations in residence. St. Martin is the slightly larger French half and St. Maarten is the Dutch half. This duality has been in place for over 350 years, so there is something to be said for the island way of life! Each side has managed to retain much of the distinctiveness of its own national culture.
The French tend to emphasize comfort and elegance. The beaches are secluded, the luxury resorts provide lavish accommodations, and the restaurants offer the finest dining experiences anywhere in the Caribbean. The latest French fashions can be found in many of the shops, and the smell of fresh croissants and pastries mixes everywhere with the spicy aromas of West Indian cooking. Small cafes and charming bistros add a decidedly Gaelic and cosmopolitan flair to the place. On the whole, the atmosphere remains very relaxed.
On the other hand, St. Maarten with its busy cruise port and bustling commercial district, has long been an active center for trade and tourism. More developed and at the same time more informal, it is very Dutch in flavor and still has strong ties with fellow compatriots in the other Netherlands Antilles. Between the two different cultures in St. Martin and St. Maarten, vacationers will be able to find just about every kind of activity they might want for a perfect holiday in the sun.
The island has also become the winter home of the Super-Yacht set and caters to a very upscale clientele. Gambling is legal on the Dutch side, and while you will not find a Vegas-level casino there, you will be entertained in grand-island-style at eight establishments. We recommend the Princess Casino as the best on the island with the seemingly most honest tables and good entertainment.
As mentioned earlier, the French side has some of the most amazing cuisine in the Western Hemisphere. In Marigot, the center of the French side, you’ll find several interesting bistros including (French) and Don Camillo (Italian). The best thing about the restaurants in St. Martin/St. Maarten is that the wine and dining experience includes thematically linked music. When you go to a French restaurant everything is French: wine, music, and food. On top of that, you get to enjoy this experience in a tranquil, tropical, Caribbean setting.
For a specific recommendation, though, La Samanna is the best of the best on an island renowned as the gastronomic center of Caribbean cuisine. The resort boasts a wine cellar with over 10,000 bottles at the signature eatery dubbed simply “The Restaurant.” In June 2004 La Samanna was ranked among the top 10 hotels for service in the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Bahamas by Travel & Leisure Magazine. And Conde Nast Traveler says: “This resort resembles a little town on a Greek Island: Whitewashed buildings on the hillsides contrast with the blue sea.” The Restaurant’s opulent dining room offers dramatic, open-air dining with panoramic beach and ocean views that add to the enjoyment of the delicious meals, whether a heady dish of authentic osso bucco or a grilled ahi tuna with plant salad and Creole sandy ground sauce. World-class cuisine combines fresh, lively island flavors with classical French techniques.