Two On An Island
In its time, Tin Pan Alley's -like melodies tempted travelers to go to thetropics. Hollywood, in its halcyon days, gavemoviegoers the romance of cerulean-blue skiesand powder-white sands, even as nations readied forwar. James Bond movies, though, hinted thatCaribbean islands might have more dangers than justUrsula Andress arising from the surf. And whilerecent headlines may concur, citing recurrent hurricanesand social and governmental strife, theCaribbean still is and should remain one of the mostattractive vacation areas for Americans. "Yes, theCaribbean has its share of crime and places youshould avoid after dark—but it's no better or worsethan New York City," an islander says. And NewYork City can't compete with the beautiful beaches.
Just a Stone's Throw Away
Close by with English-speaking residents andstores that accept the dollar, the Caribbean islandsare a convenient paradise. St. Martin in particular,less than an hour by plane from San Juan, has theadditional charm of offering three cultures: the nativeone, the Dutch commercial aspects of the south sideof the island—Sint Maarten, and the more languidFrench lifestyle of the north side. Although theFrench capital of Marigot can be busy at times,Grand Case is only 20 minutes by cab. This quaintvacation spot still clings to the relaxed ambiance ofwhat is essentially a French village inhabited byCaribbean islanders.
In the midst of this village sits arguably the Caribbean'sbest family resort, Grand Case Beach Club(800-344-3016 or 011-590-590-87-51-87; www.grandcasebeachclub.com), which lies right on thewater's edge. Its 72 rooms all have kitchens and easybeach access, and many of the resort's water sportsactivities are included. "We benefit from the Frenchinfluence," says Stephen Wright, general manager atthe Grand Case Beach Club. "Many Caribbeantowns offer one good restaurant in one good hotel,but within a 10-minute walk of my resort, you canfind 50 great restaurants—all equal to the best youmight find in a major American city."
A leisurely walk easily proves Wright's point. ChefThierry Delaunay is readying his tables at the Hibiscusrestaurant (011-590-590-29-17-91; www.hibiscusrestaurant.com) as visitors stroll by, and farther downthe street Chez Martine (011-590-590-87-51-59;www.chezmartine.com), a small inn with a greatrestaurant, is opening its doors with other flavors ofFrance with similarly reasonable prices. Marigot alsohas its share of French cuisine, offering restaurantssuch as Le Plongeor (011-590-590-87-94-71). Andthe marina, only 100 yards away, has a brasserie, LaBelle Epoque (011-590-590-87-87-70; www.sxmmarinaroyale.com/belle_epoque/index.html), whosemost popular dish is, of all things, pizza. Such inexpensivefare lets you splurge nearby at the Mall LeWest Indies (011-590-590-87-72-85; www.sxmshopping.com/westindiesmall), which has duty-free,high-end Parisian shops.
On the Dutch side of the island, you can sip a beer,watch the sunset, and chat with Cornelius de Weever,owner of the simple Beach Bar & Grill at the Philipsburgpier. Or experience the elegant Le Montmartre(011-599-545-3939; www.lemontmartre.com) at theAtlantis World Casino (011-599-545-4601; www.atlantisworld.com), where you'll simply flop back inyour chair and sigh with satisfaction, having discoveredthe best French restaurant on the island.
The chef owner of Le Montmartre also runs thelittle Sunset Café (011-590-590-66-1001; www.sunset-cafe.com) at the Grand Case Beach Club, soguests don't have to drift farther than the beach.Those wanting a more private, gourmet meal shouldsign up for a sail on the catamaran Stargazer, andbump into a couple like Holger and Britta, whoknow all the special places around this 32-square-mileisland—an island so small it's not always foundon Caribbean maps.