It was our second trip to the island. We’ve seen many posts about what it costs to come to St. Martin, so we tried to save where we could so we could splurge where we wanted to. For instance, we booked our room accommodations in March of 2004. We had learned of Les Balcons d’Oyster Pond from TTOL.
We stayed at Les Balcons d’Oyster Pond. We had made our arrangements through Norm Dysart at stmaartenholidays.com
. We stayed one week in Studio 18 and one week in Studio 1. Both were wonderful. The room rate was under a $100/night. Les Balcons is managed by Carine and David Poret lesbalcons.com
. They both made our stay enjoyable. Each unit at Les Balcons is a studio apartment with a small kitchen and a balcony facing the marina at Oyster Pond. Les Balcons is barely on the French side, just north of Dawn Beach. It is a short 10 min. ride to the north to Orient Beach, the same distance south to Philipsburg, and about 20 min. to Grand Case.
A couple of months later, we booked our flight to the Friendly Island. Again, we saw the fare sale on TTOL in June. The fare was $435 roundtrip. The trip from Chicago to SXM was uneventful. It was the first time we flew US Air. A flight from Chicago’s O’Hare to Charlotte and then the flight from Charlotte to St. Martin. Our checked luggage arrived fine.
We arranged for a car through Leslie Bruce at Kenny’s Car Rental. Cost was $450 plus tax for two weeks. We also rented a cell phone from Sharon Harris on recommendations of this board. So for around $2,600 we had our accommodations for both weeks, our flights to the island, our rental car, and a way to call home.
Most of our other expenses were food. Bakery items are delivered to Les Balcons in the morning if you order them from David and Carine the day before. And we usually made sandwiches for lunch from items purchased at the grocery store.
The rest of this trip report will be divided into two parts: The first part is about our daily activities and our exploring of the island during the day followed by our exploring the wonderful foods in the evening.Daily Activities
One of our first stops on the island was at the tourist bureaus, on the French side in Marigot and on the Dutch side in the Vineyards building in Philipsburg. It was at the Dutch tourism bureau we scored our real fine of the trip: a detailed road map of the island with detail views of Marigot, Philipsburg, and Grand Case which lists EVERY street and alley depicted by name in the detail. It is the first edition of the St. Maarten Business Map 2002. This map is awesome.
Our previous trip in 2003 was ten days long where we learned the basics of the island: where Orient Beach, Grand Case, Marigot, Philipsburg, Dawn Beach, and Cupecoy Beach were. We limited ourselves to the main roads around the island. This trip was different. We explored the island more and saw a lot more of it.
Our first day was spent at Cupecoy Beach. We walked down the cliffs and saw a lot more of the small beaches which make up Cupecoy. The next couple of days we spent on Orient Beach, taking in the sun, surf, and sand. Sand gravity was starting to have a pronounced effect on us.
On Wednesday afternoon, we armed with our new map, explored a shorter, more direct route to Orient and Grand Case. We also found the nature preserve at Embourchure, just north of Oyster Pond and adjacent to Baie Lucas.
On the next day, we explored the southern most tip of St. Maarten at Point Blache. There is no beach there; just a rocky coast line. Further north and west is Guana Bay. Guana Bay appears to have very exclusive and lovely homes. From the car, it appeared to have a very nice beach, but we did not take the time to get out of the car and look at it closely. We also went to the beach at Friar Bay. I attempted to walk to the beach at Happy Bay, but I do not think I walked far enough to see it.
After our strenuous day exploring, we spent the next day recovering on Orient Beach. On Saturday we spent the day at Dawn Beach. We could not sample the food at Mrs. Bs because she does not sell food on Saturdays.
Sunday, we went to Baie Rouge in the morning. We saw Devil’s Hole in the cliffs next to Baie Rouge. It amazes us the differences between the sand on the west side of the island compared to the eastern edge. Baie Rouge has some of the coarsest sand we have ever seen. It clings to your body like it was glued in place. The sand at Orient is the other extreme: soft and powdery.
That evening we attended the TTOL party at Peg Leg Pub. We had a great time, met a lot of people, and enjoyed the hospitality of Jack and Shawn at Peg Leg.
The next day we took a break from the sand and sun and went shopping in Philipsburg. The new look on Front Street is very nice and it brings a unified appearance to the area. The board walk with its view of Great Bay is also very appealing.
Tuesday and Wednesday are the only days in our two weeks where it was cloudy for most of the day. We found le Galion Beach, Anse Marcel, and Petite Plage which is located by Grand Case Beach Club. The sand at le Galion is soft and powdery. A lot of families with small children were using the beach the day we visited. There is a beach bar there along with a place renting wind surfing equipment and kayaks.
Anse Marcel is home to l’Meridien. The road into Anse Marcel is not for the faint of heart as it has very steep incline. Although we did not see the rooms, l’Meridien has very impressive grounds, some of the nicest on the island. We did not see a way to the beach at Anse Marcel without walking through the complex at l’Meridien.
We had also never seen Grand Case Beach Club, although we have read a lot of great reviews from folks who have stayed there. We saw the beach there and wanted to get a ride to Creole Rock to snorkel, but we ran out of time.
We went to Marigot to catch what was left at the market there, and then drove through Sandy Ground to explore some of the area adjacent to Baie Longe. There are very exclusive homes in that area of the island with large wall-like fences surrounding the property, all very exclusive.
Our last full days were spent on Orient Beach. We snorkeled a bit by the reef in front of the Perch bar. We saw an octopus wrapped around a conch shell and some colorful fish by the reef.
The trip home was eventful. Our 3:50 pm flight to Charlotte was delayed because of an ice storm there. We did not leave SXM until close to 7 pm. By then the sun had set, so we took off from the east to the west, which is opposite of any other flight I’d ever see depart from there. We arrived in Charlotte after 11 pm. Our connecting flight to Chicago was long gone; so we were rescheduled for a flight out at 8 am. Most of the hotel rooms were already sold out because of the ice storm. We did find a ‘flea bag’ hotel for a few hours of sleep. In the morning, US Air was de-icing every plane which departed from Charlotte which caused another hour delay. We did not get home until after 1 pm.The Food
We ate dinner out every evening. We frequented Grand Case a lot. We picked our restaurants based on our experience from our trip two years ago, recommendations we have seen on TTOL, and Ed and Sandra’s reviews. Some general observations are:
• We have put our experiences into what we believe are classes of restaurants. Those in our ‘Exceptional’ or ‘Excellent’ classes are establishments which we would not hesitate to visit again. Those in our ‘Very Good’ class are ones which we might revisit in future trips.
• We are both wine drinkers but we do not know French wines like Ed and Sandra obviously do. If you are like us, trust the sommelier. Tell him what you like to drink at home and have him suggest a wine. It definitely worked for us.
• We almost always shared a salad, because usually the salads served are large.Exceptional Restaurants
We had first tried l’Alabama on our trip two years ago and instantly fell in love with the place. This time we visited it our first Harmony night. We arrived in time to order their early bird specials which are only available from 5:30 to 6:30 pm. L’Alabama’s early bird specials consist of one appetizer, one main course, one dessert plus a complimentary glass of wine for only 33 euros. Since l’Alabama is a restaurant which participates in the one euro for 1 dollar for cash transactions, this is indeed a very good special.
Kathy ordered the mixed salad, the red snapper fillet in Dijon mustard and thyme crust, red butter sauce with capers, and cream puff pastry stuffed with vanilla ice cream
and warm chocolate sauce for desert. Harry had the French onion soup, pork tenderloin roasted with cinnamon, sweet and sour sauce of caramelized apple, and creme brulee for desert.
After our meal, Karin stopped by to visit with us. I told her I really appreciate her posts on TTOL. She said she like to read this forum to find out what to do on the island when she has time to spare. She brought us some Ma Dou Dou as an after dinner drink.
We ate here twice. We owed it to ourselves to try Le Cottage because it was recommended to us on our last trip and we ran out of time to visit it. We will not miss coming here again on subsequent visits!
You will not see Le Cottage on any one euro to one dollar list. On their menu outside the restaurant, they explain that they exchange 1 euro to 1.20 dollars. They also state that their menu prices are lower than those who do the one-to-one.
We have read the discussions on this forum regarding the restaurants promoting one-to-one. We think Le Cottage’s approach to the exchange rate is a reasonable and one which tries to be fair to both Americans and Europeans.
Our first visit was on Sunday on our first full day on the island. Stephane, the sommelier picked us out a very nice Domaine de la Citadelle Bordeaux to drink. We split a Caesar salad. Kathy ordered the roasted gulf shrimp on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes with lobster sauce and Harry had the lamb chops, potatoes and a light pepper sauce with mint. Both meals were outstanding. The cost was 76 euros or $91.98 and well worth it.
When we were nearing the end of our trip, we asked ourselves if there was any restaurant which we HAD to try again. Le Cottage was the one we chose. We reminded Stephane of the wine we had on our previous visit, but he did not have any left, so he brought a sample of two different wines for us to try. Kathy had a difficult time deciding between the two, but chose the Domaine Labranche Laffont Madiran. Since it was our last night on the island, we ordered the bottle. We split a salad again. This time Kathy had the Dover sole breaded with sesame and mashed potatoes flavored with basil and lobster sauce and Harry had the roasted monkfish fillet in pepperoni, fresh clams and parsley with shallots based on the recommendation of our server. We splurged and shared a desert which was based apricots and ice cream. Again, both meals were outstanding. With the bottle of wine ($32), our dinner cost was $122.
We tried this restaurant because of the review Ed and Sandra gave it. You should be aware that it does not participate in the one euro, one dollar promotion so they are one of the pricier restaurants we visited. The sign out front said “Creative Italian Cuisine”, but it should say in very large letters: “CREATIVE” and then much smaller: “Italian Cuisine.” It is that kind of place.
We split a salad again. Kathy had pappardelle: wide noodles with a braised beef sauce and sweet peppers and leeks. All of the pasta at Spiga is hand made daily. Kathy’s dinner was delicious and, here’s that word again: creative. Harry had filet of beef, gorgonzola sauce with porcini mushroom risotto. The filet tasted as if it was char-broiled using apple wood. The porcini mushroom risotto was the perfect accompaniment for the filet. We each enjoyed a glass of a wonderful Merlot. Everything was wonderful. Dinner was $94.Excellent Restaurants
Café Bounty was recommended to us by Carine at Les Balcons. Every so often, we get to feeling that we do not want to drive to go to Grand Case as we are tired. Café Bounty our choice for those days. It is a short walk down the hill from Les Balcons, right next to Captain Oliver’s Marina, set on the banks of Oyster Pond.
Our first visit to Café Bounty was on the first Monday we were on St. Martin. Kathy was still recovering from the flight, the excitement, the sun, beach, and fun. We both ordered a glass of red wine. Kathy ordered the Margarita Pizza and I ordered the “Rumsteak” with pepper sauce. Both were very good. I have no idea what “Rumsteak” is, but it tasted very good. Dinner was $30.
On our second visit, Kathy had a salad with grilled chicken, and Harry had the Mahi Mahi. Both were very good.
We both had a glass of Bordeaux with dinner. We were seated at a table overlooking Grand Case Bay and the view and sounds of the bay were wonderful. Kathy had the noodles with Bolognaise tomato sauce with meat and Harry had the special meli melo. Meli melo is French for mixed fish. The dish is an assortment of scallops, shrimp, mahi mahi, and grouper with a light cream sauce. Kathy was a little disappointed in her pasta, but I told her that’s what she gets for ordering Italian fare in a French restaurant. My meli melo was very good. We shared a crepe with caramelized apple and ice cream. It too was wonderful. La California is a one euro to one dollar restaurant. Dinner was a very reasonable $72.
We tried this restaurant based on reviews on TTOL and Ed and Sandra’s report. Tony welcomes you to his restaurant with open arms. On our first visit, Kathy had the fresh fish of the day which was yellow fin accompanied with vegetables and rice. One of the vegetables looked like a pear but was a local squash. Harry had the shrimp in garlic butter sauce. Both meals were excellent. Dinner was $30.
On our second visit Kathy had the chicken in barbeque sauce and Harry had ribs with barbeque sauce. Both were very good. Dinner was $27.
On both of our visits Tony brought out a side dish of rice and one of beans. Poulet d’Orleans is a must do on any trip to the island.Very Good Restaurants
Our second Harmony night in Grand Case was spent at Auberge Gourmande. We split a Caesar salad. We both ordered a glass of Merlot. As we have done in the past, we asked our server to recommend something from the menu. The reply was that everything on the menu was excellent, which we think was not as helpful as it could have been.
We split a Caesar salad, but had the anchovies and anchovy-based dressing on the side. Kathy ordered the beef filet with red wine sauce. Harry had the pork tenderloin stuffed with walnuts and apricots served on a bed of vegetables with a crushed black pepper and red wine sauce. The food at the Auberge Gourmande is very good, but not as creative or unique as any of the three establishments we listed above as Outstanding. Perhaps the reason is that we ordered the wrong items on the menu or we had already been to those three restaurants before our visit to Auberge Gourmande, but we both expected more. Auberge Gourmande does participate in the one euro equal one dollar promotion. Dinner was $94.
[color:"blue"]Le Fish Bar[/color]
We tried Le Fish Bar restaurant based on a recommendation from Rich who we met at the TTOL party on Jan 23rd at Peg Leg. We started with a glass of wine apiece. Kathy ordered the salmon with noodles and Harry had shrimp & swordfish skewers. Both were very good. Dinner was about $35. Be aware that Le Fish Bar does not take credit cards.
This restaurant is located in Cul de Sac and one we had visited on our last trip. For starters we both ordered the cream of celery soup. For entrees, Kathy had the salmon with pepper corn sauce and Harry had the shrimp and scallop dinner. Prices on the menu were in dollars. The dinner cost was around $50.
We can't wait to return.
--Harry & Kathy