Updated August 23, 2019
As the second anniversary of Hurricane Irma approaches, St Martin's renaissance is taking hold inviting a newer and hipper atmosphere that gives the island a leading contemporary edge in the Caribbean. While some projects still have to take hold, the new business ideas and restaurants on the island give a lot of hope and set an expectation bar that was unimaginable a couple of years go. The initial hope after Irma ravaged the island is that St Martin will come back stronger, well the reality on the ground is that it is no longer an ambition but indeed fruition with a renewed invigoration led by creative minds and talented people to create a St Martin 2.0. Here are the details and what we have seen in our July inspection trip.
Let's first set expectations. Will you see visible scars from the hurricane? Of course you will, but it will not affect your experience in the slightest. The scars that come with major disasters will be there for years. Some parts of the island like Simpson Bay have no visible signs while Orient Beach has come back stronger than before with an incredible new dining scene and then you have some French beach side properties are on hold until the French Government issues new guidance and regulations on beachfront construction and removes it's current embargo for building on beachfront lots.
When traveling on the island, guests will notice that the Dutch side looks back to normal except for a few major properties (Westin, airport, The Cliff and Ocean Club). Simpson Bay appears like it was a few years ago along with a more vibrant scene with chic restaurants and bars including the new Roxy Beach Club. Maho Sonesta has done a spectacular job with it's renovation of it's hotel. The hotel has undergone a major upgrade with a glitzy and contemporary facade.
The French side has a more complicated appearance because of regulation and not due to neglect. Unfortunately, most beachfront properties that were planning to be redesigned or built are on indefinite hold as the government has barred any new construction or reconstruction of beachfront properties until a topographical survey and risk assessment is completed. Beachfront properties are only to allowed to build in the same footprint as the building existed prior to Irma. Once the French government announces it's new guidelines, the beachfront properties should quickly recover. There will be a noticeable boom on the Marigot waterfront, Grand Case and Nettle Bay once those rules are announced.
In regards to expectations, as you drive along the coastal roads on the French side, you will notice that the beach side properties are lagging behind due to the government restrictions.
While the scars may be visible, your enjoyment of the island will not be affected. For us, it was one of our best trips ever since we explored new adventures and experienced new restaurants. Nothing was lacking from a guest standpoint. Grocery stores were full with tens of thousands of products (European and US products along with specialty shops catering to additional international cuisines), streets were clean and lacked traffic, infrastructure was solid, and WIFI was exceptional allowing us to binge watch shows on Netflix during our retreats back to our villas.
The villas we are offering are in exceptional shape. They are in equal or superior status than before the hurricane. We have been welcoming guests since August of 2018 and have experience one of our highest satisfaction levels in our history. In the past year, we have added dozens of new 4 and 5 star properties.
We are very excited about some new properties coming soon in the next few months. The luxury level is certainly increasing as villas are adopting current trends and emphasizing comfort and the guest experience.
The beaches on the Caribbean side are in very good shape and some beaches have more sand then in previous years. Mullet Bay, Baie Rouge, Baie Longue, Friars Bay, Happy Bay and Plum Bay beach are in lovely shape. Orient Beach is rebounding exceptionally well with the relaunch of beach bars such as Bikini Beach Bar, Kontiki and Kakao. One thing to note is that Orient beach now has an amazing new dining scene in it's square with 7 brand new restaurants being lead by young and talented chefs.
Anse Marcel has a brand new beach bar restaurant and offers an outstanding
The Sargussum seaweed can occasionally be an issue on St Martin but not as significant as other destinations. The Atlantic side has seen some seaweed come to it's shores. The seaweed comes in random waves. Some weeks it is an issue while other weeks it is not. The northern, southern and western beaches of the island are unaffected by the seaweed. The seaweed becomes present in the warmer months of the summer and quickly die off in the fall.
The infrastructure of the island is back to normal with some upgrades coming in the future. The roads are clear and in great condition. Grocery stores are full and easily found. The infrastructure (water and electricity) are reliable for island conditions. The WIFI seems have to dramatically improved as we noticed seamless streaming.
Rental cars are available and new. We can arrange for the rental cars to be delivered to the villa to expedite your arrival to the villa. The island is safe and the roads are fine. The following grocery stores are open.
Carrefour express in Porto Cupecoy
Carrefour in Philipsburg (large supermarket)
Carrefour in Cole Bay (large supermarket)
Market Garden in Simpson Bay adjacent to Burger King
Super U in Marigot (large supermarket)
Monop in Marigot (great selection of higher end products)
Leader Price in Cul de Sac (large supermarket)
Super U in Cul de Sac (large supermarket)
Petit Casino in Orient Bay
Cadisco Market in Nettle Bay located by the gas station, and convenient to villas in Terres Basses
The restaurant scene on St Martin is bustling and offers a hundred different options. Here is a quick recap of where to focus on dining and some recommended options:
Let's start with our new recommendation. From our recent experience, Orient Beach's new dining scene has replaced Grand Case as the center of St Martin's dining scene. The square at Orient Beach has been transformed into a bastion of great dining with innovative menus and creative approaches to cuisine. Young chefs and restaurateurs from France have come to the island to launch their promising careers and guests will be fortunate to experience this new world. There are so many fine restaurants to choose from in this square with varying cuisine types from French to Italian to Asian. You simply can't go wrong.
Mario's Bistro leads the the group of restaurants at Porto Cupecoy. Additional restaurants include a steak house, Thai restaurant, Chinese restaurant and an Italian restaurant. We highly recommend Mario's while advising guests to seek out alternative Italian or pizza restaurants then the one at Porto Cupecoy.
Marigot still needs some time to rebound but there are two great restaurants on the Marina side. The new Enjoy restaurant on the marina waterfront is exceptional and is a great option for lunch. Tropicana has been one of our mainstay recommendations as well. We recommended lunches but not dinners in Marigot.
The famed restaurants of Grand Case are returning with some waterfront restaurants being delayed due to the aforementioned French regulations government beachfront properties. The following restaurants are operating and welcoming diners. Le Cottage, Pressoir, Spiga, Auberge Gourmand, Blue Martini and Rainbow Beach cafe.
Simpson Bay has a large selection of restaurants. Renowned sushi restaurant Bamboo Bernie's has launched Little Bamboo in Simpson Bay.
St Martin is a phenomenal choice for 2019-2020 winter travel as guests can experience the island's beautiful beaches, exceptional dining, and the unique luxury values that St Martin offers where prized luxury properties can be rented at a fraction of a cost compared to other comparable Caribbean islands.