For an island that underwent extensive destruction just over a year ago during Hurricane Irma, St. Martin has made quite the comeback. Its beaches are restored and many of its restaurants are serving strong once again. But perhaps most impressive is the resurgence of its many travel accommodations, and in particular, the luxury vacation rentals that have had to reinvent themselves post-disaster. With help from some of the island’s most frequent visitors, we present you with five St. Martin villas that are ready for you — are you ready for them?
Casa de la Playa (Baie Longue)
Casa de la Playa is a low-rise build surrounded by a 12-foot-high iron gate that keeps the property a mystery from the outside. “You have no idea what you’re going to see until the gates open,” describes its owner, Michael Kopec. The gates open to three and a half acres of impeccable landscaping, two acres of grass, and Caribbean-style palm, lime, coconut, cashew, and mango trees. The driveway is lined with 30 flamboyant trees that follow the cobblestone driveway to the entrance. When you open the front door, an open concept and glass walls on the ocean-facing side of the house provide immediate, unobstructed view to the ocean.”Michael’s wife, Kristin, adds: “When you wake up in the master bedroom, it looks like you’re on a yacht. We designed the height of the bed so you could see over top of the louvers of the sliding doors, and from there all you see is the ocean.” For a more complete view, the rooftop terrace provides sightlines that include a 360-degree view of the beach, the landscaping, and five nearby islands: Anguilla, Saba, Sint Eustatius, St. Kitts, and Nevis.
Baie Longue is on the western Leeward side of the island, benefiting from lower wind and gorgeous sunsets. Yet since it’s part of a security-protected gated community, it’s not accessible to the public, making it quiet and often empty. At night, you can often spot 600-700 pound green sea turtles making their nests, and if you’re lucky, you can catch the hatch — and the heartwarming scene of hundreds of baby turtles scurrying around the beach. The home is great for families — the Kopecs should know, they raised their kids there and lived in Casa de la Playa for 15 years. They say the layout of the home is such that someone in the great room could blare music or a movie, and no one in any of the bedrooms would hear it. “We’re big on privacy,” says Kristin. This Casa wouldn’t be disturbed by anything, including, apparently, one of the strongest storms the island has ever seen. “We built the home with a complete respect for the possibility of hurricanes,” explains Michael, describing the poured concrete and screws they used to ensure a sturdy foundation. “We overbuilt it.” The result? Save for a few cosmetic smudges, Casa de la Playa stood tall after Irma. The home never even lost power.
Bamboo (Terres Basses)
Bamboo is a quiet oasis between Baie Longue and the Anse aux Cajoux cove, just minutes from the Dutch border but on the French side of the island. The stylish grand entrance welcomes guests with an airy living room tastefully appointed with all-white designer furniture. Immediately upon entry, the pool and ocean are visible — that is if the floor-to-ceiling doors opposite are ajar. Those doors retract into the walls, opening up the whole space into a seamless indoor-outdoor expanse where poolside loungers, both sunny and shaded, invite you to gaze at the view of Saba and Baie Longue during the day and postcard-perfect sunsets in the evening.
Within the Terres Basses gated community, the home is private and secluded, but the action is not far away. Bamboo is surrounded by beaches: Baie Longue, Baie aux Prunes, Baie Rouge, and Cupecoy are all within minutes. In Sint Maarten, just beyond the invisible divide, the quaint Porto Cupecoy village is just two minutes away. It has Le Grand Marché for all you’ll need to fill your fridge, intimate boutiques and home grown shops for your shopping pleasure, and plenty of haute French cuisine to excite your palate. About 25 minutes further into the Dutch portion of the island, at the bottom of Rainforest Adventure Park in Dutch Cul de Sac, Emilio’s is one of the island’s newest restaurants. Longtime St. Martin visitors, Irving and Ann Szeller, vouch for the post-Irma addition, a casual bistro serving menu staples with a twist (Funchi Fries: the Caribbean version of polenta) and recreations of local classics (coal pot fried fish with johnny cakes).
Terrasse de Mer (Terres Basses)
The highly-trained team at Terrasse de Mer is one of the St. Martin villa’s main draws, including 24/7 on-site maintenance and emergency services, and a welcome breakfast. The Szellers have an affinity for the home’s caretaker, Paula, and housekeeper, Rochelle, who live on the property. “They’ve become very close friends of ours every time we’re down there. They’re a big part of the reason we continue to go to Terrasse de Mer.” Plus, their hospitable offerings go beyond their actual jobs: “Paula makes one of the best curry chicken dishes you’ve ever had,” Irv says.
Like many St. Martin villa owners, Terrasse de Mer’s owners took the 2017 hurricane as an opportunity to improve their property; some of the rebuild was made necessary by the damage, but other decor or layout alterations were made by choice. Terrasse de Mer 2.0 has upgraded televisions, new furniture in the sitting area and some bedrooms, and its outdoor seating area is now shaded, an upgrade according to the Szellers, who are hoping to go back yet again in October 2019. “We liked the home before, but since it’s been redone after Hurricane Irma, we love it,” Irv says. One serendipitous improvement from Irma came at the expense of some of the trees that had been blocking views from the master bedroom and from the pool, but were knocked over in the storm. Now, sightlines are open and “it works much better that way,” according to Ann. The home and its surroundings are always brightly lit up so that, day or night, guests can see the nearby French capital city of Marigot to the east and the island’s many mountains in the distance.
Grand Palms (Plum Bay)
Set in a palm-filled garden in St. Martin’s northwest, Grand Palms is a place to drown out the world around you. Grab a favorite book, a glass of champagne, or a coffee — whatever your style, this Caribbean gem is sure to soothe you at every turn. In the privacy of its three bedrooms, two of which are in a separate casita, one off the main villa, jungle-like alfresco showers grace each bathroom and are surrounded by a private garden. The multi-level outdoor lounge areas are ideal for the whole group to come together. Upstairs, a grassy terrace has lounge chairs under the sun for tanning, a shaded dining table and patio couches, and a relaxing hot tub — all with spectacular views of the island. On the main level, a large fiber optic pool delights, especially at night when it lights up in ever-changing colors.
While it’s nestled within the gated Terres Basses community, Grand Palms is just a 12-minute drive to the capital, Marigot. Szeller raves that Marigot is one of the most improved areas since the destruction of Irma; new bistros and restaurants have opened on the Marina, returning the idyllic oceanfront setting to its original form. In particular, La Petite Auberge is an intimate setting where less than 10 tables can dine on the the bay. According the Szeller, this restaurant along with the restored marina area is as charming as ever, a picture of the south of France: “It’s like being in Marseille along the water.”
Just in Paradise (Terres Basses)
“When you walk in the front entrance, the first reaction is wow,” recalls Szeller, a former guest of Just in Paradise. “The first time we saw it, our mouths hung open.” Its sleek, elegant furnishings in shades of white are accented with vibrant art pieces and pops of color. And while it’s like nothing Szeller has ever seen, it’s also distinctly familiar — it reminds him of home. “Just in Paradise is the most New York-style villa,” says Irv, a former Manhattanite. “It’s like being in a penthouse apartment off Park Avenue. It’s ultra-modern and the decor is exquisite, something out of Architectural Digest — but instead of the city it has an Olympic-sized swimming pool and the ocean in front of you.”
The main level, with its “massive” swimming pool, has views to the west that stretch from Long Bay Beach to Plum Bay Beach. The rooftop patio has a bar and private dining area with stunning 360-degree views. The three bedrooms are the same size, perfect for a group of couples so that everyone gets the “good room.” Along with private indoor and outdoor seating, each bedroom has a spa-like en-suite bathroom with tumbled travertine tile. Walk-in stand-alone showers lead into outdoor showers on Indonesian river rocks with sea views. Plus, the owner has installed LED lights so that the water appears in rainbow colors. Start spreading the news…