For many travelers with the Caribbean on their list, St. Maarten/St. Martin usually is associated with cruise ships, a boisterous casino oriented night-life, luxury high-rises and for those who arrive by air, one of the most scenic aircraft landings in the world; sunbathers on Maho Beach literally eye-to-eye with incoming passengers.
Yet there is another orientation to St. Martin, the French side; an area of the island where time stands still. A Caribbean of yesteryear offering quaint beaches, low-rise buildings, gourmet food and the use of the Euro as currency. Within this unique locale, a hidden gem, Anse Marcel will truly delight and enchant with a beautiful beach, lodging options for all budgets and culinary delights associated with the Cote D’Azur.
Arrival in St Martin: If traveling to Anse Marcel or any destination on the French-side of the island, a car is necessary. Of note the roads are narrow and traffic can be challenging at peak times; take the time to enjoy the scenery of the drive.
Car Rental: Most major car rental brands are represented on St. Martin. I booked with Europcar, a small operation within 5 minutes of the airport by shuttle. Those who travel to Europe may be familiar with the brand. A few tips for an enjoyable rental experience while in St. Martin: 1) Rent the smallest car possible as many roads are narrow and larger cars will be challenged especially during peak travel times. 2) Smaller cars generally attract less attention concerning thief and vandalism and 3) Take multiple photographs of the car prior to driving off the lot. Be sure to document all existing damage so you do not encounter surprises upon your return and finally check your car has a spare tire and working jack.
Arrival in Anse Marcel: The drive from the airport takes about 45 minutes. As mentioned many of the roads are two-lane sans shoulders or sidewalks. Thus some skill and observation is needed. To access Anse Marcel from the main road one traverses a major hill; from the summit the view to the bay and beach is one of those truly magical sights of white-washed villas ensconced by lush foliage and a beach with calm waters lapping its edge with not a high-rise or all-inclusive mega-resort in sight.
Lodging: Anse Marcel has lodging options ranging from cost-effective vacation flat rental (walk or drive to beach) to two upscale resorts, The Radisson Blu Resort, Marina and Spa and Le Domaine Beach Resort and Spa, both share the same beach. The Radisson is the larger of the two with branded chain-style amenities including a large formal lobby, multiple dining options, an expansive pool and marina area. Le Domaine is quainter with a simple open-air reception, expansive grounds and an overall boutique orientation yet with all the amenities a vacationer would desire.
Check-In and Orientation at Le Domaine: Beyond a staffed gate house is the entry to The Radisson, Le-Domaine and a small residential complex. Upon arrival at Le Domaine’s circular drive there is a small reception area (open-air design in keeping with Caribbean tradition), a desk staff which is proficient in multiple languages and an immediate sense of calm and relaxation i.e. no crowds, lines or groups.
Le Domaine is what I referenced prior as “boutique oriented” i.e. smaller in scale and design. The rooms and suites are within 2-3 story buildings surrounded by and offering views of the manicured tropical gardens. While an ocean view may technically be available from the higher floors due to the design of the resort a straight-on water view, while enjoyable would not necessarily be missed as the grounds are beautiful and the resonance of the ocean can be heard throughout the resort in part due to the human-scale architecture and ample open-space.
My room was in Building 900, close to reception and just steps from the parking on the second floor of a three story building. All the multistory buildings have elevators and open-air stairs. The room was absolutely charming. Within the entry hall there were ample closets (why I am not sure as most daily apparel is confined to t-shirts, bathing suits and wraps, during evening a polo shirt, casual slacks or a summer dress would suffice) and a ¾ bathroom with a large shower stall, toilet and small sink. Shelves held extra towels and toiletries. The bathrooms are fully tiled with a large mirror, excellent lighting and Hansgrohe fixtures (a well respected German brand).
Beyond the entry was the room itself. Large by resort standards with a king bed (dual twins with a feather comforter/ luxury linens, fresh flowers on the bed spread), a small writing desk, a wicker lounger, a built-in hidden bar refrigerator and shelf with tea kettle, a selection of teas and a ice bucket with two champagne flutes. Of note, within walking distance is a small sundry store; for additional provisions, especially if in a vacation rental there is a major French grocery store, Simply within 10 minutes of Anse Marcel.
Beyond the bedding area was a generous two-person tub and large plate glass slider opening onto the deck/patio which is visually screened from the neighbors. Of note the large window at the tub can be blocked from the outside world using the internal shade for privacy; or if you wish you can bathe while enjoying the outdoors, a great option at dusk before dinner. There is also an additional dual-vanity, large mirror and socket for shaver (there is a built-in hair dryer, note voltage is 220). The double-bathtub area can be made private with a curtain. Overall the rooms can be most romantic yet also easily utilitarian for friends traveling together and there are larger suites available with separate bedrooms.
The Beach: Le Domaine offers private access to the beach which is one of the most beautiful and private on the island of St. Martin. While there is a public beach concession i.e. parking, rental lounges and umbrellas, the majority of the beach is frequented by guests of Le Domaine and The Radisson Blu adjacent. Guest rooms farthest from the beach are at maximum a 2-minutes walk through the lush gardens.
The beach is within a cove setting with a few boats moored offshore. There is also a concession for motorized watersports i.e. jet skis, kayaks. The beach is quiet i.e. no beach volleyball or DJ’s. Of note, this is the French-side of the island and a few women sunbathe topless. There is towel service and the loungers are well cushioned and umbrellas plentiful. There is a roped off swimming area and during high-tide are decent waves even within the cove setting.
Bordering the beach area are tables and chairs for relaxing and dining. The two beach bars offer all choices of drinks and it is not uncommon to see guests with bottle service including water and French wines and champagnes. The Kafe (yes, spelled with a K) offers excellent food by the beach. While not inexpensive, the food is gourmet quality including the fresh catch of the day on ice. Beyond Le Domaine on the beach is a small food concession providing gourmet Panini’s and tapas with the daily menu in French and English displayed on a chalk board.
The pool area of Le Domaine is large with ample deck area providing sun and shade areas. The pool offers a small children’s area as well as two jetted tubs attached. There is a water aerobics class once a week. The pool is well maintained and spotless. Personally I went from beach to pool and so forth as I prefer swimming in a pool yet relaxing on the beach.
Dining: In general the French side of the island is more expensive and oriented towards gourmet dining and this includes the resorts. In addition as prices are dominated in Euros, there is an inherent inflation factor based on present exchange rates (approx €1 = $1.37) for North Americans yet more places are beginning to denominate in Euros and Dollars.
At Le-Domaine breakfast is buffet style and served in their signature Table du Marche. The dining room is open-air and all the tables offer a water view. Breakfast is available until 10 A.M. and for the pure vacation experience room service is available; the room’s patio provides a table and chairs for dining. If you desire the all-out buffet of the all-inclusive resorts, you will be disappointed. The buffet at Le Domaine is the basics yet with a good selection of items including staples, fresh juices and fruits. Due to the size of the resort there were no lines for dining and one never feel rushed. The bakery products were the highlight and I already miss the Nutella crepes.
Dinner: Table du Marche is the signature dining establishment of the proprietor of the resort, Chef Christophe Leroy. While the menu is limited (see link in first sentence), there is a diversity of choices and an available children’s menu as well. The dinner service is true fine-dining i.e. gourmet food and refined service. Fresh lobster is available in addition to the always changing fresh catch of the day. The produce from what I can ascertain was locally procured.
Table du Marche not a restaurant where one devours their meals; it is where one spends the evening casually enjoying the food and atmosphere in a truly unhurried pace. While it is the signature restaurant, for foodies there are additional restaurants within close proximity of Le-Domaine as well as in close-by Grand Case. Of note if in Grand Case you must have dinner at Bistrot Caraibes, one of the finest French meals coupled with a I have enjoyed in recent memory.
Other Dining Choices: Within walking distance of Le Domaine just beyond the Radisson are two excellent restaurants. Da Tony is an Italian option with an emphasis on Mediterranean fare. The sauces are light, the food fresh and all prepared with ample olive oil and French culinary skill. The Calypso is also an excellent choice with a diverse casual menu from pizzas and salads to fresh fish/seafood and meat selection. Both restaurants are open-air and offer diversity if one does not wish to leave Anse Marcel. In addition the Radisson has a beachside dining option for dinner (similar to Le Domaine’s) as well as a bar area in the lobby.
Please note, as mentioned above, dining is not inexpensive. In addition to Euro denomination, the cooking even casual is gourmet with fresh ingredients, Thus if in search of a diversity of restaurants and fast-food, the Dutch side of the island would be a better option overall, however if you enjoy elevated dining while on vacation, you will not be disappointed.
Working off the French Food: Surprising for a smaller boutique resort the workout facilities were most impressive. Just steps from the reception the workout area is located in a stand-alone building. Well equipped with cardiovascular machines and circuit training as well as mats for yoga, free weights and so forth. Towels and water are provided.
Internet Access: The wireless access in our room was strong and connectivity was not an issue. To be honest after the first day, the desire to log-on diminished as the resort truly encourages relaxation.
For those who are considering Anse Marcel or St. Martin in general, the destination can be as relaxing or an invigorating as one wishes. Having access to a car opens the island to additional exploration including the famous Orient Beach as well as shopping excursions all duty-free.
If you wish to explore beyond St. Martin, via the activities desk at Le Domaine are daily excursions available for guests to book including visits to St. Barth and Anguilla, deep sea fishing, snorkeling excursions via a Catamaran, kayaking, biking, parasailing, horseback riding and other excursions guaranteeing you will not be bored.
If your vacation desires are to return to the Caribbean of yesteryear; an era before mega-resorts and non-stop partying, Anse Marcel is for you. It is quiet, peaceful, friendly, a beautiful setting on a gorgeous island. The Le Domaine resort would be an excellent option for weddings, honeymoons, family gatherings, friends getting together or just a romantic getaway.