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Trip Report Trip Report: A week in St. Martin

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I just returned from a week in St. Martin and since various Fodorites were very helpful with my planning, I wanted to return the favor with a brief trip report.

FLIGHTS: Flew Jet Blue direct from NYC to/from St. Martin. Flights were full but fine.

CAR RENTAL: After reading the multitude of messages about problems with some rental car companies, I chose Aliza car rental since they got rave reviews; however, Martin promptly responded that they had no cars available for my dates. Back to the drawing board, I saw positive comments about Lesley Bruce at Kenny’s Car Rental so contacted him. I’m not sure if he offers as wide a range of car models as some of the other agencies, but I rented a Toyota Corollas for $180/week, plus tax (came to $210) – declined insurance since I confirmed that my VISA card provided coverage. Lesley responded to my emails promptly and met me at the airport outside customs, and had my rental car waiting for me immediately outside in the airport’s visitors parking lot. Literally, 10 minutes with paperwork and I was on my way. Note: Lesley and many others reminded me to leave nothing in the car at any time; leave car unlocked at all times; and the windows slightly open. I followed these guidelines and had no problems.

CONDO: I knew I wanted to stay on the French side, near Orient Beach (based on a one-day cruise ship visit to St. Martin two years ago). First, considered hotels but they were all more expensive than I wanted to spend and I don’t like the regimented rows of beach chairs that most hotels provide. Plus, I wanted to be able to sit on my porch/balcony and look at the ocean, and those rooms were even more $$$. So, I used VRBO and zeroed in on condos in the Mont Vernon complex, which is at the far northern end of Orient Beach (opposite end from Club Orient & Pedros). There were a number of units available, in different locations within the complex and varying décor but I chose a great 3rd floor studio in the Saba building that overlooked the lagoon & palm trees, with the ocean to the side. http://www.vrbo.com/404864 It was newly renovated in what I call a “minimalist elegance” style – not cluttered or cutesy – but very functional. The king bed was very comfortable, the kitchen had a stovetop, fridge, microwave, coffee maker, sink and all the plates, pans, etc. Bathroom was newly done with plenty of storage space. A/C was very effective; liked the electric storm shutters and the big flat screen TV that got 6 English channels and many more French channels; and the safe in the closet was a nice surprise. The local agent, Didier, met me at the reception area, showed me around and was available if needed (had no problems, so didn’t need him!)

FOOD: When I travel, I like to buy local food for my meals. I usually don’t eat dinner in restaurants since I’m tired after a full day, and enjoy dining al fresco on my balcony and then reading before an early night. I went to the large US Marche (supermarket) very near Mont Vernon to stock up on basics but usually stopped in each for a fresh baguette and pastry. I love the glass pots of St. Malo yogurt for breakfast; bought good ham & sliced leerdammer cheese plus French butter for baguette sandwiches; blue cheese and pate for dinner, or packaged lentils & smoked pork… Yummy dark chocolate & hazelnut ice cream pops. Since I went to empty beaches each day, I usually froze a large bottle of water and made a picnic bag of water, ham & cheese baguette, an apple, Clementine and some pretzels. Absolutely a treat to eat on the beach… I did go to two restaurants both of which I recommend: Rancho Sol (at the top of the hill on the road to Orient Beach) had great pizzas, friendly staff and nice outdoor seating. About 8€ for a pizza. And Sol e Luna, for fine French dining at the beginning of the Mont Vernon residential area. Entrees were in the €25-30 range but worth it. Beautiful décor and ambience.

BEACHES: On Day 1, I walked along Orient Beach adjacent to Mont Vernon. It’s nice because it’s not developed (no beach bars right there) but…there were no beach chairs on the beach (don’t know if Mont Vernon puts out chairs during high season). So, I drove down to Pedros and parked there and walked down to the Club Orient beach. While the beach and water are nice, it was much more crowded than I remembered and the beach chairs were lined up very closely – no more than 2 feet between every two chairs. 2 chairs & an umbrella were $20 (or €20 – the rate is one-to-one on this beach). The weather was great and so was the people watching but I really didn’t like overhearing everyone’s conversations…and there’s always one blowhard going on and on who thinks everyone wants to hear his commentary. So, one day was enough. The next day I went to Happy Bay and that was where I spent the next 5 days – it was so perfect that I figured it would be hard to beat! Curved beach, black rocks at either end to explore, palms, sea grape trees, gentle water and talcum soft sand. The beach itself was never crowded and ranged from 6 groupings of people to about 12 (other than the cruise ship drop-ins.) Depending on the day, the naturists were about half of the people on the beach. Very low key. Based on how many cruise ships were in port, various guides with up to 6 jet-skis stopped by for exactly 30 minutes of snorkeling, swimming and a drink at the BBQ shack. Sometimes a party boat would stop by for an hour and a few private boats came by one day. All in all, the boat visitors were entertainment for everyone on the beach. No music, no rowdiness – just the sound of the palm fronds blowing in the breeze and the surf. Danny sells cold beer, soda & water plus ribs, chix, burgers from his beach shack and keeps an eye on the beach. (He chase off any locals who bother the beach goers & has a good relationship with the gendarmes – who bring their families to the beach on the weekend!)

All in all, this was exactly the vacation I needed – no stress, no sightseeing – just digging my toes in the sand and reading a stack of books. Out of all the Caribbean islands I’ve visited, I think St. Martin is my favorite and I’m planning to return each year for decompression, re-charging, re-vitalizing.

Thank you to all the Fodorites who answered my questions and gave me the info that helped me have such a good vacation!

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