The reaction to my Facebook photo of a waiter at Grand Case Beach Club’s Sunset Cafe surprised me—all those “likes” by people I’d never even heard of. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. The likers were regulars at this St. Martin resort, a small hotel with an outsize repeat rate.
The Grand Case Beach Club (GCBC) lies at one end of Grand Case, French St. Martin, one of the Caribbean’s culinary hotspots. The resort has earned a TripAdvisor Hall of Fame award and a spot on Expedia’s Insiders Select List, so, having never actually stayed there, I decided to check in and check it out.
GCBC’s lobby/arrivals building, with its cascades of purple-pink bougainvillea, is new. “Every year the hotel gets better,” says GM Steve Wright. Its 71 suites occupy white, low-rise buildings that hug Grand Case beach. Look to the left, and you see several dozen Grand Case restaurants, close enough for an easy stroll yet distant enough for silence at night. Turn right, and a promontory with structures on it might remind you of St. Barth’s Eden Rock.
That promontory features an elevated swimming pool (a 2015 addition) where guests float off last night’s dinner or relax on the deck. I saw two couples with children, too, but most guests were adults, some of them foodies, others just seeking a warm, low-key getaway. Next to the deck is a pavilion, and on the perimeter of the promontory a path has plaques honoring couples who’ve gotten married there. When I asked Wright how a couple can get one, he said, “If a couple sends us a plaque, we’re happy to install it.” What if the marriage doesn’t last? Wright smiled. “If they want the plaque removed, we do ask them to pay for that.” Seems reasonable.
My favorite part of the promontory was the Sunset Cafe, the place for petit dejeuner (included) and lunch. At dinner the cafe is candlelit and romantic, yet still informal. That’s where I photographed Philippe, who served me an exquisitely seared tuna with a chilled Sancerre one night. People dined while watching giant tarpon in the shallow water, attracted to the lights.
I spent part my time at GCBC on the beach and tooling around on the kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. One day I drove to the Dutch side and Parotte Ville, a new walk-in aviary where you can interact with small parrots; it’s my new favorite St. Maarten attraction. Another day watersports director Jerome Clabau zipped me out to Creole Rock, which rises from the sea a half mile from the beach. There I went snorkeling amid fish of every hue.
I also spent time eating in Grand Case, of course. Its roughly 70 restaurants range from no-frills local eateries to temples of international gastronomy, many of them French and/or French with a Creole zing. La Auberge Gourmande, in a restored old house with paintings by Sir Roland Richardson, exemplifies this. Dishes featuring escargot and sole are French classics, but the Chilean sea bass has a Caribbeanesque coconut
sauce that’s still wine friendly—a good
thing, too, because La Auberge’s wine cellar is sensational.
When I asked the manager at Le Tastevin, overlooking the water, to describe his restaurant, he said, “we have a French kitchen emphasizing fresh produce or French ingredients.” But there, too, the chef springs some surprises, so my Martini glass of gazpacho had cinnamon and vanilla.
One night I dined at Ocean 82, a waterfront restaurant that artfully combines tradition and modernity, from the white-on-burgundy tablecloths to the seared tuna (you can see I like tuna) with mango citrus salad. If there were nothing else in town, this trio would justify the journey, but Grand Case’s local lolos serve delicious food, too. One night at Sky’s the Limit another diner recommended the barbecued ribs, but I was in the mood for grilled fish. I asked the waitress if they could grill a red snapper so it’s still moist. “Of course!” she exclaimed.“ We’ll prepare it any way you want it!” And they did.
The suites at GCBC feature wicker furniture, white bedding with chocolate-colored sashes, and as happens at many French Caribbean hotels (even this one, with its North American clientele), kitchens. Given the ease of buying fresh fish, fine wine, French cheeses, and local produce in town, some guests prepare lunches and even meals in their suites and dine on their patios.
One day I asked Wright if many guests book through retail travel advisors. The answer was an emphatic yes. “We have the mentality that we’re working with partners,” he added. Some of the agents book direct; others use tour operators such as Delta Vacations, Travel Impressions and WestJet.
Of the five kinds of accommodations, the studio is perfectly fine, but I’d recommend a 600-sq.-ft. 1-bedroom. Above all, make sure you book ocean front for admiring the sunset from one’s terrace. Ocean Suites start
at $225 ($425 in high season) and a 1-bedroom Ocean starts at $255 ($490 in high season). Add 15 percent tax. Bonus fact: Christmas week rates are no higher than
high season rates.
Grand Case Beach Club: grandcasebeachclub.com