Home away from home. This is how we felt during the stay at L'Esplanade St. Maarten, a family-owned boutique hotel perched on a hilltop in Grand Case, on the French side of the island. The location, the service and the views made for an unforgettable stay.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: small hotels, family-owned businesses are more to our liking than huge hotels, with hundreds of rooms, where you feel like another number in a long line. Searching for accommodation for our second trip to St. Maarten in two years we've come across Le Petit Hotel, the sister property of L'Esplanade. However, since the former was fully booked, we opted for the latter. We had a look on its website and saw the numerous awards received: The Caribbean Journal named it one of the Caribbean's Best Luxury Boutique Hotels and TripAdvisor Traveller's Choice Awards classed it as one of the 25 best hotels in the Caribbean. L'Esplanade has been a TripAdvisor winner in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011-2015, as well as a World Travel Awards winner in 2007, 2010-2014. Therefore, we were looking forward to this stay.
Barely arrived at the hotel and the first surprise was to meet Ana-Maria behind the check-in desk. A young lady from our country (more than 8,500 km away) who has been living in St. Maarten for the past 10 years. After checking-in, we went for a quick tour on the grounds of this lovely boutique hotel. L'Esplanade is perched on the hill above the village of Grand Case on the French side of St. Martin, a five-minute walk from Grand Case Bay and the town's world-famous gourmet restaurants known as "Restaurant Row". As we would find out the next day, Boulevard de Grand Case is still a tiny, one-lane street where people stop to say "Hello", lined with brightly-painted traditional houses one can recognize from historical photos. Today, many of these heritage buildings are home to boutiques, art galleries and restaurants.
Descending the beautiful staircase from the Reception, we headed to the pool, taking a look at the lush gardens which surround the hotel. There were also several iguanas and geckos, but as long as you don't bother them (especially the bigger ones) it's ok. As Ana-Maria was telling us, many returning guests head directly to the pool after checking in. It wasn't long before we've seen why. The pool area of L'Esplanade is an oasis of palms, but the star attraction is Alain at the poolside bar. A few minutes chatting with Alain—plus one of his signature cocktails—and you will forget there is a world beyond L'Esplanade. During the season, Alain can be found at the pool bar from late morning until evening preparing exotic cocktails of his own invention, like the Rendezvous, as well as lunch and snacks. The pool and poolside lounges are available at any time. Guests of L'Esplanade are also invited to use beach chairs, parasols, snorkel gear, kayaks and paddle boards at Le Petit Hotel, the sister beachfront property located at the other end of Grand Case. A nice detail: the pool of L'Esplanade has recently been heated, so now you can spend some romantic moments with your loved one, sipping one of Alain's signature cocktails, even after the sun goes down.
Speaking of ways to unwind at L'Esplanade... Besides watching the sunset over Grand Case Bay while enjoying a glass of wine - every day, after 6 PM, guests can sample some of the finest wines, for free, in the area next to the Reception - there's also Ti Spa. An "oasis within an oasis", here you can enjoy a variety of massages, healing and personal care treatments. There are dozens of options to choose from or you can enjoy a customized Ti Spa experience created just for you. Also worth mentioning is the new Ti Temple. Here, guests can take part in yoga classes and participate at events such as weddings, reunions or special ceremonies.
On the second day of our stay we met Kristin, one of the owners of L'Esplanade. She knows a thing or two about hospitality and she told us the story of this boutique hotel. L'Esplanade has been owned and operated by the Petrelluzzi family since it was built in 1992. The concept was simple, and hasn't changed: a beautiful hotel built in the perfect location. The hotel is designed to provide absolute relaxation, an authentic Caribbean experience and genuine hospitality. Kristin and Marc Petrelluzzi arrived to visit Marc's parents almost twenty years ago and never left. Their vacation turned into the beginning of a new life on the island. Under their care, L'Esplanade has thrived, reflecting their passion, vision and perfectionism. Today, the hotel is as beautiful as ever: 24 rooms tucked away in a hillside oasis. Kristin and Marc are still there every day sharing their genuine warmth and looking for new ways to improve the guest experience, like the newly-opened Ti Spa. Kristin also told us that the hotel undergoes upgrades every year, so each time you return for a stay you'll notice something new. No wonder L'Esplanade has received so many awards...
Each of the 24 residences features a private balcony overlooking the village and the turquoise sea, as well as Premium imported linens and king-size Celestial Beds. During the stay we've also noticed unique Spanish-Mediterranean mosaics, exquisite hand-painted Mexican tilework, and Moroccan lanterns which complement the breathtaking ocean views. Every room at L'Esplanade boasts glowing hand-crafted Brazilian woodwork, Balinese furniture, and rich French fabrics. But more than these, L'Esplanade won us over with the friendliness of the staff and the impeccable service. Attentive, but unobtrusive, the hotel's employees are ready to help you right away when you need something and fade into the background when you don't. Actually, we wouldn't call them "employees", but "friends" since they had a great role in making us feel at home, away from home. Next year we'll return to St. Maarten and L'Esplanade hotel will surely be one of the places we'll stop at to say "Hi!" www.lesplanade.com
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