An exclusive retreat on St. Martin, in the French West Indies, La Samanna pampers guests with privacy, luxury, and service.
La Samanna. It’s a beguiling name for a luxury resort, rolling off the tongue like a breathy whisper, or a wave lapping gently on a deserted beach. You won’t, however, find it in any dictionary. A portmanteau of the names of the resort founders’ three daughters — Samantha, Natalie and Amanda —prefaced by an appropriately feminine French article, the chic and charming name captures the essence of this alluring hideaway, set on a two-mile stretch of secluded beach on Saint Martin in the French West Indies.
Like its name, La Samanna is a combination of elements, and a visit to this acclaimed and recently renovated Orient-Express hotel is a total immersion in unbridled glamour and luxury. A 10-minute taxi ride from Princess Julianna International Airport, the resort is nestled on a 55-acre private estate fronting the powder-soft sand of Baie Longue, basking under a cobalt sky, and promising the decadent yet discreet ambiance of a lavish Caribbean island resort. Given that La Samanna offers only 83 luxurious guest rooms, and a two-to-one staff to guest ratio, it’s no wonder the resort is a favorite of high-profile personalities seeking privacy, from European nobility to Hollywood royalty such as Robert De Niro, Oprah Winfrey and Harrison Ford.
Even when the property is at full capacity, it’s not uncommon to be the only person sunning languidly on the beautiful beach surrounded by a turquoise sea where guests can take advantage of snorkel charters, water skiing, sailboat rentals, and deep-sea fishing excursions. In the other direction, the beach extends to a dramatic cliff, presided over by the handsome all-white resort and exclusive villas.
La Samanna’s original owners were inspired to build the resort in 1972 after touring the Greek islands, and it’s clear the architecture pays homage to the sun-soaked stucco homes perched along the Mediterranean coastline. The resort’s gardens are filled with more than a hundred varieties of lush indigenous Caribbean flora, from bright and colorful tropical flowers to fragrant plants like the ylang ylang tree — an essential ingredient of Chanel No.5 — that infuses the evening air with its heady perfume. The accommodation’s interiors, meanwhile, are designed to capture a French-Asian Colonial ambiance. The result is sumptuous — light carved wood furnishings accented by translucent colors, teak offset with touches of bamboo, natural tactile textures, and unobtrusive, elegant prints.
The resort has enjoyed inspired renovations since Orient-Express acquired it in 1996, most recently with a two-phase, $8 million project (completed in December 2012) and featuring new living areas, bathrooms and kitchens to 50 guest rooms, suites and cottages, each with their own sea-facing balcony or terrace. The refurbished rooms are now adorned with original artworks paying tribute to St. Martin’s bright future and deep-rooted history with watercolor prints by 25-year-old local wunderkind Antoine Chapon, and more than a hundred magnificent oil paintings by Sir Roland Richardson. The renowned “Father of Caribbean Impressionism” traces his French island heritage back to the 1700s and, as the resort’s resident artist, he’s often found painting en plein air in the inspiring gardens.
La Samanna’s piéces de resistance are its three- and four-bedroom, two-level villas offering 4,600 square feet of elegant space, anchored by high-ceilinged open living, kitchen and dining spaces with dramatic arches, gleaming tiles, and gently curved whitewashed walls. Glass doors open to an extravagant wrap-around lanai with an infinity-edge pool, imbuing each villa with balmy sea air. Private balconies crown the sprawling upstairs suites, with beds canopied by light drapes, handsome office alcoves (although the only agenda item should be to disconnect from the world), and oversize marble bathrooms with glass-enclosed showers and soaking tubs. Personal concierge service, twice-daily housekeeping, and 24/7 private dining in the resplendent villas add to La Samanna’s casual, linen-crisp luxury. The resort is nothing if not refined.
Its al fresco beach bar and recently remodeled, lobby-side Baie Longue bar offer convivial, laid-back vibes for unwinding, light dining, and sunset cocktails. Beachside lobster barbecues, featuring locally harvested daily catches, can also be arranged. La Samanna’s two new restaurants, however, offer truly top-notch gourmet dining. Thanks to Chef Gil Dumoulin and his culinary team, Trellis crafts a menu of delicious French cuisine on a regal, columned terrace overlooking the beach and sea. For the ultimate in atmospheric luxury, descend to La Cave. Boasting the largest selection of wine in the Caribbean, this romantic cellar feels almost otherworldly, its cool, labyrinthine stone walls tucked beneath the resort’s main building, illuminated with flickering pillar candles, and leading to a chamber with an imposing dining table. Here guests reserve a table to indulge in first-rate cuisine, choose from 12,000 acclaimed labels (including La Samanna’s lauded private label wine), and partake in pairings from La Cave’s cheese cellar, which receives twice-weekly deliveries from France’s Maison Bordier fromagerie.
The resort offers easy accessibility to all 37 miles of the island, with excursion opportunities including guided shopping tours, half-day charters on Sammy Girl (La Samanna’s 43-foot captained boat with open bar), and tours to surrounding islands like the picture-perfect Pinel Island. This word-of-mouth gem is a tiny sliver of sand with shaded tiki huts, spectacular snorkeling, and a tropical grill. Whether you’re keeping your game sharp at the resort’s tennis courts or easing away stress at its Zen-like, seven-room spa, it’s unlikely you’ll want to leave for long. There it is again, that curious combination that defines La Samanna — rarely does an island retreat feel, intuitively, like home.
lasamanna.com; La Samanna is also a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, lhw.com