Orient Bay, St. Martin
St. Martin's Riviera-Style Hideaway
By Hal Peat
As you enter the coastal resort of Orient Bay on French St. Martin, you might imagine for just a moment that you have arrived somewhere along the Cote d'Azur. But while France is far away, St. Martin has its own version of Gallic elegance and casual freedom, and Orient Bay reflects this with flair. Forming a crescent-shaped bite on the St. Martin's northeastern shoreline, this coastal hideaway is best known among discerning travelers for its beach lifestyle. You can spend your days just along the long swathes of white powder forming the seven mile-long bay front, indulging in your favorite water sport activity, or passing the time at some of the bars, bistros and restaurants. At other times, you can explore some of the nearby points of interest that provide their own dimension to this side of St. Martin.
What to Do Around Orient Bay
Some come to indulge in their favorite extreme sport, while others are here to just be extremely at ease in their beach chairs, contemplating the action out on the bay and the parade of humanity that makes its way along the beach. Many of the hotels have guest privileges at the beach area restaurants, so that you can charge use of any services or meals there back to your hotel room. It all allows for day-long visits onto the shore with all the creature comforts at hand.
Several well-established operators provide a wide array of water sport equipment, instruction and outings. Some offer visits to the surrounding tiny islands by jet ski, or an awesome vista of the Bay itself from the elevation of a parasailing session, or sailing excursions to the islet of Tintamarre by hobie cat to discover its mineral rich cliffs and mud baths. Wonderful marine conditions in and around the Bay also mean that you may even possibly spot some of the local inhabitants while windsurfing or sailing. Club Nathalie Simon is a leader operator at several premier windsurfing destinations around the Caribbean, and their facilities at Orient Bay are first class. Thanks to the steady winds that prevail throughout most of the year hereabouts, they also do a brisk business in the extreme sport of kitesurfing, with all the facilities on hand such as changing room, storage, fresh water, and shower. Sea kayak, jetskis and surfboards are also available at the center. Kontiki Watersports, located at the northern end of the beach near the restaurant of the same name, offers everything from scuba and snorkeling packages in the area waters to hobie cat sailing excursions and jet ski rentals.
Where to Explore Beyond Orient Bay
The long stretch of Orient Bay contains both points of interest within its span, but even more awaits just a short drive inland and to the south that can provide a worthwhile diversion from the beach and water sport scene. Any of these nearby locations can be a memorable diversion or adventure during a stay in Orient Beach:
- Butterfly Farm (Le Galion Beach Rd.; www.thebutterflyfarm.com) - a very different way to spend your morning, and just at the southern end of the Bay, Butterfly Farm is an entrancing refuge for some 40 species of butterfly. Long pathways lead up and down the dense foliage that is home to butterflies, moths, caterpillars and their crysalises. Butterflies float all about - and may even alight on your shoulder in greeting.
- Loterie Farm (Tel: (590) 87 86 11) - step back in time and nature to an untrammeled Caribbean landscape. This privately operated rainforest preserve near Pic Paradis features an easy one to one and a half hour-long hike through dense high canopied forest and more level, lightly covered paths that provide splendid views of the countryside. The recently added Fly Zone is a high-wire thrill near the canopy that you will also want to check out.
- Mont-Vernon Plantation (www.plantationmontvernon.com) - at this former working plantation, you get to look at the plants, buildings and equipment that formed part of the estate. A building with colorful early poster and label art and samples of rum bottling, a wide variety of samples of crops that were previously grown here, and a well stocked visitor center make this a fascinating journey back into St. Martin's past.
Where to Stay
Commercial buildings and accommodation are mainly found close to the wide expanse of shore and hillsides forming the Baie de l'Orient. Once you arrive, much of what you may need is within walking distance. If not, take a taxi from the main shopping plazas near the sands at Orient Beach or from your hotel to the larger towns of St. Martin such as Grand Case or Marigot, the capital.
For the traveler who opts for all the guest comforts and amenities but also appreciates the individuality of a private residence, the perfect combination is located in the hillside hideaway of Green Cay Villas. You can be as private or as sociable as you want within the spacious confines of your villa-style structure, outdoor deck and pool, and stunning vistas of the bay below. You also have easy access to the beaches a few minutes' walk away or even shorter drive. The living here combines self-service and luxurious amenities: so for instance, you can enjoy a full daily continental breakfast laid out on your lounge or deck area, fix meals in your fully-equipped kitchen, or choose to dine out on a wide range of cuisine just minutes away.
Another excellent mid-sized hotel combining traditional Creole style architecture, lavish private space and luxury amenities is La Plantation. This 52 unit hillside retreat has everything onsite - world-class dining, facilities ranging from swimming pool to gym. La Plantation sits in the middle of five acres of tropical gardens just five minutes from the center of Orient Beach. Its seventeen colonial style villas are divided into one suite and two studio units, each decorated in warm, bright colors featuring hand-painted murals and friezes evoking Caribbean themes. The main dining area, Cafe Plantation, is located by the swimming pool and offers either buffet breakfast before you head off for the day or romantic Gallic cuisine under the stars at night.