On 6th September 2017 Hurricane Irma pounded the island that is jointly the Dutch-administered Sint Maarten and St Martin, a French protectorate. The entire island still bears obvious scars – the gal got off the cruise ship in Philipsburg, capital of the Dutch side, and the route to the luxury Belmond La Samanna, in St Martin, goes past what look like rubbish heaps of battered boats of all sizes. Complete buildings have been razed, others now have new roofs. La Samanna itself was closed, immediately, and reopened only December 10th, 2018, though apparently most of the new furniture is still awaited. The gardens, however, are as beautiful as ever, and all the two-floor villas are back to their pristine white.
Eleonore Astier-Petin, who arrived three months ago to re-open the hotel, is not new to challenges – she has spent years, on and off, in French Polynesia and Cambodia. She also has Caribbean experience. Grace Leo hired her to head The Cotton House on Mustique, and then she followed Grace Leo’s GLA Hotels to Indonesia (Eleonore Astier-Petin, by the way, started out determined to go into the fashion industry and, Bachelor of Arts already in hand, was waiting to do a Masters in New Zealand when she got diverted to selling black pearls in a hotel boutique in Bora Bora, and her life changed direction). Her fashion instinct is, however, apparent everywhere – I love the fashions worn by some of the 120 full-time staff, namely rose-pink trousers topped by blue and white striped shirts (these outfits come from J. Jalini in London).
Among the visitors at La Samanna that day was Giampaolo Ottazzi, GM of Belmond Cipriani in Venice – he, poor guy, was fashion-free as he was still awaiting his bags. La Samanna, by the way, was named back in 1971 for the three daughters of James Frankel, who not only ran Rochester Iron & Metal in the NY State city of that name but also introduced FAEMA Express to the USA. He built his hotel and called it after his three daughters, Samantha, Anouk and Natalie. Today, the 55 acres that overlook what many say is the prettiest of St Martin’s 36 white sand beaches is home to a village-type hotel, with 83 rooms, and 18 villas that each have three or four bedrooms. The post-hurricane design is all by Inge Moore, the South African who has done such a truly splendid job with the interiors of Belmond’s Andean Explorer train – her portfolio also includes Belmond Miraflores, in Lima, and restaurants at Belmond Monasterio, in Cuzco, plus the Alpina Grand, Gstaad, and Luxury Collection properties in San Sebastien and Seville.
Interestingly this is one of the few properties in the Belmond portfolio that Belmond actually owns, which means it will ultimately belong to the Arnault family when LVMH closes on its deal to buy Belmond. It is quite possible that Arnaults might discover the appeal of St Martin – until Irma, this luxury saw 35% repeat guests, average stay 4.5 nights. Then, as already now, 90% of those staying are leisure, with 85% coming from the USA. The family feeling is born out by those regulars, who bring their kids (and dogs, if under 25 kilos) who later grow up and bring their own offspring. As Swiss watch giant Patek Philippe, born 1839 and still going strong, has been proclaiming for years, luxury is investment for future generations. AND NOW ENJOY THE BEACH VIEW, AND A GARDEN CORNER