Long considered a stopover island on the way to St. Barth’s, St. Martin has come into its own, earning a reputation as a must-visit destination for its romantic seclusion and lively bicultural appeal. Divided in two—one side French, the other Dutch (that’s technically St. Maarten)—the tiny island has big personality, and is peppered with charming restaurants that feel like hidden gems, colorful shops owned by friendly locals, and white-sand beaches so beautiful they look as if they’ve been enhanced by one of Instagram’s soft-focus, sunrise-dappled filters.
While the Dutch side boasts high-end shopping (stores like Cartier and Montblanc), the French side is where you should settle in for your honeymoon stay—in particular, at Karibuni Lodge, a luxe boutique hotel that overlooks the sea. After all, no one does amour quite like the French; here, you get to experience the legendary romance closer to home (flights are just about four hours from Philadelphia), and under a shining Caribbean sun.
BY DAY You’ll first want to visit Pinel Island, a tiny speck off the coast of the Bay de Cul de Sac. You can grab a gratis boat ride there from the resort, but it’s more fun to kayak over. (It’s only a mile away.) Manon, the friendly and helpful daughter of the resort’s French-expat owners Marion and Erick Clement, will help you get comfy in one of the lodge’s kayaks, and even give you a helpful push to get you on your way. Guests of the lodge’s restaurant, Le Karibuni, get reserved lounge chairs on Pinel, as well as top-notch service from the beach bar. (Think personal rafts and cocktails delivered to you in the water.) Scuba diving and paddleboarding in the calm, lagoon-like waters are perfect ways to while away the day. If you want more activity, head to nearby Orient Bay, where you can parasail, paraglide, jet ski and, if we’re being honest, gawk at some of the clothing-optional stretches of shore.
BY NIGHT Head to Grand Case, a quaint fishing village 10 minutes from the lodge, for a divine, leisurely meal. Many dinner spots here will leave a bottle of their house-made rum on the table for you to enjoy long after they’ve cleared away your dishes. In downtown Maho, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to Vegas, all glitter and lights and sparkle. And you’ll find more clubby action—steel drum bands and discotheques—over on the Dutch side of the island.
WHERE TO STAY The under-the-radar, quietly posh Karibuni Lodge feels like an undiscovered treasure, though the well-traveled set is quickly learning of its charms. No sprawling, cookie-cutter island resort, the boutique hotel feels more like a luxe treehouse. A secluded enclave of only six suites and a small, quiet pool, it’s perched high on a hill on the island’s north shore. It’s even hard to find—you travel up a narrow, winding road and enter a passcode to gain access to the gated community. Once you’re there, you feel as if you’re on a private island. Rooms are colorful and bright, with expansive patios that look out over lush tropical gardens and the Bay de Cul de Sac, and hammocks perfect for afternoon lounging. And the proprietary family is available for anything you may need, from making dinner reservations to getting you whisked away to one of the tiny isles dotting the bay.
WHAT TO EAT For real, never-leave- your-room romance, stock your kitchenette at Simply Market, a vast grocery store just a few miles from Karibuni Lodge. (Bonus: It sells alcohol, too.) Be sure to grab at least one loaf of crusty French bread—it’s made fresh daily, and is as light, airy and delectable as the loaves served in Parisian cafes. Open until late afternoon on the beach of Pinel Island is the famed off-resort restaurant Le Karibuni, nestled among the coconut palms and serving up the freshest fish around. And along restaurant row in Grand Case, you’ll find French bistros (Sol e Luna is especially lovely) and lolos (food stalls that serve authentic Caribbean fare and amazing BBQ).
WHAT TO PACK Simple, no-fuss beach- wear for day (though you’ll want to leave room in your suitcase for stocking up on the cute cover-ups and sarongs for sale in the tiny, palm-tree-shaded gift shop on the left side of Pinel). Leave your heels at home, but be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen.
BEST TIMES TO GO May and June have nice (if humid) weather, as hurricane season is just beginning. (You won’t get any bad storms, just sporadic showers.) It gets much hotter from July through October; expect temps to be in the high 80s, but fewer crowds mean more privacy, and plenty of seating on the beach and at restaurants. Book early to score a spot from winter through early spring— airfare and room prices are marked up, as this is a particularly popular time to travel to the island.
NEWLYWED NEWS Splurge on Karibuni’s pink suite; it’s the only room with a private pool (which, naturally, overlooks the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea).
GETTING THERE A direct flight from PHL to St. Martin takes about four hours. You’ll want to rent a car for the 40-minute cross-island drive to the hotel, and to have on hand for exploring and dining during your stay.