Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

For me, gardens exert a magnetic attraction. So, as luck would have it, on my recent trip to the French side of St. Martin, I experienced two gems that satisfied my need to be ensconced in properties dominated by nature. I left any worries I may have had far behind as I entered each of these gated accommodations that offered a sense of vibrancy, authenticity, warmth and security — perfect for someone who often travels the world alone.

Palm Court Residence

On the windward side of St. Martin, the Palm Court Residence in Orient Bay is a colorful, 21-room boutique property with lush gardens, and bold colors embellishing the facade, the interior spaces and the furnishings.

Each of the vibrantly-hued, sunny guest rooms comes with a terrace (patio) or balcony. But it’s the striking colors that I found especially attractive: red-orange and lemon-yellow hued accents predominate, along with crimson and lime-green shades that adorn just about everything, from the lampshades to the throw pillows.

The unfussy guest rooms, as well as the gardens and public spaces are sprinkled with some smart decorative items, including stylish objects from Morocco, such as wrought iron tables with mosaic tops, ornate iron mirror frames and chairs, a duo of immense artistic (nonfunctional) wooden doors, and ceramic urns set atop tables.

The low-key breakfast vibe is a welcome way to start the day. Sitting poolside in a gingerbread-detailed gazebo, I enjoyed warm (and fluffy) croissants, creamy yogurt drizzled with honey, cheeses, and espresso.

It’s a very short stroll to Orient Beach and its delightfully long stretch of sands. But, sometimes I just preferred to relax at the Palm Court, lounging by the pool with its dramatically colored umbrellas and cushions. There, I was captivated by the abundant foliage and the blue skies dotted with puffy clouds. I also enjoyed visiting the sunlit, geodesic-shaped lounge space/library — it’s mostly glass enclosed — where I often curled up with a book.

The landscape is a cornucopia of botanicals: Mexican fan palms, weeping figs, button mangrove, narrow sword ferns, great bougainvillea with brilliant crimson blooms, orange jasmine, and golden trumpet with canary yellow blossoms.

In the rear of the property stretches a well-tended lawn with numerous organ pice cacti, yucca and bougainvillea. Beyond, a circular area is planted with prickly pear cacti, Turk’s cap and other xerophytes. For a biologist like me, I found this diversity fascinating.

Peppering this soothing landscape are numerous seating options to chill — some in the shade and others in direct sun — whether in a hammock, ornate wrought iron chair (with lime green or red cushions) or a chez. A few chairs, for example, sit under a neem tree adjacent to the pool where they catch the light of the low sun late in the day.

Privacy and convenience is what I found at the Palm Court that was a five- to 10-minute walk to some wonderful (and fun) bars and restaurants. This includes the KKO Beach Bar and Restaurant and Coco Beach, two beachfront establishments where I enjoyed lunch and a glass of chilled pinot grigio. (I highly recommend the grilled sardines at KKO, and their luscious chocolate mousse with an almond tuile.) In the evening, I would walk to La Place du Village Orient Bay, a lovely courtyard steps from the beach brimming with eateries. My two favorite restaurants include L’Atelier and the newly opened Maison Mere. (At L’Atelier, the mahi ceviche with fresh mango; and the wahoo carpaccio with pomegranate made for a tasty pair of inventive appetizers.)

Karibuni Boutique Hotel

With just half a dozen modern suites that are set on a hilltop within a gated community, the Karibuni Boutique Hotel feels like a private getaway, though it’s just a short drive from Grand Case. In fact, with its sense of serenity, it feels world’s away.

(If you’re wondering about the derivation of the property’s name, the word “karibuni” means “welcome” in Swahili because Manon Clement, the GM of this family-owned property, was born in Kenya.)

The suites are sun-filled, decorated with local and found objects that are sometimes quirky, something that adds whimsy to the contemporary decor. In one suite — each room has a different decor and color palette, from teal to earth tones — a corossol fruit-shaped container holds a variety of sea shells and colorful sea glass.

Beside the king-size bed is a fish sculpture crafted from metal fabric, and a wooden one hovers over the headboard. On one wall, a colorful cactus hangs, painted by Manon’s mother. A ceramic pot holds pink blossomed oleander. And in the spacious bathroom with its rainfall shower are a multitude of Chinese hibiscus blossoms.

Three suites come with a private plunge pool and another has a private swimming pool, each on an expansive deck. The other suites have access to a communal pool (with a red starfish float) that’s ringed by foliage, and organically-shaped lounge chairs.

I was especially infatuated with the many botanicals dotting the property: areca palms, button mangrove, blooming firecracker plants, spineless yucca and Cuban oregano. Adjacent to one of the suites is purple blossomed palay rubber vine. The outdoor sitting area near the reception building is replete with vases and planters and a ledge holding water mint, urn plants and scarlet stars.

In keeping with the informal, creative vibe, the reception building resembles a tree house. It’s a wood plank hut painted a olive green hue with a sapphire blue door. A bifurcated tree trunk holds up a wood plank desk.

But, the most striking aspect of this property is the to-die-for views from your suite’s deck. You have panoramic vistas of calm Cul de Sac Bay and several islands, including Little Key (Petite Clef) and Pinel where Karibuni’s owners also have a waterfront restaurant along an inviting strip of sand.

As a guest at Karibuni, you can grab one of their kayaks and head to Little Key to enjoy its snorkeling opportunities. Or cruise to Pinel Island by either paddling there or hopping aboard their private boat shuttle, a mere five-minute trip. There you have access to lounge chairs and umbrellas.

My spacious deck exerted a magnetic attraction, whether I was resting in the hammock or one of the lounge chairs. This is the place to stare at the turquoise waters where catamarans and single hull boats are anchored, and kayakers head to Pinel Island while a private boat speeds away.

In the early morning, all you’ll hear is the crowing of a rooster. The sunrise feels miraculous, as the sky is first painted with light tangerine and blonde streaks that rim the clouds; then it transforms into watermelon and coral.

When I strolled to my deck, I found a painted wooden fish on a stick that I raised high up to indicate that I’d like breakfast served. Shortly, one of the staff arrived with a tray in all its splendor: pineapple, kiwi and honeydew sliced in the skin or rind; three types of cheeses (Comte, Vieux pane and Cabecau), a baguette; chocolate and plain croissants; brioche; granola and yogurt with honey; butter, jams, coffee and juice.

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