Cigar Aficionado

La Samanna, St. Martin, French West Indies

The key to a Caribbean vacation is reconciling seclusion with convenience. You want the sense that you left the madding world, but without having to expend too much energy on airline transfers, ferry excursions and taxi rides to get there. When you enter the French colonial lobby of La Samanna, hidden away at the outskirts of St. Martin’s Terres Basses, you’ll feel you’ve achieved just that. Not far from a direct plane ride, but sea changes away from the stress you left behind—and even agreeably separated from more of the same right on the island—you’ll feel you’ve arrived in your own decompression chamber.

You’re now free to swim in the infinity pool that overlooks the sea. If you’re not even that driven, step up to the bar and enjoy a well-deserved gin and tonic, served to perfection (tall rail-thin glass, big ice cubes). Then head for a spacious cabana set on what is arguably the finest stretch of beach on the island. Lay out on the sumptuous beds within and look out, unobstructed, to clear water; though it may feel isolated, you won’t be too far from civilization with iPod and flat-screen television all part of your beach domain.

Of course, those ambitious enough for activity have outlets: three tennis courts, fitness center with pilates and yoga instruction, sailing, snorkeling, water skiing, windsurfing. But don’t overdo it right away, lest you need, not want, a visit to the Elysées Spa with its private garden.

Now an Orient-Express property, this venerable hotel has undergone a much-needed renovation, modernizing the airy rooms with their private terraces and capacious bathrooms. Added in the makeover are eight luxurious three- and four-bedroom villas (private plunge pools, rooftop decks) that are also available for rental. These are large enough to house a small clan, but without ever feeling anyone is underfoot (after all, the secret to a family vacation is the illusion of togetherness).

While La Samanna is small to begin with (a combination 83 rooms, suites and cottages), it feels even less crowded, because while being truly exclusive, it exudes an insouciant atmosphere. The dining is much the same: the combination French/Caribbean menu is top drawer, but the venues—which include the open-air Le Réservé, The Grill by the pool, the Beach Bar and private dining on your terrace—feel laid back. La Cave, the hotel’s wine cellar, maintains a 1,250 list and can double as a restaurant. Baie Long Bar is the place to head after dinner, where a mix of fun tropical drinks and classic cocktails are prepared with top-shelf ingredients (the resort even has its own signature rum). The Moroccan décor is the perfect complement to the selection of Cuban cigars, which will invite conversation or create its own kind of solitude.