My four girlfriends and I flew into Princess Juliana Airport (SXM) from San Francisco, Washington, DC, New York, and Toronto for a four-night stay in a villa at La Samanna in St Martin, French West Indies. We made a rookie error, and had stopped at the supermarket, Le Grand Marché, on our way from the airport to the villa. There, we ran into a man wearing a La Samanna Villas polo shirt, also shopping. We spoke, and he said, "So what are you doing here? Anchise should be doing your shopping for you!" Our friend's credit card was declined for security purposes. "Don't worry!" he said. "We'll put it on your bill."
We thanked him, only slightly more clued in to the oasis of service that awaited us.
We arrived at Sula (Villa Six), built three years ago on a point facing west, with a 180-degree view of the ocean. The ceilings soared, the decor was elegant, peaceful and comfortable, and there were enough outside areas we could each have our own - or fit together in one. The three bedrooms were equally beautiful, and the bathrooms and bathtubs were almost comically large. The only imperfection was a slightly-too-small step in the middle of the curved staircase, which required care in an environment that got more carefree with every bottle of Prosecco opened.
Our personal concierge, Anchise, greeted us, gave us a tour, showed us the pre-stocked refrigerator with soda, beer and Champagne, and got down to business. He was there to help us. All the time. We strategised about dinner - in, out, room service, or personal chef? Should he run to the supermarket for something we could grill on the villa's Weber? We decided to make parmesan melts, and he delivered two pieces of parchment paper.
So this is what it means to rent a villa on a resort. You have the space of a villa, and the amenities of a luxury resort. And because it's part of a luxury resort, you don't have the underlying fear that the villa you rented won't live up to your expectations. You also get the security of a resort, and the pleasure of living in a resort bubble. You get the New York Times Digest, and have someone to take out the trash, set up your sun lounger, and make - and then turn down - your bed. You can take complimentary fitness classes at the gym, go to the spa, and order room service.
Every morning, we walked to breakfast at the resort. And every morning, it was a little shocking to see so many people. But the buffet was worth it: everything you could desire, plus a lunch entrée we assumed was for jet-lagged guests who had already eaten breakfast at 4am. Thoughtful.
Our first afternoon was filled with the requisite spa visit. The massage was one of the best, reported our much-massaged friend. The spur-of-the-moment teeth whitening done by another friend delivered brilliantly. Only the pedicures were a bit less exceptional than hoped. But with massage rooms that opened onto the flora and fauna, and private outside showers, the spa setting was exceptional.
The second afternoon we rented a car and headed to Front Street in Phillipsburg. The presence of Cartier drew us in, but the mass of cruise ship tourists drove us on. We ended up in Grand Case for lunch at a beach bar called Calmo's, after picking up beach-jewellery and small gifts at Boutique Nulle Part Ailleurs.
The third afternoon, we kept our gold Honda Accord, and made a much-anticipated trip to Sunset Bar & Grill to watch a KLM 747 from Amsterdam land over the beach. Every day, everyone on the island with an iota of 'plane geek' (a surprisingly large number of people) shows up and stands in proximity relative to their willingness to take risks. Some even hang off the fence at the end of the runway.
St Martin is a bit more interesting than its Caribbean neighbours, being half-French and half-Dutch, and is accessible from Europe with direct flights from Amsterdam and Paris. La Samanna is also close to the airport, faces West and delivers spectacular sunsets, and has a European charm that combines nicely with the beauty of the Caribbean.
But really, a villa at La Samanna is enough of a reason to go. And since Villa Six isn't for sale, we'll have to settle for renting it whenever the opportunity arises - and enjoy the perks that come with it.