La Samanna http://www.lasamanna.com/web/omar/omar_a1a_splash.jsp

We've already shared with you our insights about the solidly 5 dining experience we enjoyed so much at La Samanna one evening, the excellent lunch at the grill and also our affection for the splendidly upscale bar adjacent to the pool area.  But there's much more that we learned and experienced.

One of Sandra's requests when the trip was being planned was to be able to enjoy a manicure and pedicure soon after our arrival.  Ed, of course, wanted to fulfill that request and set about making inquiries as to what would be the very best place on the island to have that done.  The conclusion was it had to be the Elysées Spa at La Samanna.

The owner, Martine, was expecting Sandra and personally undertook the manicure and pedicure for her and did a very excellent job which required almost two hours.  The spa has a number of treatment rooms and is nicely decorated throughout.  The only downside from Sandra's perspective was the nail work is done in the open portico surrounding an attractive courtyard.  Indeed, it was a very attractive setting, but it also was quite warm and humid, and became progressively more so as time passed.  The open air environment also lent itself to another problem - the occasional, annoying mosquito.  The spa thoughtfully kept a can of repellant containing Deet within easy reach of patrons having their nails done.  A special note is warranted with respect to the polish that was applied - it's bulletproof!  Sandra is notorious for scratching and chipping the polish on her nails, but we observed this liquid Kevlar was amazing as subsequent days passed with all our activities, including beach time, not fazing it.  We thought surely it would be French, but discovered from the bottle Sandra had the presence of mind to purchase that it was made in the U.S. by Essie Cosmetics Ltd. www.essie.com (she chose "Tranquility", a very pleasant pearlesent shade which went nicely with any color attire).

Afterwards, Martine was adamant about not charging full price for the nail treatments because she insisted Sandra's nails were in excellent shape and required very little attention compared to most of her customers.  She also expressed surprise that Sandra's nails were all natural - Martine indicated that was another rarity for her.  Needless to say, she received a very nice tip.

The Elysées Spa offers far more than what Sandra experienced, including a variety of massages, skin treatments, facials, waxing and hair styling.  And, in case you're wondering, it's not just for the ladies.  There's even a special package for the men which includes a French Body Polish, a Body Wrap, a massage, a facial and a manicure - sounds like an all day event - priced at only 445 euro.  The good news is they offer U.S. dollar = euro.

Since Ed expected Sandra would be occupied for a good while at the spa, he had arrangements made before the trip to meet with La Samanna's Assistant Manager, Nathalie Schoener, to learn more about the resort and specifically to tour a variety of suites.  He found Nathalie to be very attractive, very pleasant, very intelligent, all business and very much a credit to La Samanna.  After they discussed Ed's particular objectives the first stop was at the newly finished wine cellar - magnifique!  We already have commented on La Samanna's extraordinary wine "book" and here was the resting place of all those wonderful choices - all 7,000 bottles.  The cellar, which indeed is below ground and accessed by stone steps, is comprised of a large central room with masonry walls and ceiling, and cobblestones from Paris forming the floor.  Around the perimeter are racks upon racks of wine bottles and in the center of the floor a single, large cask served as a table for the wine tastings that are held in the cellar.  They have plans to begin offering in the near future the use of the cellar for small, intimate dinners - that surely will afford the ultimate in romantic dining.  Adjacent to the primary cellar room is another large room which is crammed with stack upon stacks of cases of wine.  All very interesting and quite impressive.

Reluctantly leaving the cellar, Ed next was escorted to see a recently refurbished suite done in a new style which eventually will be incorporated in approximately half of the accommodations at the resort.  There's extensive use of neutral tone marble on the floors and sections of wall, and in the bathrooms there are expanses of mirror and lovely counters with modern, upscale fittings.  This new style is quite refreshingly elegant and a marked contrast to the traditional one accented with bright colors and Mexican tiles.  This means guests will have a very distinctive choice in decor and overall appearance.  The newly renovated suite was most impressive with the minor exception that it was flooded.  A pipe in one of the walls was the culprit.  Nathalie was immediately on her cell phone rapidly speaking French and Ed's impression was that she wasn't exactly having a cordial conversation.

Leaving the somewhat damp luxury suite, Nathalie led the way to another version some distance away which she had been assured was ready for viewing.  When they arrived a housekeeper had the place torn to pieces and obviously, to her credit, was giving it an extremely thorough top-to-bottom cleaning.  Nathalie was back on her cell phone.  Even though she was disappointed, Ed was indeed extremely impressed with the thoroughness of the cleaning that was in progress.

They returned to the main building and ascended the stairway to the third floor where the penthouse suites command an unbelievably beautiful, panoramic view from the balconies of the pool area and the entire sweep of Baie Longue.  Upon entering the suite to be shown, Nathalie found a workman doing some maintenance to the large rods and draperies that span the the glass between the sitting room and the balcony.  More words were spoken in rapid fire French and while Ed and Nathalie were inspecting the adjoining bedroom and bath area somehow miraculously all evidence of the maintenance work in progress disappeared.  Ed requested that all the lights in the huge sitting area be turned on to add a nice, inviting warmth to the photos he was making of this truly wonderful accommodation.  Two of the lamps refused to cooperate, but, undeterred, Nathalie remedied the situation with bulbs from the bedroom and then was on the cell phone again.  Ed did understand enough this time to surmise that light bulbs and testing of them were going to be the topic of the day with the housekeeping staff.  Another nice aspect of the lovely sitting and dining areas was the presence of an adjacent bar / kitchen counter area in an alcove which was well equipped and had attractive cabinets above.

As things would have it, dark clouds began forming along the horizon and by the time the steps had been descended to the reception area, it was pouring with rain.  Nathalie grabbed a large, golf type umbrella and off they went to see one of the three bedroom villas which has its own patio and separate garden terrace - very, very nice.  This villa was finished in the traditional La Samanna style and the bright, cheery colors splashed here and there contrasted well with the subdued dark woods of the furniture.

Back in the main building as they passed by the large, central table in the reception area with a flower display upon it, Ed remarked "Au Temps des Fleurs" and Nathalie looked at him and said "Why yes, that's right."  Ed didn't tell her it was an easily recognized smaller version of the same arrangement that was waiting to greet Sandra upon her arrival on the island.  Nathalie indicated she very much wanted to meet Sandra and did so later in the bar which was the designated rendezvous point after Sandra concluded the ministrations at the Elysées Spa.

We haven't supplied a lot of detailed description about what was seen on the tour because we think the pictures shown here and those that subsequently appear in our photo essay for this year's visit to the island speak volumes and you'll easily be able to draw your own conclusions.  We, however, will make a few overall general observations and comparisons which may help to put it all into a proper perspective.  Do we have any doubt that the the type of hotel accommodations offered at La Samanna are the finest currently available on the island?  No, not at all.  They are extremely nice and of particular note is the furniture of all types found in the various suites and villas - high quality, comfortable and much, much nicer than that seen at other resorts.  Also warranting a special note are the bathrooms which are extremely well done and quite deserving of the term "luxurious."

So now that we have a complete view of this legendary resort and its many amenities, what sort of comparisons would we make as a frame of reference?  It has no equal on the island in terms of its location on beautiful Baie Longue, the fabulous onsite restaurant, the attentive and congenial staff, the furnishings of the various types of accommodations, and the presence of a nice spa.  However, though in the same price range, it is no CuisinArt on nearby Anguilla which surpasses it to some degree in every respect, with the major exception of dining.  We can also say in terms of making additional direct comparisons where we have firsthand experience that the suites at Hotel L'Esplanade are very comparable, if not larger in size to the less expensive ones at La Samanna and the new furniture being installed at L'Esplanade approaches that found at La Samanna.  Currently, the original fittings, furnishings, tile work, cabinets and such at L'Esplanade, though adequate, simply are not in the same upscale league as those at La Samanna.  However, based on what we know at this point with regard to the plans in place for construction of the new luxury villas and the complete renovation with significant upgrading over time of the existing suites at Hotel L'Esplanade, it may become a moot point with respect to which offers the nicer accommodations.  There is no question that the grounds and the pool areas at L'Esplanade are far nicer and the overall maintenance program for the property is superior.

However, more changes also are planned at La Samanna.  We understand an additional dining area will be constructed soon and another pool will be added.  A new, interesting package is being made available that will offer yacht cruises in conjunction with stays at La Samanna.  "Through an exclusive cooperation with mega yacht broker No Limits Charters, the new package La Samanna By Sea offers guests a special 3- or 6- night cruise to complement their 3-night stay at this top-ranked resort.  Guest are offered luxurious 110 ft mega yachts which can sleep up to eight in gorgeous staterooms. The special itinerary while cruising includes St. Barths, Saba, St. Eustatius, Anguilla and St. Kitts/Nevis and/or several local uninhabited destinations in the Leeward Islands."

Our comments, especially our comparisons, shouldn't be construed to mean that we have anything other than a very favorable opinion of La Samanna.  Indeed, we were quite impressed and would have no hesitation to stay there on a visit to the island.  Overall, it's a wonderful place sufficiently self contained to allow visitors to be reclusive in luxurious style if they so choose or to use it as a fabulous home base from which to venture out to enjoy the great diversity of experiences St. Maarten / St. Martin have to offer.

We were candid in the summation about our overall impressions and observations with Bernard Sarme, Director Général for La Samanna, when we had the pleasure of meeting him on a subsequent occasion.  He was equally candid, which we immensely appreciated and respected, as he talked about the condition in which La Samanna had been before he accepted his position a few years ago.  Quite simply put, the grand lady of the island had been allowed to deteriorate in terms of its physical facilities and service, and it had required an aggressive, long term effort to restore the glory.  We think that Bernard is well on his way to accomplishing just that and under his capable leadership La Samanna will remain one of the real jewels of the island which will shine even brighter in the days to come.


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