Two Special Retreats at Saint Martin

Two special places that you must visit before you leave the island of St. Martin are Grand Case and Loterie Farm. They are both on the French side of the island; so yachties on boats in Simpson Bay, or vacationers who arrive by cruise ship, should plan on hiring a taxi or renting a car for the day. This is a terrific way to escape from the crowds, relax on the beach, enjoy the rain forest's cool canopy, hike, zip line, listen to great music and plan on eating well.

White sand rings the bay at Grand Case. Sunbathers alternate between socializing on the beach, dozing in the gentle breeze, sauntering into the gin-clear water or ambling up to their favorite beachside café. Restaurant patrons gaze out at the sailboats and colorful fishing boats anchored offshore while casually sipping refreshments from glasses beading with sweat. Yes, Grand Case is that relaxing if you want it to be!

Grand Case has retained the aura of a sleepy fishing village, and it is easy for visitors to fall into its casualness. Tuesday nights can be the exception. In the past, Tuesday nights have been Carnival Night, and there is more than dancing in the street.

As for food, Grand Case is the gourmet capital of the Caribbean. Visitors are drawn to the Lolos, simple barbeque shacks on the beach, like hummingbirds to sugar. However, the upscale dining along this ribbon of beach is unlike anywhere in the world.

Among the only places that literally and figuratively look down on Grand Case is Loterie Farm. Located on the slopes of St. Martin's highest peak, Pic Paradis, Loterie Farm is a 135-acre privately maintained nature reserve. The rain forest is so lush and the breeze so fresh that the temperature can be degrees cooler than at sea level.

Some visit Loterie Farm to relax and chill out under the bleached canvas canopy of the Tree Lounge. Here, reading a book or getting engrossed in a multi-lingual conversation while nibbling on tapas or pizzas and sipping tropical cocktails can be more relaxing than a day at the beach. The jazzy background music is so delightful that you will be tempted to ask about how to procure a copy for yourself. Don't … Loterie Farm's proprietor and caretaker, B.J. Welch made the mix to be heard exclusively by the birds, insects and lounge lizards of the Treetop Lounge.

Your other options at Loterie Farm are limitless. If you are interested in exercise, closed heeled shoes and the purchase of a ticket will gain you entry to the hiking trails or the Flyzone Extreme treetop obstacle course. The creativity that went into devising the obstacle course surpasses that of your traditional zip line affair. Doing it requires putting faith in your harness and traversing from tree to tree along cables, swinging logs, rope ladders, loops and hoops. There are a few long zips when you'll lean back and let her rip. It's a workout and a lot of fun.

Refresh, revive and replenish after your hiking or flyzone experience at the Hidden Forest Café. Chef Julia Purkis dishes up gastronomic treats that you would never expect to be served under a corrugated aluminum roof surrounded by rustling palms and deciduous trees. Burgers, salads, conch Thai chicken, jerk roast pork, jalapeño goat cheese mousse and chocolate bread pudding with raisins and caramel are just some of the items on the menu. As at the Tree Lounge, the music is so good that even the wait staff hums and sings along with it.

Loterie Farm is always evolving. Live concerts and picnics on the open field are common. It's open year round. Hiking and Flyzone activities take place from 9:00am through 4:00pm rain or shine. The Hidden Forest Café serves lunch and dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays and lunch on Sunday. The Tree Lounge is open from noon to 'midnightish' from Tuesday through Sunday.

Rent the car. Hire the cab. Whatever you do, don't miss out on either of these gems.

Lynn Fitzpatrick's articles on sailing appear regularly in international publications including AARP The Magazine and Cruising World. She has been a highly competitive Snipe sailor and was the 2008 Sports Information Specialist for sailing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.