Belmond Beckoning
Belmond beckoning (Photo: Richard James Taylor)

"Travelling…it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller"…here's my story.

I became aware of the Belmond brand in 2018 while in Oxford where I was pursuing classes in upholstery. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons to be exact, a wonderfully charming manor house hotel and restaurant, nestled in the Oxfordshire countryside, and created by celebrated chef Raymond Blanc, OBE.

A small boutique hotel, of sorts, whose restaurant boasts two Michelin stars, bestowed on it in 1984, the first year of its opening, that it has held ever since. Surrounded by perfectly manicured lawns, flower borders, orchards, and vegetable and herb gardens that provide bounty for the kitchen and the acclaimed Raymond Blanc Cookery School. I didn't get the opportunity to stay at the hotel, with rooms set within, or overlooking the gardens, decorated in a luxurious classic contemporary style; however, I enjoyed a most satisfying chef tasting six-course dinner, and it has lived in my dreams ever since. Beckoning, longing for a return.

Belmond, is a five-star brand, which started in 1976 with the acquisition of Hotel Cipriani in Venice. It began expansion a year later with the collection of carriages from the Venice Simplon- Orient-Express, creating a most exquisite train experience, one which 50th birthday celebration dreams are made of.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the exquisite Belmond brand exists right here in the Caribbean, on the tiny Lesser Antilles islands of St Martin, Belmond La Samanna and Anguilla, Belmond Cap Juluca. True five-star properties that are the definition of barefoot luxury; the perfect escape for a honeymoon or couples' retreat. Though flying solo this time, it was a perfect place of solace that truly warrants a revisit with hubby.

My final destination on this trip was Anguilla, where I was headed for ACE, Anguilla Culinary Experience, but had to make an overnight stop in St Martin. Despite being very anxious to get to Anguilla, there was hardly reason to complain however, as the beautiful La Samanna, a Belmond Hotel was where I'd rest my head albeit for one night. Described as a Caribbean paradise where retro beach elegance meets French glamour, La Samanna is nestled within a perfect crescent on one mile of one of the island's most pristine beaches, with villas sprawling the length of the beach, up the stunning cliff-side peninsula, offering breathtaking views of the ocean.

The Belmond experience started at the airport. My driver, sign in hand, was a very courteous "Jamaican" native, who gave me a full St Martin story and tour on the 15-minute drive to the hotel. I arrived, just before dusk, and immediately felt the beauty of Belmond upon entering the gates and down the winding driveway, lined with bougainvilleas and poinciana, with gardeners at work, maintaining the natural, yet pristine grounds, pausing for a friendly smile and welcoming wave as we drove through. After all, I'm told, it is considered the "Friendly Island". And this was evident from the moment I set foot on property. The property, by the way, designed by architect Happy Ward, the designer of the iconic Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados, has the feel of an upscale Mediterranean villa, but decorated with a distinct Caribbean point of view. The exterior, with its crisp white adobe walls, solid stone floor tiles and archways that span the entry, foyer and lobby that draws you all the way to the terrace overlooking the ocean, and the interior furnishings are finished in natural wood, wicker, weaves and stone with ocean blue and coral colour accents.

My arrival coincided with a majestic sunset, and cocktail in hand, at the Baie Longue Bar, I was lost in the moment, while my very seamless check-in was being processed. My suite was superb; I had to practically drag myself away if I didn't want to be late for my dinner reservation. The room was consistent with the lobby décor: ombré blue drapes and lamp shades, aged, whitewashed chairs, oversized mirrors made of seashells and clam shells, and lots of botanical prints of poinciana trees. The décor is the perfect balance of classic coastal chic. And the little personal touches that made it all the more special…the ideal temperature and lighting in the room…a charcuterie board and a bottle of Prosecco on ice (with a personal welcome note). The bottle of rum, as a thank you gift (with a personal note from the manager), and the amenities, at your disposal, for a perfect stay. What a wonderful welcome! Tempting as it was to not leave the room, I had to experience the food.

Aware that the culinary experiences is as much a part of the Belmond brand, as is the stay, I was excited to indulge in the offerings at L'Oursin Restaurant, perched on the cliff side with panoramic views of the ocean, enjoying the sound of the waves and the feel of the cool ocean breeze. The menu offers traditional French cuisine, incorporating fresh seafood, and unfortunately for me, following my full and delicious Caribbean Airlines meal, and nibbles with my sunset cocktail, I could only manage the entrée and dessert. Both, however, were excellent choices! The Caribbean Lobster was grilled and served with a deliciously creamy risotto in a crustacean creamy milk with cocoa bean and the Guava Vacherin dessert, a fluffy meringue and vanilla whipped cream cluster surrounding a guava sorbet, piped with beads of guava gelée, atop an almond crumble was, in a word: Yum!

After a very comfortable and restful night, something that can sometimes evade one when sleeping in hotel beds, breakfast the following morning did not disappoint. Breakfast is served on the terrace at Corail Restaurant, with an expansive selection of à la carte or buffet options.

Following breakfast, my departure imminent, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll, discovering the property, toes in the soft powder-white sand, beneath the warm sun and caressing Atlantic breeze. I chose the route along the beachfront villas, for my journey back, the villas nestled between the ocean and heavy foliage of palm trees, bougainvillea, hibiscus and the signature poinciana trees. Each block is named after tropical flora…Ginger, Hibiscus, Ixora, Jasmine…over the little bridge that crosses the waterfall and stream, past the infinity swimming pool back to my room. Lounging on the deck of my suite, basking in the beauty of this magnificent property, from my elevated point – of – view… never imagining that Cap Juluca, on Anguilla, could match this. Oooh, it most certainly does! I will not say that one is better; I leave that to the guest to make that determination, but there are universal views on this. All I can say is at first sight, Cap Juluca is magnificent, the expanse of the property, surrounded by what is, arguably, Anguilla's most beautiful beach, Maundays Bay is truly a sight to behold. Belmond's ability to situate the best, most suited design to the area of its resorts is remarkable; it's the quality that is consistent across the brand, not the look. Architecturally, Cap Juluca is similar in design to La Samanna…stark white Greco-Moorish villas with British Colonial furnishings, but unlike La Samanna, there is no elevation, just an expanse of green lawn, blue ocean and white sand.

I was only able to indulge in a decadent breakfast at Cap Juluca this time round…of course, a stay here, perhaps for the "Culinary Shores" series beckons. One can only dream. And dream I do…

Belmond is now a part of the LVMH brand, so no surprises here. It is a luxury property, a premium quality product with exceptional service... I dream of my return, holding on to its philosophy which says: "Rare moments of serenity need not be infrequent."

For now...

The arches at La Samanna lobby foyer and entry (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
The soft arches in the architectural details in the foyer-reception at La Samanna beckon to the spectacular view beyond. (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
Cap Juluca (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
The Cap Juluca white wash, nestled in the lush green, white sand and blue seas of Maundays Bay, Anguilla (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
Breakfast at Cap Juluca with my dear friend, Stacey Liburd (left), director of tourism in Anguilla. (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
Caribbean lobster and risotto (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
Dessert at La Samanna: Guava Vacherin. A fluffy meringue and vanilla whipped cream cluster surrounding a guava sorbet, piped with beads of guava gelée, atop an almond crumble (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
The sitting room of the Oceanview suite at La Samanna (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
Dinner cocktail (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
Cap Juluca's Greco-Moorish architectural design (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
My view at breakfast at Cap Juluca (Photo: Richard James Taylor)
The shades of blue, tan, coral and orange in the La Samanna suite décor ooze Caribbean chic (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
La Samanna crescent-shaped Baie Longue Beach with cabanas (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
La Samanna Ocean View Villas atop the cliffs of Baie Longue (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
Cap Juluca suite with its British Colonial décor (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
It's the personal touches at La Samanna that made my stay even more special.(Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)
An elevated view of La Samanna from the restaurant terrace above (Photo: Courtesy of Angelie Martin-Spencer)

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