Thursday, February 21, 2008

Laurie G. - St. Martin Fun

St Martin is a great place to vacation in the Caribbean and have a reasonable European experience at the same time. Legendary beaches of course and beaches where even your Malibu Strings might have you overdressed. And while Orient Beach is known for clothing optional you'll find the whole island, French or Dutch side, is quite open to skimpy swimwear. The nice thing is the attitude - enjoy the beach, the sun, the water, wear what you want or not and don't worry about it. A lot less staring occurs here than anywhere else we've been. That is until and if the cruise ship tour bus shows up, then just smile, wave and send some lucky gawker home with the best vacation photos he's ever taken (and possibly and angry/jealous wife?). Then enjoy your sunset on the beach while he's heading back to his cruise ship.

If you like good food and great dining, this is the place. We all know the French can cook; no doubt about it. Now take that culinary skill, influence it with local flavors, preserve that French flair for presentation, relax the atmosphere to island level while maintaining the French sophistication and you are going to have some of the best dining experiences of your life.

Not all the dining is so fancy. Outdoor barbeques are common, casual, cheap, and delicious.

Our favorite area for dining is Grand Case. A one way street lined with restaurants of all styles and price ranges. Restaurants on one side have dining rooms overlooking the beach; the other side tries to make up for lack of beach view with customer service and perhaps a few Euros cheaper.

You can't go wrong either way and every restaurant has their menu posted outside so you can stroll the street looking for that perfect mixture of ambiance and menu selection.

Plenty of restaurants will even give you a 1 Dollar to 1 Euro exchange if you pay cash, don’t be afraid to ask.

Beyond the beaches, St Martin has huge pitons that rise right up out of the ocean. The largest is Pic Paradis at 1,492 feet high. I haven’t yet taken in the view from the top but enjoy just looking up from the beach at what we call mountains where I come from.

Having a car in St Martin is well worth the expense and let’s you visit multiple beaches, dine on the French side one night, the Dutch side the next, or just take a drive and explore the island. The island is easy to navigate with just a tourist map. One beach we recently discovered for ourselves is named Le Galion Bay.

It has the calmest water, a beach restaurant, and chairs/umbrellas for rent. It’s also a learning place for windsurfing and kite boarding due to the calm water caused by the reef at the bay inlet where the reef stops the waves but lets the strong Caribbean trade winds flow through. It’s easy to spend the day watching kite boarders soar through the air across such calm water.

à tout à l'heure …

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Laurie G. - Dominican Republic - Punta Cana

One of the nicest beaches in the Caribbean and some of the kindest people are found in the Domican Republic. The beach is huge so you can walk for close to an hour in either direction. Great exercise, people watching, and opportunity to survey the other resorts. One really nice feature is that resorts do not exceed the height of the beach palms so your view is water on one side and palms on the other. You feel like you are on an undeveloped beach despite the fact that there are so many great hotels all along the beach.

There is an old barge wreck just off shore which makes for a nice backdrop for taking pictures or providing a destination for taking a sailboat ride. And is the wind picks up, the waves crashing the barge can be amazing to watch from the comfort of your beach chair.

My favorite resorts are the Riu chain, with the Riu Palace Punta Cana at the top of my list. The food, the grounds, the lobby, the staff, the rooms are all first rate yet still well priced.

The swimming pools are beautiful and have great views of the main grounds of the resort. There is even an infinity pool to finish off the day watching the sunset. The beach faces east so sundown on the beach isn't fully sundown at the pool. Of course the pool swim up bar! Friendly people and beautiful locale make Puta Cana the perfect spot for a relaxing vacation. Toss a bunch of Malibu Strings bikinis in your bag and get going! See you there.

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