One of our favorite places in the entire world is Saint Martin-Sint Maarten. Mr. Cotten and I stumbled upon the beautiful half-French, half-Dutch island in the Caribbean when planning our (five year) belated honeymoon, and decided to embrace an adventure to a completely unfamiliar part of the world. We blindly felt our way around the island on that first trip, not knowing what to expect or what we would discover.
What we found was a vibrant place seemingly all our own, and we fell in love with it. We have now been back three times since 2012 (and would go more often if funds allowed!), including an impromptu babymoon following the passing of my father-in-law and a surprise anniversary trip last year. Unexpectedly Saint Martin became “our” place, as each of our visits has provided a perfect balance of relaxation and adventure.
It was during our very first trip, though, that we went our grandest exploration to date. Was it a bit illegal? Probably. But it was grand nonetheless.
La Belle Creole was once a five-star resort on the island’s French side in the late 1980’s. It featured 22 buildings, 162 guest rooms, a beautiful courtyard and stunning views of Nettle Bay, Marigot and Anguilla. It was ornate, with intricate solid wood doors and iron railings. It is simply a gorgeous 26 acre property in the Caribbean… that was destroyed by Hurricane Luis in 1995.
The hotel was closed after the hurricane. There are many rumors surrounding exactly why – from insurance fraud, to union strikes, to being built on an Indian burial ground – but regardless, La Belle still stands in ruins over 20 years later.
The place is entirely a ghost town. It’s falling down. Most everything has been looted, and some of the property has been vandalized. The whole property is “off-limits” to the public. There is a single chain that is draped across what used to be the main drive to stop any vehicles from trespassing…
…but it didn’t stop us from exploring.
Courtny discovered the legend of La Belle Creole while we were on our first trip, and decided we would need to check it out. And we did, much to my dislike. Not only were we doing something “illegal” (though if you do a quick Google search you will find we are definitely not the only ones to go exploring in the ruins), but we were climbing in buildings that were clearly unstable. The whole thing could have collapsed on us, and we would have never been found again. Not to mention the threats of tetanus, mold, squatters, ghosts… you name it.
The place was creepy.
But, even in its state of ruin, La Belle Creole is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
The landscaping has long overgrown, and now flowers and tropical greenery have taken over. The views over the turquoise water are breathtaking. You can still imagine the grandeur of the suites from the exquisite window panes that remain.
It’s just… gorgeous.
So, why am I telling you about this four years after the fact?
I unveiled the name of our second daughter, Frances Belle, last week. Both of our girls have family names, however Belle seems to have come from left field. And it did, originally.
While Frances’ first name came easily to us, her middle name was impossible. Nothing seemed to fit. I wanted a name with some sort of significance – be it a family name, or a name after something/someone special to us – and we just couldn’t find it. I hated every suggestion thrown my way, and Courtny hated all (or was indifferent to) all of my choices.
One day, my sister threw out Belle. Randomly. Courtny was on board, and true to form… I disliked it.
Until I got home and saw this.
They say every home in Saint Martin has a piece of La Belle Creole – from the furniture to the linens. It’s not hard to believe, since we proudly display our piece of La Belle in our own house.
Hearing Belle instantly reminds me of the island that means so much to Courtny and me. It’s a place where we can disconnect from the world, and reconnect with what truly matters. It’s where our problems seem to melt away, revealing a place more beautiful than any photo could do justice. It’s where we can be the happy, laughing, sun kissed version of ourselves. It’s a place we have always dreamed of sharing with our family someday.
And now, in a way, we have.
Frances Belle. Oh, how we can’t wait to share the beauty of island life with you and your sister.