by Nancy Bestor
I fancied myself as something of a Nancy Drew when I was 10 years old. Perhaps this was because we shared the same first name, but more than likely, it was because I read, re-read and then read again every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on. I was also a huge fan of Scooby Doo cartoons (I was always Velma). Thus, mysteries have always intrigued me. If you’ve got a Secret in Your Old Clock, I want to hear about it.
On our recent trip to St. Martin, we heard about a luxury resort that had been abandoned 20 years ago, after Hurricane Luis brought much destruction to the island. The resort, La Belle Creole, was built on the shores of Nettle Bay, less than a mile from where we were staying. We could easily see its large, signature tower in the distance, and once we learned its fate, La Belle Creole beckoned to me. I got out my magnifying glass, put on my detective hat and off we went. We walked along the beachfront to get to there as we weren’t sure if we could get to the property from the main road. We discovered however, that one can walk to the resort from its main entrance, as there is just a simple chain across the driveway, keeping cars from entering.
We trespassed on La Belle Creole (because that is the complete truth, we were trespassing) late one afternoon, and it was eerily quiet. As we approached the main courtyard, the resort just looked like a large hotel or condominium structure in disrepair. From the outside it did not look nor feel creepy at all. But once we started exploring the hallways, dining rooms and guest rooms the place took on a whole new dimension. It seemed as though the hurricane had hit just a few weeks prior. Outside of the fact that most of the furniture was gone, except for some large dressers and metal bed frames, the rooms looked…..well frankly, they looked haunted. Tattered curtains billowed in the breeze that whistled through broken windows, doors hung askew from their hinges, and the furniture that remained was mostly in pieces, and strewn about in odd positions.
The story of La Belle Creole is a sad one. In 1964, Claude Philippe, the well known and respected maitre d’ of New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, purchased about 300 acres of land on St. Martin, with the dream of building the Caribbean’s finest resort. Unfortunately that darn reality called money, or lack of it, got in his way. Philippe believed in extravagance in all areas, including apparently serving champagne to his construction workers. The project kept lurching forward and then shutting down again due to lack of funds. In 1988, La Belle Creole was finally completed, all 27 buildings and 156 rooms of it. Claude Philippe, however, had died in 1979. Unfortunately, just a few years after its grand opening, La Belle Creole was hit by Hurricane Luis, and would never open again.
We explored as much of La Belle Creole as our nerves could take, then left via the main gate. As we walked away, I could have sworn I heard someone say, “and I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.”