There’s a luxurious laid-back petite island that we’ve all heard about located in the French West Indies originally called Ouanalao by the island’s indigenous people. Today we all know it as the exorbitantly pricey and notoriously exclusive island St. Barths. However many stories you’ve heard about billionaires and extravagant celebrities traveling to this little posh oasis there’s something in it for everyone. Albeit the rumors are true, it’s expensive and feels exclusive, but for one simple reason that it has a charm and grace like no other island. The French do it well.
Without a doubt a destination that should be on everyone's bucket list here's my TAKE on this island gem...
take ME away - QUICK GUIDE
BEST RESTAURANTS ON ST. BARThS
BONITO SAINT BARTH - French
LE TAMARIN - French
BARTOLOMEO - French
LA PLAGE - French Caribbean
INDIGO ON THE BEACH - French Seafood for Lunch
NIKKI BEACH - French and Japanese
LA PETITE COLUMBE - French Bakery
LE SELECT - Bistro Dive Bar
LE TI - Restaurant And Night Club
ON THE ROCKS - French Gastropub
L'ISOLA - Italian
EDDY'S - Caribbean Asian Fusion
SAND BAR - French
BEST BEACHES ON ST. BARTHS
GRANDE SALINE BEACH
ST. JEAN BEACH
HOW TO PACK YOUR BAG
FOR THE CASUAL ELEGANT WOMAN
Leather Strap Sandals
Leather Flip Flops
Embellished Straw Clutch
Small Fringed Bag with Strap
Hand Crochet Shorts
Straw Fringe Fedora
Simple Small Rings and Necklaces (All Worn Together)
Leather Wrap Bracelets
An Array of Sunglasses
Thin Cashmere Sweater
FOR THE CASUAL YET CHIC MAN
Silk or Linen Button Down Shirts (Always A Rolled Long Sleeve)
Weathered Tees With Low Neck Line (No V-Necks)
Simple Distressed Shorts (No Cutoff Jeans)
Linen Shorts (No Pleats)
Boat Shoes (Not White)
Upscale Slip-On Shoes
Weathered or Leather Flip Flops
Swim Trunks (No Long Board Shorts)
Linen or Cotton Slim Pants (Simple - No Pleats)
Watch (Omega, Rolex, etc…)
An Array of Sunglass (Default to Ray-Ban)
Simple Fedora Hat
Simple Cap (No Logos)
Ribbon and Leather Woven Belts
Canvas Totes (It’s Okay!)
THE FULL STORY
With an incredible amount of history beginning with its discovery by Christopher Columbus St. Barths has been traded to other territories and for trading rights for centuries. It is told by the locals, although not written in any history books, that St. Barths was eventually given back to the island residents because of the lack of water the island produced. Without plantations or island resources many thought St. Barths as a “dried up wasteland”. Today that would be the equivalent of all the publishers that turned down J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series before Bloomsbury saw the author’s potential. Fools!
Since 2007 St. Barths joined an Overseas Collectivity (COM) of France and has retained its free port status with 200,000 visitors every year. You will not find any large resorts, casinos, high-rise buildings, golf courses, and mega-cruise ships on the island. What you will find however are effortlessly chic hotels, pristine white sand beaches, gorgeously tan sun worshipers, and simple mouthwatering french island style eateries. It’s where Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot would go for holiday.
Past visitors to the island will tell you about their experiences of flying into St. Barths Airport from St. Maarten. It’s a quick twelve minute flight with an evasive landing either flying thirty feet over the island road straight down a hill braking heavily onto the too short tarmac or the less nail biting landing quickly descending over Bale de Saint Jean beach. Wave to the sunbathers at La Plage as you brace yourself for a thrilling landing.
I’ve been to St. Barths several times - all for work - each time fortunate enough to stay at Le Guanahani. Situated along the Grand Cul-de-Sac Le Guanahani is a five star newly renovated hotel that sits between the Anse de Grand Cul-de-Sac and Anse Marechal beaches. There are approximately 67 unique accommodations to choose from all equally elegant with every amenity you could think to ask for. Also, as it may not show on the hotel’s website, there are a few four bedroom homes to stay at that hover over the waves as they crash onto the coral bank. Many of the suites have private pools with lush vegetation choreographed to grow so that any passerby is unaware of what’s going on in your St. Barths hotel experience. The bed linens are perfectly smooth and a choice in pillow densities are a guarantee for a good night sleep.
For an exclusive getaway, and if you can swing it, I would highly recommend inquiring about renting one of the most beautiful homes on the island, Maison Noureev. Dating back to the 1950's Maison Noureev was built by the legendary ballet dancer Rudolph Noureev so "he could dance facing the immensity of the ocean". A solid teak deck surrounds this perfect two bedroom beach house perched along the cliffs of Anse Toiny. Getaway from it all while reading a book with all the doors open feeling the heavenly offshore breeze after taking a dip in the natural salt water pool. It’s quite possibly one of the most romantic homes you’ll every experience full of spirit and history. The charismatic people that must have stayed in this house throughout Noureev’s time there is felt the moment you enter and it’s easy to imagine the elaborate stories told, the incredibly tasteful music played, and the “Cecil Beatonesque” style of flamboyant on-goings.
Anse du Grand Saline reaches the top ten most elegant beaches you’ll find in the world. With it’s short pathway through overhanging trees you’ll reach a clearing onto sand dunes quickly arriving to Saline beach. Easily spend the day here sunbathing with a simple picnic of Sancere, a fresh baguette and an assortment du fromage and charcuterie. Heaven on Earth. But hurry up because there are rumors that Andre Balazs is proposing for a 40-bungalow “eco-resort” right along Saline with the backing of President Bruno Magras and St. Barths powerful ruling families much to the dismay of the island’s residents.
Gustavia (named after King Gustav III of Sweden) may very well be the most chic capital town in all of the Northern Hemisphere. Signature red roofs and pristine streets make up this harbor town welcoming the super-rich mega-yachts and 100 feet and over sailboats. With your tote in hand casually peruse the shops and small eateries during the late afternoon light. You’ll see flowering plants grow wild by roadsides of pink, yellow, and orange hibiscus, Mexican creepers, frangipani, bougainvillea, flamboyant trees, white lilies and orchids.
One must enjoy the elegant nightlife while on St. Barths. Plan a late night out at the Caribbean tavern Le Ti and enjoy the burlesque style lounge bar with floor-to-ceiling photographs of many recognizable party-goers. The champagne flows freely at this 20 year old nightclub created by the queen of the night, Carole Gruson. Sit back and enjoy ultimate people watching, hourly fashion shows, hip music, and dancing on the tables. Perhaps you’ll show up framed on the walls of history at Le Ti.
One afternoon take a drive around the island road. You’ll realize just how petite St. Barths really is and come to the conclusion that you’ve reached a magical paradise. The light there is so beautiful and calming you’ll never want to go home. You’ll browse the real estate windows in Gustavia displaying properties for sale only to quickly realize this paradise comes at a costly price. For most, money can’t buy you a lifetime of paradise but it can certainly finance your dream trip there now and again.
HOW TO GET THERE
The best way to get to St. Barths is by flying to St. Maarten, a neighboring island, with local airline companies providing the 10 - 12 minute connecting flights to the island's Gustave III Airport. Many commercial airlines fly to St. Maarten. From St. Maarten look into flights on Winair and St. Barths Commuter Airlines.
If you're not willing to take the adventurous flight be assured your trip can still happen by taking either a chartered speedboat, daily ferry, taxi-boat, your own private yacht, or even a sailboat from St. Maarten.
When taking the daily ferry ask about their high speed boat named The Edge that goes to Gustavia once a day from Tuesday till Sunday. Unfortunately it leaves at 9:00 AM from St. Maarten so you will probably be on the slower ferry that takes approximately 75 minutes. This too can be a journey in itself if the waters are not so happy.
RENT A VILLA INSTEAD?
If you'd rather rent a villa instead of staying in one of the many beautiful hotels there are quite a few options to choose from. Here are some noteworthy websites to inquire about renting villas.
Words and photographs by Noe DeWitt