French in Style

Eight miles of beach, beauty and bistros on St. Barts

By: Carole Dixon

As the small plane took off from the Dutch side of St. Maarten in the French West Indies, my hands were gripped firmly on the seat in front of me. I’d heard countless stories about the short, white-knuckle flight into St. Barts. Looking out the window, I saw tiny islands with yachts scattered in the harbors, pink-colored buildings and lush green landscapes that blended into the expanse of azure blue water.

The small plane dipped from side to side as we soared over a large mountain, almost skimming the top, then sharply dipped down onto a narrow runway. After landing safely, I couldn’t help but think that the flight wasn’t so bad. What is everyone talking about?

Once you’re actually on the tropical grounds of the Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France, set in the delicate natural beauty of the island, you can’t remember the three flights it took to get there. Clients on the West Coast take the red-eye through New York or Miami, followed by another flight to St. Maarten and lastly the puddle jumper to St. Barts.

But this never seems to deter celebrities like Hugh Jackman and Michael J. Fox, who have both stayed at Isle de France. Even with all the celebrity hob-knobbing that goes on during the holiday season, the resort still remains true to return guests, and once turned away Hollywood mogul Jerry Bruckheimer when he called wanting a room over Christmas with three days’ notice. From Thanksgiving to Easter the hotel is packed with 70-85 percent return visitors from the U.S., the U.K. and Europe.

Part of this success rate, according to British-born manager Charles Walker, is because “you never see any poverty or crime, and no one is trying to sell you something on the beach.”

The hotel itself is set amid fragrant foliage and gardens with pathways that lead to the rooms, several swimming pools and an open-air lobby. For the interiors, Penny Morrison, from England, designed the Cape Code meets Saint Tropez guestrooms with lots of white furniture and crisp flowered linens. The look is fresh, romantic and invitingly cozy. Morrison is also designing beach screens in blue and white to help shield sunbathers from the “Christmas winds,” which can blow sand in guests’ eyes and fruity cocktails.

The hotel also features a top-notch eatery, La Case de L’Isle. Chef Bruce Domain trained with Alain Ducasse and is hailed as one of the best on the island for his tuna tetaki and foie gras both are worth the flights. The menu is constantly evolving and recently started offering “new French cuisine.” While still maintaining the classic Gallic culinary sophistication, clients are also offered lighter options with vegetables, salads and grilled dishes in lieu of the heavier gastronomic fare. (Sometimes a rich soup and red wine are just too hearty for 100 percent humidity.)

A popular staple is the whole chicken for two carved in front of the guests, whole fresh snapper and lobster with French fries. The hotel has also installed a BBQ in the kitchen and a new deck is being built where cocktails and small bites are served at sunset.

Another hotel highlight is the spa. After indulging in the signature Rose Quartz Crystal Therapy where smooth round stones are effectively used as massage implements I was very impressed with one small, yet potent, gesture. At the end of a treatment, you are allowed to languish in the pampering experience, while being served orange water, grapes and raspberry sorbet. This is a nice touch. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost fainted after being rushed off the table after a massage.

The resort recently added a new therapeutic package. Tranquility Week was designed by famed yogi Diana Bourel, known for her healing nature and spirituality. The most interesting therapy is her Tree of Life, specifically for the spine. There is also soul awakening therapy for mental health and holotropic breathing lessons. The week also includes indigenous spa treatments, yoga, meditation, hikes off the beaten path, vegetarian dishes and one watsu session.

What else should clients do in St. Barts?

“Live it and enjoy it,” said Charles Walker, who has been a native for over 12 years. “This is a luxurious location, not very adventurous. We are relaxed, not stuffy. French in style, not French in character.”

Room rates at the Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France range from $580 for a garden bungalow to $2,000 for a two-bedroom beach villa. Off-season packages are also available.



Car Rentals
Clients can rent a Mini to drive around the island. Arranged through the hotel, it’s well worth the eight-mile scenic drive around St. Barts.

Clients can shop Chanel to one-of-a-kind chic.St. Jean or Gustavia are the main towns to shop, and it’s not all ultra-expensive couture. Poupette (0-590-27-9449) and Nomades (0-590-27-7100) are a few boutiques featuring local designers.

Eden Rock
This famous property features several outdoor dining patios and a tapas bar with a great ocean view. And after a $25 million revamp, eight new suites and five beach houses have recently been added.

La Lagnouste
About a five-minute walk from Isle de France, clients can feast on huge grilled lobsters with plantains and sweet potato puree at the tiny, understated La Lagnouste.

La Pinta
Located in the heart of Gustavia, be sure to drop into La Pinta for a sampling of their fine vanilla rums free of charge.

Le Toiny
Located on the opposite, more remote end of the island, perched high on a hill, Le Toiny is a fantastic spot for Sunday brunch and offers an expansive mountain and water view. Just don’t expect to swim: There is no direct beach access.

This local hangout in the port town of Gustavia features theme nights on the weekends with everything from Thai to Italian food.

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