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