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Each island in the Caribbean has its own personality — many imparted by the European flags that currently fly above them. Dutch islands tend to be straightforward and tidy, while their English counterparts maintain an air of languid yet buttoned-up elegance.
There are also many French islands dotted around the Caribbean basin, but “Saint Barthelemy” — the French name for the island that’s also known as St. Barts or St. Barths in English — is arguably the most French of those in the region. Tiny and secluded, this rocky volcanic outcrop in the Eastern Caribbean is ideal for clients seeking a sophisticated boutique vacation with an unmistakably continental atmosphere.
St. Barts is open to travelers who can present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival. Tests are verified upon boarding the flight to St. Barth, and again upon arrival. Visitors staying more than seven days are requested to take a follow-up test at the health center on St. Barts on their seventh day.
St. Barts’ size and topography make it impractical for large cruise ships or a sizeable international airport. Most visitors arrive on yachts, small-ship cruises or small planes from neighboring St. Martin or Puerto Rico.
Clients who do arrive by air are treated to one of the most spectacular approaches in the Caribbean: Small propeller planes glide just over the crest of a hill and onto a short runway that seems to end abruptly into the azure water of Baie de St. Jean.
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The seclusion that the island affords has long made it a favorite among the glittering jet set in North America and Europe. Vacationers to St. Barts are more likely to find chic beach boutiques instead of T-shirt shops, and beer-and-burger joints are vastly outnumbered by cafes and terrace restaurants serving up sophisticated cuisine in environs not dissimilar to France’s Cote d’Azur.
Intimacy is the key word here. Many restaurants and cafes have but a handful of tables; private villa rentals outnumber hotels; and the island’s largest hotel has fewer than 75 rooms (most have a scant dozen or so).
Although rocky and hilly, St. Barts has more than a dozen beaches, ranging from wide and populated stretches of sand such as St. Jean and Flamands, to hideaways including Colombier and Saline, whose privacy is popular with the clothing-optional set.
Sitting astride St. Jean Beach is Eden Rock – St. Barths, the oldest and perhaps most famous of the island’s hotels. The hotel is just off a two-year, top-to-bottom refurbishment following Hurricane Irma in 2018. Still, it sparkles in a midcentury informality straight out of a period film.
From the terrace of Eden Rock, the beach is the focal point. There, the hotel’s plush red-cushioned loungers and crisp-white umbrellas dot the sugary sand down to the aquamarine surf.
In addition to the ocean-hugging guestrooms and suites, Eden Roc also offers more than 100 villas of varying sizes around the island. Each comes with customizable services from the hotel, ranging from butlers to personal chefs and breakfast delivery each morning.
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The island has around 10,000 inhabitants, and the only town of any size is Gustavia, the nation’s capital. It features a bayside cluster of red-roofed bungalows named when the island was the Kingdom of Sweden’s only colonial foothold in the Caribbean. Restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs, French luxury goods stores and local rum shops dot the rocky shoreline, while sailboats and megayachts bob in the bay.
Menus on the island often showcase fresh seafood pulled in daily from the nearby waters, paired with a globally sourced parade of premium flavors (think caviar and truffles) and understandably splendid wine lists.
Another popular area is Grand Cul de Sac, where another wide white-sand beach awaits, and the coral reefs offshore are popular with divers. It’s also where Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, beckons clients with expansive villas punctuated by private infinity pools, a see-and-be-seen rooftop bar and cuisine by chef William Girard.
Clients booking ahead for spring 2021 will also have a new option available: St. Barts favorite Le Guanahani is now managed by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and will be reopening after a complete renovation. Overlooking both Grand Cul de Sac and Marigot Bay, the renovation will add private plunge pools to a number of the resort’s 66 rooms, suites and villas.
Pointe Milou is a quiet residential area with yet more spectacular views. Reopening for the 2020 season on Nov. 25, The Christopher St. Barth has added three new four-bedroom villas for large groups wishing to create their own resort bubble. Smaller parties can take advantage of 42 other rooms and suites when not watching the sunset from the expansive oceanfront pool deck.
While St. Barts may seem purpose-built for lounging with ease or lazily poking through racks of luxury swimwear, it’s also a popular spot for more active travelers. Opportunities abound for snorkeling, diving, windsurfing or embarking across the sheltered bays in a clear-bottom kayaks.
Whatever clients choose, they’re sure to feel as though they’re in rarified air on this cozy little Gallic outpost.
The DetailsSt. Barth Tourismewww.saintbarth-tourisme.com