Millionaires’ Playground . . .
Chic and exclusive, tiny St. Barts is home to white sandy beaches, luxury hotels, exquisite restaurants and picture postcard scenery. The place to see and be seen, St. Barts offers French glamour in a Caribbean setting . . .
St. Barthelemy is the Monte Carlo of the Caribbean, without the traffic jams but with the added advantage of flawless beaches. Shortened to Saint Barth in French – and St. Barts in English, it is an exclusive eight square mile (21sq km) embodiment of 24 acre French chic. It attracts millionaires on luxury yachts, movie stars and French expatriates fleeing the European winter. The main activity in this stylish little town is to celebrity spot as you linger over a long and delicious lunch at one of the many gourmet restaurants.
The English proverb “the best things come in small packages” could have been coined for St. Bathelemy. It has 22 magnificent beaches; many protected by the reef are ideal for swimming and for families, although some are accessible only by boat. There is rumoured to be buried treasure on the private and secluded Anse du Gouveruer. All 22 of the beaches, ideal for honeymooners, the gently sloping beaches and calm seas are also good for children, while hedonists will revel in the comfort and ease of life in such a perfect setting. There are superb hotels that focus on quality – few have more than 60 rooms. You’ll find them beachside or set in tropical flower gardens on headlands with uninterrupted views of the ocean. Gentle exercise is often order of the day. Many of the luxury hotels offer tennis courts and there is horse riding at Flamands.
As the island is so small, even inland, you are never far from the beach or scenic view of the sea. Water sports – windsurfing, scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing and deep sea fishing – are excellent. Travel around the island on a boat or ride across it on a horse. After dark, relax in classical French restaurants or waterfront cafés, bistros and bars, watching the moonlit sea. Some places are lively, some are quiet, but generally nightlife is stylishly cool rather than heavy, as befits an island renowned for its under-stated, tropical elegance. The shops in the capital town sell the latest Chanel, Dior and Gucci – at tax free prices and the beach bars and hotels are venues for fashion shows and art exhibitions.
The first European settlers came from Normandy and Brittany – some of the traditional bonnets from northern France can still be seen in the villages – but in 1784 the island was leased by France to Sweden in exchange for trading access to Baltic. St. Bart’s was a prosperous Swedish colony and Sweden’s only Caribbean possession for a century, until the islanders voted by 351 votes to one for the restoration of French rule. The Swedes left their mark, particularly the city hall and the forts which are worth a visit and in the place names – the capital is Gustavia – but the ambience and culture, from the baguettes to the bars, the language and the law, are French through and through. The island remains an overseas territory of France.
Annual celebrations include carnivals to mark Saints’ days, the January festival of chamber, dance and jazz music, a Caribbean film festival and the Festival Gastronomique, which glorifies French, not Creole, food. If you’re looking for a Caribbean island where relaxation and Gallic style under a tropical sun have been refined to perfection, you’ve found it.
From April to August female turtles come to lay their eggs on the beaches at Clombier, Flamands and Corossol. Migrating sperm whales can often be spotted passing the island in May. Horse riding is a lovely way to see the island. Two hour long excursions in the morning and afternoon can be booked for both beginners and experienced riders. In Corossol, north of capital Gustavia, visit the Inter-Oceans Museum, a remarkable collection of over 9,000 seashells and corals from around the world. St. Barts is a duty free port and has plenty of top designer and specialist shops selling famous French goods as well as international brands. Beside duty free items, look out for the delicate straw goods made locally and unique to the island. Gustavia is the picture-postcard capital, a pretty little harbour town and easy to explore in a couple of hours on foot. Visit the Musee de St. Barthelemy, which showcases the island’s history through photographs, documents and costumes. The waves roll and break to perfection at Toiny, Lorient and Saint-Jean where a whole community of young locals and visitors enjoy the swells that enter these bays. Most of the dive sites in St. Barts form part of the protected Marine Park, off the west coast of the island and clear waters give excellent visibility. See the pretty, hard and soft corals, a variety of reef fish and maybe turtles and rays. St. Barts lies midway between the two major sailing centres of Antigua and Virgin Gorda and is a popular stopping off point on this route, Colourful regattas are often held in the island’s waters.
The Music Festival in January includes classical and jazz and features top musicians from every corner of the world. The beginning of Mardi Gras carnival starts in February with a costumed parade, concluding with the burning of the Vaval, at Shell Beach. The St. Barth Film Festival in April promotes Caribbean and European films and filmmakers. The Summer Festival in August is a month of events including games, dance, a fishing tournament and fireworks.
Wine & Dine
Dining is one of the main attractions of St. Barts. Renowned chefs from France and the US, frequently visit the island, combining local ingredients with French know-how to make the island a gastronomic showcase.
Chez Maya, tel: +0590 27 75 73; on Public Beach, is a popular, but pricey beachfront restaurant, with a daily changing menu of clean, simple plates like grilled mahi-mahi (E26) and chicken sautéed with garlic and ginger (E29). Reservations required.
La Creperie – Locals pack this cheerful cheap eats spot for crepes both sweet (chocolate-banana) and savoury (lobster, shrimp and mushrooms), plus salads, Panini and ice cream.
Le Sapotillier, tel: +0590 27 60 28; for pure elegance and indulgence, this is a must place to go, on Rue du Cenenaire. This amazing setting in a handsome waterfront house with an expensive but delicious menu including frogs’ legs fricassee and snail lasagne. Reservations advised.
The stylish boite Yacht Club on 6 Rue Jeanne d Arc is done up in white leather and attracts a chic, moneyed crowd with thumping house and pricey cocktails. Open nightly till 4am.
Where to Stay
Eden Rock tel:0590 29 79 99 or +1-877 563 7105; completely rebuilt and expanded in late 2004, this cushy palace features 33 deluxe cottages, cabins, suites and villas, all with ocean views. Prices from US$250.
Tom Beach, tel:+0590 27 53 13; The island’s coolest, most colourful hotel, this hip beachfront property boasts 12 stylish cottages with private patio, four poster beds, hammocks, VCR and stereo.
Sunset Hotel, tel: +0590 27 77 21; on Rue de la Republique is a cosy option with ten comfortable rooms right on the waterfront, plus a sunny veranda with lovely harbour view.
apa @ wanadoo.fr
Presquile, tel: +0590 27 64 60; offers the cheapest lodgings on the island. These ten basic rooms on the west side of the port have air conditioning and private bath; request one with a balcony (there’s no extra charge).
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