From St. Maarten, it’s a ten-minute flight with memorable views — the calm, turquoise sea, barren volcanic rocks jutting out of the water at rakish angles, ships cruising the Lesser Antilles. And those are just the first eight minutes. The final two minutes is the approach to the island. After clearing a very steep hill, the plane banks and dips abruptly to a tiny runway that ends brusquely on St. Jean’s beach.
St. Barthelemy, or St. Barths in the French West Indies, is a playground for the rich. Rockefellers and Rothschilds were 20th century residents, as were Rudolf Nureyev, David Letterman, Steve Martin, and Donna Karan to name a few. It is one of the Caribbean’s least developed islands. Telephones finally arrived in 1963.
For privileged anonymity, check into the island’s only full-service resort, Hotel Guanahani. It consists of 75 pastel cottages scattered amidst coconut groves, flamboyant trees, and bougainvillea and hibiscus that separate the ocean and the lagoon. Don’t be alarmed if an iguana greets you at your cottage door. Rates, depending on the season, can range from a superior room at $500 a night to the pool suites that start at $1,300.
What is there to do? Eat. Drink. Sleep. Take a swim. The next day, begin again. There are two beaches only steps from the cottages. The Grand Cul de Sac is a reef-protected cove, ideal for playful children and adults learning to windsurf. It also yields a trove of surprises for snorkelers. For breakfast, dine al fresco on the beach at the hotel’s Indigo restaurant where the attire is casual chic, the dress code on the entire island.
White sand beaches actually ring the 8-square-mile island. To sample them all, rent a mini-moke (imagine a high-powered golf cart) or a European smart car. But if steep, winding roads are too adventurous for you, go by sea. Master Ski Pilou charter services will pack a picnic lunch and lead you from cove to cove. One favorite is the secluded Colombier cove.
Pack light, but shop if the urge strikes. St. Barths, a duty-free port, has been called the Paris of the Caribbean. Hermes and Cartier are at home in Gustavia, the island’s port, as well as small boutiques selling haute couture, such as the legendary Stephane & Bernard shop.
Food is also imported fare. Formed from volcanic rock, St. Barths’ land is not suited for farming. Daily flights from France deliver delicacies such as foie gras from Gascogny and oysters from Brittany. And the restaurant menus are creative. Bartolomeo, on the grounds of the Guanahani Hotel, is superb, as is its resident pianist Charles Darden. For a more festive atmosphere, join the jet set crowd at Le-Ti St. Barths restaurant in Pointe Milou. Its grilled Argentine beef, fashion shows, and Saturday night parties are world-famous. Note: Reservations are required in the busy winter season.
For more aesthetic and cerebral pursuits, visit potter Jennifer May in her Gustavia studios or browse in Funny Face, an international bookstore. Also check out the following Websites: www.st-barths.com for