Official name: Saint Barthélemy, but abbreviated St. Barth (silent 'h').
Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and named for his brother, Bartolomeo. (Barthélemy is the name Gallicized.)
Colony of Sweden from 1784-1878, hence the Swedish street signs in Gustavia, the island’s capital.
Tradewind Aviation flies scheduled shuttle and private charter flights from San Juan International (Terminal A) to St. Barth, eliminating the immigration ritual (often lengthy) in St. Maarten, required if you fly one of the U.S. carriers. Tradewind also operates scheduled shuttle flights to St Barth from Antigua, the primary Caribbean gateway from London.
The pressurized and air-conditioned Pilatus PC-12 cabin is equivalent to that of a business jet.
Smart Season and Mad Months
Go May through early December for hotel discounts of up to 50%. Restaurants are easy to book and traffic is non-existent. On Dec. 15th, most hotel prices go to high season rates, and from Dec. 20th through mid-January to peak rates. Mid-January through Easter, back to high season.
The Luxury Hotel Quintet
Cheval Blanc Saint-Barth Isle de France: Now owned by LVMH, this 39-room hotel still turns its key ingredients—privacy, poolside mingling, cuisine, and beach—into a soufflé. It's the epitome of the sexy French Caribbean hideaway. Main House rooms, Beach Suites, and Villas are on the ocean. Two-bedroom Garden Rooms, some with pool, are perfect for families. Crisp, clean décor (whites, neutrals, blues) throughout.
Eden Rock: The reference to the Riviera classic tells you everything, but it's also a pun on the setting—a craggy rugby-ball of rock just off St. Jean Beach. The best rooms—and they are all one-offs—are here. Newest room: The Christopher Columbus Suite, a lair fit for Bond or Goldfinger, with stunning ocean views. Other greats: The Reef, The Howard Hughes Suite, atop the main building (he was a guest in the early days), and the Garbo Suite (she also stayed), a fun exercise in old Hollywood glamour and with a great view. If Kardashian glam is your suit, though, book the Rock Star Villa, a six-bedroom compound at the end of the property. Comes with two MINI Cooper convertibles.
Le Guanahani: The island's only full-service resort: Three restaurants, two lighted tennis courts, the largest spa (with two butler-serviced wellness suites if you want to live in the spa), a beachside fitness center, and an 82-foot-long pool cleaned electronically rather than with chlorine. Despite its size (67 rooms; 44 with private pool), Guanahani feels cozy—a bungalow colony spilling down a hillside to the ocean. It offers 11 specialty suites, one-off rooms such as Serenity with a pool and fabulous water views, and Admiral, right down on the edge of Grand Cul de Sac. Both have décor that nicely mates St. Tropez and Malibu. (Insider tip: The pool suites behind the tennis court for privacy and views.)
Le Sereno: St. Barth’s 'downtown' resort, designed by Christian Liagre in his slightly pensive sleek and streamlined style. If you're at home at the Mercer and its brethren, you'll be at home here. The hotel is on a shallow breezy bay made for wind- and kite-surfing. The beach is narrow and short, but the 20-meter-long lap pool surrounded by an expansive lounging deck and ranks of palms—in effect a piazza—compensates. Rooms to get: One of the 15 Grand Suite Plages (numbers 20-35). They're open-plan, with a bedroom (four-poster), a living room down two steps, and a hedged-in outdoor area private enough for anxiety-free topless lounging. There are also three deluxe villas (butler service, private pool, three bedrooms, lots of communal space), in effect your own compound.
Le Toiny: A love nest perched on a hillside on the island's southwest corner. Fifteen do-not-disturb, 700-plus sq.-ft. rooms with superb ocean vistas, terrace, and a plunge pool—and just redone in white linen with blue accents. Up-for-air option: Free shuttle to beach club 10 minutes away (but this is a beach for strong swimmers). For the fit: Jog to Grand Fond, walk to the end of the beach, climb the rocks, and follow the trail out around the point. In 2017, the hotel opens eight duplex rooms with views that equal or better the current ones.
The Villa Option
The larger agencies are WIMCO, St Barth Properties, and SiBarth. Websites are teeming with pictures and all are geared up to act as concierges during your stay.
The Luxury Hotel Restaurants
Bartolomeo (Le Guanahani): A very suavely executed French-inflected menu that also brings in influences from around the Mediterranean. Even a straightforward entrée like ravioli is painstakingly done—with roasted tomato water, asparagus, and black truffle. When Chef Nicola di Marchi does a classic like Loup de Mer, he hits it out of the park. Good selection of vegan and gluten-free dishes.
La Case de L'Isle (Cheval Blanc St. Barth Isle de France): At dinner, this open-to-the-breeze space is one of the most romantic spots on the island. At lunch, it feels like St. Tropez. (There's also a feet-in-the-sand sister, La Cabane de L'Isle, down on the beach.) Chef Yann Vinsot can play it straight (grilled wild Turbot filet, filet mignon, and sautéed foie gras); playful (Truff Monsieur, a truffle-layered take on the Croque Monsieur); creative gourmand (Terrine de Foie Gras, but with roasted watermelon and caramelized almonds); or California healthy (tabouleh salad, selection of crudo).
On the Rocks (Eden Rock): If you don’t feel the romance here, you are on the rocks. Five or six stories above the water (dramatically lit), the dining room feels like a cruise ship by candlelight, especially the tables for two along the outside. The cuisine is by Jean-George and shows off his talent for orchestration while letting single ingredients have their solo moments. The mahi-mahi in the ceviche? "Caught this morning just around that rock," said my server. Big Champagne list including six large-format labels.
Restaurant Le Sereno (Le Sereno Beach): A slimmed-down, Mediterranean-influenced menu that would be at home in Paris or New York: Salad, carpaccio and tartare, pasta, seafood, and steak. It sounds generic, but the ingredients and execution—the pasta is homemade—are so good that it rises far above that. The kitchen is overseen by Michelin-star chef Alex Simone, who comes in once a month from London to make sure everything is ship-shape (and will move to St. Barth full-time next season).
The New Kid
Le Guérite: St. Barth outpost of the venerable (founded 1935) restaurant on Ile St. Marguerite near Cannes. Open-air dining room on the harbor point. Menu cuts back and forth across the Mediterranean, but with a Greek foundation courtesy of chef Yannis Kioroglou. A simple-grilled octopus, cut into thin slices and floated in lemon-inflected olive oil, was sublime.
Non-Hotel Dining: The Top Trio
Bonito: A modest cottage exterior conceals a svelte lounge of white couches and a curved, open-air dining room looking down on Gustavia. Ceviche and tiradito are the forte of Chef Laurent Cantineaux. The scallop dishes have been superb—the scallops meaty and done to a turn—and a wahoo with bok choy and shitake main course is simply sublime.
L’Isola: Sophisticated Italian flawlessly served in a gorgeous high-ceilinged room illuminated by pools of golden candlelight at dinner. Feels like Capri or Amalfi. At a recent dinner, the risotto with asparagus and shrimp tasted like yours and mine never will, and the pasta with sea urchin was an unctuous indulgence.
Maya’s: A super charming open-air pavilion to the west of Gustavia. An insider and celebrity favorite for the superb fish. The tuna sashimi was tissue-paper-thin and the grilled salmon done perfectly rare.
St. Barth Canapés
Sunblock and Skin Care Product Bonanza: Apothecaire de Aeroport, in a charming clapboard building across from the terminal. Your first stop after deplaning.
Bet the French Horse Races: At Bar Le Glacier in St. Jean.
Dare-Devil Bikinis: Pain de Sucre in St. Jean.
Present for Your Teenager: Recording session in the studio of Eden Rock’s Rock Star Villa. John Lennon used the mixing console to record Imagine. Half-day session included in the rate.
Seller's Remorse: In 1950 Rémy de Haenen, the first pilot to land on St. Barth, bought the rock on which the Eden Rock now stands for $200. The next day the seller called, said she overcharged him, and refunded $100.
Flight-Home Provisions: Maya's to Go, across from the airport.