Leave it to the French to create the perfect Caribbean island. St. Barths is one of those magical places, once you’ve been you want to return, and return often. It’s a small island, yet packs a wallop with stunning beaches, great shopping and world-class hotels. Oh, and the food—the food! Our close friends Lisi and Nick Robinson have been coming to St Barths for over thirty years. (Her parents have a home there.) DT 365 couldn’t have asked for better guides to map out an ideal weekend on the island, now it’s up to you to book your ticket.
You need to rent a car on St. Barths to experience the island fully. Roads are narrow and windy and parking in Gustavia is tight so it’s better to rent a compact car, think mini or smart car. If you can forgo air conditioning an open-air jeep or moke is a great way to cruise around.
Is Villa life not for you? There are many excellent hotels on the island, our favorites are--Eden Rock on the beach in St Jean, St-Barth Isle de France on Flamands and Le Sereno on Grand Cul de Sac. The Christopher on Pointe Milou has recently been renovated and is a less pricey alternative. Although it is not on the beach there is a gorgeous infinity pool overlooking the sea.
Still hungry...We loved our meal last spring at L'Isola, Italian was a nice change of pace mid week. For killer views over Gustavia Harbour, French-Latin influenced Bonito is unparalleled, sit on the terrace and make a meal of the starters and ceviches. There is something quaint about eating at the laid back La Langouste at the Hotel Baie des Anges. Though right on Flamands, you don't really see the beach, but the huge spiny lobsters picked right from the tank are the main attraction anyway.
First Stop: When you land in St. Barths, it’s usually in the early afternoon (depending on your connection from St. Maarten). I have found the best thing to do is head straight to La Plage. Sometimes I don’t even go to the villa first to change, so pack your bathing suit near the top of your carry-on (a must) and just change in the bathroom at the beach.
Eat at the Beach: We love lunch at La Plage: get the grilled Caribbean lobster with beure blanc and french-fries (and/or rice). Order the mandatory bottle of rose (Domaine Ott is the default choice but the list has plenty of other options). Otherwise it’s Carib beers and don’t forget a ‘Ti Punch”, the local rum drink that’s sort of like a shot. Next to the bar at the restaurant is a cute shop with fun clothing with the “Free in St. Barth” brand. After lunch, which usually runs anywhere from 2-3 hours, you will feel like you have been on vacation for more than half a day.
Game Plan: Generally speaking, St. Barth is all about the lunches. They tend to run long and wet, and you will find yourself finishing around 4 in the afternoon ready for lounging at the beach, pool, or villa. This actually works in your favor, as the sun is super strong and the later afternoon is perfect for just the right amount of sun.
Smoke: If you are in the mood for a cigar, go to La Casa del Habano in the Villa Creole shopping center in St. Jean. Ask for Sandrine, the owner, who is a wonderful host. In addition to a panoramic selection of cigars from all over (translation: Cuba), you can enjoy an espresso and a vanilla run on the couch as you look over the assortment of panama hats, ashtrays, humidors, and other smoking paraphernalia. The whole store is a humidor, so it’s a good way to moisturize and kill a half hour while your significant other is shopping nearby at Kiwi (bathing suits) or Pati de St. Barth that carries the signature T-shirts of the island.
Essentials: If you are staying at a villa, load up on bread, cheese, charcuterie, and wine (plus bottled water) at any of the grocery stores on the island (L'Oasis in Lorient is a good example). Also in Lorient is La Petite Colombe, a great boulangerie with bread, sandwiches, croissants and other patisserie for your morning coffee (also available). Don’t let the sometimes-surly staff dissuade you: if you have any high-school French that you remember, bust it out here.
Bon Appetit: Dinners on St. Barth can go one of two ways: fancy or local. There are so many great restaurants it’s hard to choose, but these are our favorites. Fancy is Jean-Georges' Eden Rock (St. Jean), which has amazing atmosphere and a stunning setting, jutting out into St Jean bay on a rock. Even if you don’t go for dinner, definitely go for cocktails at the bar (Top of the Rock). They also have an equally elegant lunch, yet totally casual restaurant on the beach called the Sand Bar. Maya’s is probably the most well known of the high-end restaurants on St. Barth. Maya Gurley is a great cook and her husband Randy is a warm and welcoming host. It’s very California casual, with a relaxed atmosphere and simple, fresh, and perfectly prepared food. On the casual local side, which is sometimes preferable after a big ‘darty’ kind of day, try L’Entracte (on the harbor in Gustavia) for pizza and salad. It’s an open-air joint, but sit close to the street anyway (near the pizza oven where all the action is), as everyone smokes and it tends to collect in the back.
Morning: On your first full day, get a coffee and croissant (or if you’re in Gustavia, have an omelet at Le Bar de L’Oubli in town). This is a good time to chill at your villa/hotel with a simple breakfast.
Beach Time: Head over to Gouverneur Beach. It’s one of a few beaches on St. Barths that doesn’t have a hotel or restaurant on the beach, so be prepared to bring provisions (i.e.; chairs, umbrellas, towels, beverages). There is a surf shop in Villa Creole up the hill from Kiwi that will sell/rent umbrellas, beach chairs, diving gear, and boogie boards. Get some.
Eat: At the top of the road that leads down to Gouverneur is a restaurant called Santa Fe. This is a don’t-miss spot for lunch before or after the beach. Sit on the back terrace – incredible views – and probably the best French food on the island: classic and delicious but not at all a scene. You are here to dine, zone out on the ocean vista, and drink!
Other lunch spots: if you want a more “bumping” time, go to Nikki Beach in St, jean. Always packed, a bit touristy, with constant fashion shows and dancing on the tables. Good sushi – if you are with a large group, get the sushi boat and a magnum of Domaine Ott. You will definitely get a lot of attention. Outside the restaurant, Terra is a great store for women’s fashion.
Late Night: For nightlife/partying, try Le Ti St. Barth (or just “Le Ti”) in Point Milou. They have a wild fashion show with costumed dancers and a great DJ. I recommend having dinner if you want a good seat for the “show” the food is not great but not bad either. Otherwise, go to the bar and squeeze in. The less you wear, the better your chances are. The Yacht Club on the “far” side of the harbor in Gustavia is another fun DJ dancing spot.
Worth Trekking: Plan a hike to Colombier beach, only accessible by foot, approximately 20-30 minutes along a narrow Cliffside footpath, so wear comfortable shoes. There are lots of volcanic rock, cactus, butterflies and geckos everywhere. Carry whatever you need (i.e. towel, suit, water) in a backpack. The crescent shaped back is simple natural beauty and some sailboats anchored off the shore. Blissful.
Scenic Meal: Lunch is nearby on Flamands beach at Hotel Isle de France. Their restaurant (La Case de l’Isle) is one of the prettiest, most civilized dining experiences on the island. Get the cold pea soup and the awesome club sandwich: white toast, roast chicken, hardboiled egg, gruyere, fries…. you get the drift. The hotel will also give you lounge chairs on the beach gratis (unusual for the island) albeit in the second row.
Don’t Miss: Saline is another must-visit beach sometime on your visit: for a morning walk, an afternoon, etc. Again, no amenities so pack it in and pack it out. The fun of the island is beach hopping so don’t be lazy. You have a car (another must) so use it to get around. Most of the island is off of one main road that circumnavigates the island, so you can’t get too lost.
Snack: For an easy, quick snack or meal, hit La Creperie in Gustavia for sweet or savory crepes and ice cream. A must do if you are with kids.
Shopping: Mostly in Gustavia and Villa Creole in St. Jean. Wander around. Bijoux de la Mer has amazing jewelry made of pearls or shells or polished stones and knotted leather. Be prepared to spend if you go. Poupette (Gustavia) is across the street and has cute dresses, skirts, wraps, etc. in beautiful prints and fabrics with a funky French vibe. Laurent Effel sells leather goods (belts, shoes, bags) that are high quality and beautifully styled, while not exorbitantly priced. Other great stores in Gustavia –include Gisele and Agua Bandita for women’s bathing suits, Wild Side and Lolita Jaca for women’s fashions and Sunbath for men’s bathing suits and casual wear.
Last Stop: When you’re getting ready to depart to go home, stop by Maya’s To Go. It’s in Les Galeries du Commerce, diagonally across the street from the airport. I recommend getting food here before your flight, as the options in St. Maarten are limited at best.