The small island of Saint-Barthelemy is truly a Caribbean paradise, with beautiful white sandy beaches, warm waters and endless sunny skies and island breezes. We just got back from a few days in St. Barths where we checked into two brand new hotels during a yoga retreat with Diana Bourel. Our days were busy with yoga and hiking, but in between we did manage to fit in some time to check out what is new and noteworthy on the island. For more on St. Barths see a fellow Tripper's St. Barths itinerary here.
Yes, you need a car and beware the driving can be challenging, with narrow, windy and steep roads. At night if you plan to have a drink or two take a taxi. There are many on the island and your hotel or restaurant can call one so you can enjoy your night out.
St. Barths notoriously small airport is not long enough for big jets—fly into St.Marteen and book a puddle-jump commuter flight on Winair. Though the flight is quick, less than 15 minutes, it is not for the faint of heart. Our landing on a windy day was shaky and as one passenger said “her worst in 20 years of coming to the island.” Tailwinds operate out of San Juan, another popular route, with a longer travel time close to 40 minutes.
Language – St Barths is a French island, and though you will hear French, English is spoken everywhere. The islands currency is the Euro, but U.S. dollars are widely accepted.
Bring home…we always visit Pharmacies when we travel stocking up on local products not available back home. And nothing beats French pharmacies, shopping destinations in their own right. In town, Pharmacie de Gustavia, has a great selection of French beauty products and elixirs-- the ‘crème de la crème’ of drugstores.
Chic Stay: We loved the brand new Villa Marie, generating a lot of buzz throughout the island. Nestled in a lush garden overlooking Flamands Beach the bungalows are all unique; decorated in gypset style, sophisticated yet bohemian with nice outdoor siting areas. With 21 rooms and three villas this is an intimate stay with personalized service. The hotel is built on a hilltop with the best rooms located at the highest level for the most sweeping views. In homage to its storied past, the restaurant has retained the original hotel name-- Francois Plantation, and early word is the food is great from the former chef of Tamarin. Villa Marie is thankfully missing all the glitches of a new hotel thanks to a warm and well trained staff reflecting the 30 years of experience from owner Jocelyne Sibuet of the French family-owned hotel group Maisons et Hotels Sibuet. (Well known hotels include: Bastide de Marie in Provence, Ferme de Marie in Megeve and namesake Villa Marie in St. Tropez.)
Disappointing Stay: Unfortunately we cannot recommend the brand new Le Barthelemy or its restaurant Aux Amis on Grand Cul de Sac. Big for the island with 47 rooms, the layout reads more motel than beach retreat. Beachfront rooms are nice, but interior rooms are dark and the hotel is one big maze like labyrinth. There is a beautiful infinity pool and a nice beach set up, but service is snotty, slow and unpolished. The food at the restaurant was fine, but fine is not a word you strive for in an island known for its fine cuisine. With so many great hotels on St Barths this is one to skip.
Hotel Facelifts: Le Toiny on the eastern end of the island has just completed a major renovation with its 15 hillside suites all redesigned; think coastal chic with whites and creams all with large living spaces, ocean views, private terraces and plunge pools. In addition to their main restaurant, there’s a new beach club complete with a restaurant and bar for daytime dining. Le Toiny is quiet, perfect for a romantic rendezvous, a honeymoon and just for those who want to relax and recharge on this natural, wild side of St Barth. Le Guanahani fresh off a 40 million dollar infusion is our pick for families, with a new beach side restaurant Indigo serving sushi and burgers in the sand. Eden Rock, one of the island’s longtime best hotels along with Cheval Blanc Isle de France, is better than ever thanks to a new merger with the Oetker Collection.
Breakfast: Most hotels offer wonderful complimentary breakfasts, but if you’re staying in a villa start your day the way the locals do with a café au lait and a croissant at Boulangerie Choisy, either in Gustavia or their new location in L’Orient, outside of St. Jean. (The new location offers ample seating to linger over the morning paper or catch up on your emails.) Back in Gustavia, have a coffee at Bar de L’Oubli, a popular spot at all times of the day or a fresh juice or smoothie at Tom’s Juice Bar.
Beach Days: Spend at least one morning or afternoon at Saline or Gouverneur Beach, our favorites on the island. For those who are sun sensitive bring your own chairs and umbrellas (you can rent in St. Jean at the surf shop up from Villa Creole), as there are no hotels or restaurants on the beach, just stunning sand and surf. Not far from Gouverneur have lunch on the terrace at Santa Fe, where the views and the food transport you to Provence.
Beach Eats: For high end dining at waters edge book a table at La Case de l’Isle at Cheval Blanc (formerly Isle de France) or at Taiwana on Flamands Beach. (Order their popular lentil salad.) After lunch take a walk on the beach, the islands largest, and go for a swim. Call ahead and reserve chairs for lounging, especially if you want shade. (We hear Taiwana has been bought by the LVMH group, the new owners of Cheval Blanc, and changes may be on the way.) Over at St. Jean, head to Sand Bar at Eden Rock or on Sundays to Nikki Beach for the sheer spectacle, amazing sax player and great DJ. (Must orders include the grilled calamari, a standout!) For a casual beach shack experience head to Grand Cul de Sac and enjoy grilled fish Creole style at O’Corail or La Gloriette.
Shop: Gustavia, the main town of St. Barths is not only picturesque, surrounded by a yacht-filled harbor, but is also shopping heaven. Skip Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Eres and head to the smaller boutique stores, many unique to the island. Some of our favorites include: Delfina, Lolita Jaca and Poupette for dreamy beachwear, St. Barth Caravan for the most silky pants we use for yoga or lounging about (ask the owner he’ll know what we’re talking about) and Bijoux de la Mer for the most beautiful Tahitian Pearls. (There are many stores on the island that sell Tahitian pearls, Bijoux is the original and by far the most expensive.) Fun, eclectic shops include Baya and French Indies Design. Other great shops can be found in St Jean at Villa Creole and by Nikki Beach. There head to Lilli Belle (Pelican Plage, St-Jean), Rose Indie, Terra and to Kiwi and Pain de Sucre for bathing suits. Just up the hill heading to Saline, don’t miss Yume for artisan jewelry, clothes and home accessories.
Yoga: Diana Bourel is the founder of the Art of Self Care, featuring her unique yoga philosophy that she has honed and nurtured over 30 years. Diana blends a mix of hatha, ashtanga and vinyasa styles into her classes encouraging all to develop a mindful and spiritual practice. Drop in classes are held in an inviting space atop the Venus Health and Beauty spa in Gustavia or you can book a private session at your hotel or villa. Our group participated in a transformational retreat combining yoga sessions with Aquavit Water Yoga at Nikki Beach, transpersonal, healing meditation, and afternoon sunset hikes. Interested in a retreat? Diana organizes the St. Barth Summer Camp Yoga Challenge from July 15-Aug 18, 2017, an a-la-carte yoga immersion program. See more and get in touch with Diana here.
Private Chef: Nick Van EE’s been cooking his entire life and has been a private chef all over the world. Lucky for you he is now based in St Barth and cooking up a storm. He can cook anything you fancy from Caribbean lobster to French beef bourguignon in addition to kosher, macrobiotic, spa and raw cuisine. Indonesian by birth and raised in Holland, we were especially attracted to his Asian menus and Nick delivered on his promise of an Asian extravaganza, some of the best and most flavorful food we’ve had-- not only in St. Barths but even back home in NY. Get in touch with Nick here before you head to St. Barths.
Sundowners: One of our favorite spots Do Brazil, on Shell beach, within walking distance of Gustavia sadly has closed. The brand new Shellona has taken its place, currently open for lunch and happy hour sunsets often with live music or a DJ. We didn’t have time this trip to visit, but as this is a great spot for sunsets we’re hoping Shellona can continue the magic that was Do Brazil. Let us know if you go.
Dinner: You can’t beat the magical setting of Tamarin, with tables spread throughout an enchanting garden. Everyone’s new favorite is Orega for Japanese-French fusion served in a small, charming wooden house in Gustavia. L’Isola specializes in elevated Italian fare. La Guerite, new to the harbor and extremely expensive even for St. Barths, we hear is better for a pre drink cocktails than a meal. We love the view at Bonito, high above Gustavia, and next time we’d stick to just drinks and ceviche’s, our entrees were not memorable. We wanted to try L’Esprit Saline and the new chef at Eden Rock, but ran out of days—next trip. And then there’s Maya’s—after 30 years still the island’s classic-- with a menu that changes daily featuring what’s fresh and seasonal—clean, deceptively simple, delicious food.
Local Bites: Three-hour lunches and long lingering dinners are fun, but if you’re on the island for more than a few days you’ll probably crave something more casual for some of your meals. At lunch, quick, delicious and healthy we love the salad selection at Kiki-é Mo and Maya’s to Go. (Maya’s is across from the airport and a mandatory stop for an excellent take away sandwich for the plane ride home) Local friends recommend Bananiers, Grain de Sel, Eddy’s for Creole dishes, Baz Bar, La Crêperie (with a selection of sweet and savory crepes), and L’Isoletta for pizza served Roman style.
Hike: Burn up some of your many meals and see another side to St Barths by going on a hike. Head to Colombier, a natural marine reserve with a beautiful beach that is only accessible by hiking in. (or by boat) The southeastern corner of St. Barths is jaw dropping with a rugged, mountainous coastline with wide open stretches of undeveloped land. Hike the coast above the long stretch of Toiny beach, bordered to the south by a cove known as Grand Fond. There’s a trial that leads to natural pools with the most famous nicknamed the Washing Machine.
Water Sports: The lagoon at Grand Cul de Sac beach is renowned as a premier kite surfing destination. A coral reef keeps waves at bay, and the north-eastern exposure guarantees trade winds making it a kite surfer’s dream. Kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and snorkeling, are also popular and available for rent.