Beyond the allures of its storied opulence, St. Barths is ideal for a tropical recharge. The French island in the West Indies boasts a particular savoir vivre, while dramatic mountains, isolated stretches of beach and rocky cliffs invigorate your soul and make you an instant convert.
There’s a reason that actors, socialites and billionaires alike retreat to the island of St. Barths year after year. While its cerulean waters and mountainous terrain are enough to captivate any lucky traveler, the unique laissez-faire Caribbean vibe fused with the sophistication of Saint-Tropez are what keep people coming back. St. Barths, which blends European and Creole traditions, offers a unique brand of luxury that remains unpretentious in all its glory.
This overseas territory of France has exclusivity to spare with its luxury shops, superyacht-paneled marina and star-studded clientele. Yet it remains a feet-in-the-sand hotspot where barefoot locals blend with Birkin-toting travelers. In fact, what intrigues people most about the island is how it makes you feel like a seasoned local, glitz and all. With no seedy neighborhoods to avoid and every inch of the nine-square-mile island worth exploring, this feels like no other Caribbean destination.
There are no direct flights to the island, so unless you charter a small private aircraft, your best option is flying into St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport before catching a dozen-seat puddle-jumper or ferry to the island. The 15-minute flights must be booked in advance through St. Barths Commuter or Winair. It’s a short flight, but that doesn’t make the trip any less daunting. The runway at St. Barths’ Gustaf III Airport is the shortest in commercial aviation. Pilots land between wind-buffeted peaks and your stomach loops as the plane brakes hard 15 feet before roaring ocean waves. Dangerous? No. Exhilarating? Yes.
Those seeking a not-so-thrilling arrival can catch a 45-minute ferry ride to the marina. You can buy your tickets in advance from Great Bay Express or the Voyager.
WHERE TO STAY
The best time to make your way to St. Barths is November through June. The peak season falls between December and January and requires reservations at least six months in advance.
Luxury accommodations aren’t hard to come by, although behemoth, all-inclusive, commercialized resorts are foreign to the island’s boutique vibe. For complete seclusion, Hotel Le Toiny is your answer. Located on the area of the island referred to as Côte Sauvage, it has 14 private luxury villa suites that span the hotel’s 42-acre property and boasts a coastal-chic aesthetic.
If you want to mingle with the who’s who of the island, Eden Rock-St Barths is the splashy place to stay. Located on St. Jean beach, this mainstay has some of the finest dining and luxury villas on the island. Its suite Villa Rockstar is complete with a full recording studio and has become home away from home for such artists as Kenny Chesney and Mick Jagger.
For couples who want an elegant and romantic stay, Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France sits along the arc of Flamands Beach and has hosted the likes of Marc Jacobs, Jay Z, Beyonce and Ryan Seacrest. The hotel has rooms and suites along the beach and secluded bungalows in the garden at the back. For a family-friendly getaway, Le Guanahani offers five-star accommodations complete with an itinerary of fun adventures for the family and the choice to relax on not one, but two pristine beaches.
If you want to forgo a hotel, renting a villa offers a home-away-from-home experience with luxury amenities and heightened privacy. St. Barths Properties offers one- to eight-bedroom palatial villas throughout the island and will take care of all your needs: from airport transfers and dinner reservations to organizing day excursions or booking a babysitter. Most villas are fully staffed, and laundry, cleaning and even cooking are left to professionals.
As pure and natural as the cuisine, all 16 beaches are pristine, white-sanded oases. Surrounded by shallow lagoons, they are perfect for snorkeling, diving and boating in the azure waters.
Saline Beach remains both a local and visitor’s favorite for its untouched stretch of sandy beach free of restaurants, bars and shops. The beach is remote enough that it requires a five-minute walk after parking, taking you up a slight rocky pathway and down a lush-paneled crescent before hitting the beach. It’s one of St. Barths’ only fully nude beaches, though still perfect for swimmers of all ages and sinking your feet in the sand.
Gouverneur Beach is a hidden gem that lies between Saline Beach and the downtown capital of Gustavia. Shallow reefs make this spot perfect for snorkeling along the shore or cooling off in the waves. Yachts routinely dock here and set up camp for the day, so don’t be surprised if you see impeccably dressed crewmen assembling chaises and umbrellas and unloading coolers of rosé.
For a more lively scene, head to St. Jean, whose turquoise waters invite more adventurous guests to windsurf, paddle board and frolic in its waves. Much-needed lunch breaks are easier on this part of the island, where you have nonstop fun and ample people-watching at Nikki Beach, La Plage and Eden Rock-St Barths.
When your day of fun is over, locals and visitors alike head to Shell Beach, comprised of millions of thumbnail-sized shells of all colors and shapes. This unparalleled sunset view offers a chance to kick off your shoes and hop in the water while the bartender salts your margarita.
WHERE TO SHOP
Gustavia, the capital and port of the island, and St. Jean, the second-largest hotspot, are the two main shopping and dining areas. Gustavia brings a Fifth Avenue sensibility to a stretch of superyacht-lined streets with Dolce & Gabbana, Cartier, Bulgari, Ralph Lauren, Roberto Cavalli, Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Tourbillon Boutique. Yet there’s also a distinct island-chic vibe with Calypso for boho-chic kaftans, Poupette with bold-patterned airy dresses and Mademoiselle Hortense for classic warm-weather staples.
After shopping, stop in at Carre d’Or plaza to get a cocktail and gaze at the stark-white mega-yachts bouncing at the marina. Or, head to Dolce & Gabbana’s brand-new Martini Bar for a sneak peek at the brand’s latest pieces while sipping on a cocktail.
In St. Jean, you’ll find more beach-inspired wear from chic boutiques such as Filles des Iles, Hartford, Terra and Kiwi St.-Tropez.
WHERE TO EAT
When you’re ready for lunch, enjoy some of the island’s freshest meals at one of Eden Rock-St Barths’ chic lunch spots, Sand Bar, on St. Jean Beach with a menu from the notable French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Don’t let the name fool you: the best-dressed and most well-connected folk come here for a midday meal. (Eden Rock-St Barths’ On The Rocks restaurant is perfect for dinner.)
If you opt for something more upbeat, no place is more lively than Nikki Beach. Known for massive seafood boats, early-afternoon bottle service and dancing on the tables well into the night, this St. Jean hotspot gives you a chance to experience the island’s wild social scene.
For a more reserved lunching experience, Grain de Sel near Saline Beach serves up burgers and salads, while Le Select in Gustavia (which inspired Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburgers in Paradise”) has greasy burgers in a no-frills setting. When the sun goes down, bikinis are traded for Louboutins and the island starts living up to its glamorous reputation. St. Barths rivals the south of France for award-winning chefs.
A trip to St. Barths isn’t complete without a visit to Maya’s, a restaurant loved by every celebrity from Paul McCartney and Ellen DeGeneres to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Leonardo DiCaprio. You can enjoy its renowned mahi mahi and fresh vegetables as you gaze out at the waters and experience the breezy Caribbean night. Reservations get swiped up quickly here, so be sure to book your dinner months in advance.
The Latin-French restaurant Bonito will quickly become your favorite. Boasting a Hamptons-meets-South-Beach vibe, it serves up some of the best caviar, seafood and truffle-infused dishes.
You can find the finest Italian food at Gustavia’s L’Isola, a romantic spot that transports you to the heart of Rome. The best casual Italian can be found at its daughter restaurant down the street L’Isoletta, for nights when you don’t feel like dressing up.
Though it may sound trite to say each restaurant has the freshest seafood, this is nonetheless true. L’Espirit Saline, on the more tranquil side of the island, has been a staple for decades and remains one of the most consistently delicious hubs.
Bagatelle, an offshoot of the original in New York City’s Meatpacking District, offers phenomenal cuisine and turns into a club at 10 p.m. The neighboring Baz Bar offers a more local feel with reggae music and serves some of the best sushi on the island as guests dance to live music. Jon Bon Jovi and Jimmy Buffett are no strangers to picking up guitars and entertaining guests with a late-night show when they’re in town for the Christmas season.
WHAT TO DO
If there’s one thing uniform about the St. Barths scene, it’s how laid-back and reserved it is by day. So leave your heels for late-night dinners.
Everyone on St. Barths is active, and exercise doesn’t require a gym. Instead, your workout lies in the hilly terrain. Before the midday sun wears you down, head out for a morning hike to the famed “washing machine” in Grand Fond, which spans rocky cliffs and leads you to a natural pool whose tides mimic the swirling water of a washing machine. A trek to Colombier Beach, though not for the faint-hearted, is a local favorite. This isolated haven is accessible only by boat or a 30-minute downhill hike.
St. Barths is famous for its nightlife. New York hotspot 1Oak just planted roots here, and Le Ti St-Barth, the raucous and kitschy nightclub, is a must for those wanting to experience authentic St. Barths after hours. If you’re looking for a post-1:00 a.m. party, search no further than Modjo St. Bart’s.
Despite St. Barths’ proclivity for attracting elite and discerning travelers, the life, love and creativity that characterize the island can be enjoyed by all and are what keep this island buzzing. One thing is for certain: you’ll never want to leave this idyllic paradise.
Visit StBarth.com to book your trip.
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