The Decadence of St. Barts
It’s hard for me to actually relax when I travel. I tend to turn all my vacations into location scouts or writing assignments, never getting the downtime I originally planned for. But hey, at least you get to benefit from my endless quest for great getaways!
On my most recent search, I called up a friend for some help. He suggested an amazing little island in the Caribbean called St. Barts. It sounded like the perfect place for a quiet retreat, with beautiful white beaches and crystal blue swimming waters.
As we talked more about St. Barts, my friend made another suggestion: bring your party clothes. Party clothes? Here I was whinging about my much-needed me-time, and all of a sudden we’re talking about seaside get-togethers and yacht parties. Funny how these things escalate.
“Trust me, its paradise,” he said reassuringly. “But be careful. I know you… you’ll fall in love.” And with this he hastily signed off, leaving me to ponder that last cryptic remark. I took his advice anyway and booked a two-way ticket to paradise.
Eight Square Miles
St. Barts (short for Saint Barthélemy) was discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus and named after his brother, Bartholomew. You might be wondering why you’ve never heard of this awesome little island. Well, that’s because it’s one of the world’s best-kept secrets. When I say it’s little, I mean tiny. St. Barts is only eight square miles in size – less than a quarter of Manhattan! It’s only half as large as its northwest neighbor St. Martin, but it’s just as French. Most everyone who lives there speaks French or a French creole. There aren’t any cruise ships allowed in the waters around St. Barts, and there’s little to no tourism promotion. Needless to say, this isn’t your average spring break mecca. You almost have to find out about St. Barts by word of mouth, or just by accident.
I flew into St. Barts on a twelve-passenger prop plane. Never one to be fearful of props, I think it’s more fun getting tossed around a bit and sitting with the pilots. It makes it all seem much more adventurous.
St. Barts has one of the shortest runways in the world, and at the end of it is the beautiful St. Jean Bay. My fellow passengers, all of whom had been to St. Barts before, were swapping missed-runway stories – i.e. times the plane literally overshot the runway. One story had the plane coming in too fast with not enough runway to land on. A quick-thinking pilot had pulled back up, narrowly avoiding disaster, but not before the landing gear had skimmed the water and hurtled towards an unsuspecting windsurfer. The windsurfer baled just before impact, but the board and sail took flight with the plane! Adventure and excitement, I thought to myself… this is cool!
My own descent turned out to be uneventful (though, I guess that’s a good thing). The plane came to a halt on the tarmac, and I filed out of it with the other eleven passengers. What I saw took my breath away. The terminal at the Gustaf III Airport looked like an oversized Hansel and Gretal cottage, painted mint green with white trim and set against a backdrop of picturesque mountains. It only took that brief moment standing at the door to realize what my friend had meant. I fell instantly in love with St. Barts.
I grabbed my bags and headed to my rental car. The cars on the island are small, to fit on the windy and narrow two-lane roads. Maneuvering on these roads is an adventure in itself. There are other rental options such as motorcycles, mopeds, and two-seated cars called Smarts, which are an efficient way to get around the island.
If you like partying, the two-week period starting just before Christmas through the New Year is the best and busiest time for partying in St. Barts. The temperature hovers around 80 degrees, with a nice breeze coming in from the sea. During this time, the whole island turns into one big party. You’ll see mega moguls and celebrities converging on St. Barts in their private jets and luxury yachts.
There are only so many accommodations an eight square mile island can offer, and space is limited. An average two-star hotel can cost upwards of $700 per night, and a two-week minimum booking is required. Whether you choose to stay two days, ten days or the whole fourteen, you have to put down for two weeks. No exceptions.
There is an alternative to these overpriced hotels. St. Barts has over 200 villas available from agencies such as Sibarth and the Marla Agency. If you’re planning to travel during the peak holiday time, then booking your villa of choice the January before is a good idea. A modest two-bedroom villa will cost you anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000 per week, again with that required two-week minimum booking.
Cellular phones are a must on the island. There are independent agencies that provide phones for rent, and your villa rental agency can help set you up with one as well. The reason having a phone is so important is that when you meet someone, you hand them a card with your personal cell phone number on it. This way they can contact you later with information about the party du jour, and that night’s happenings on the island. Armed and ready with my cell phone, I quickly turned into a party queen, roving from one decadent party to the next.
I knew I’d promised myself some relaxation time, and surprisingly enough I managed to fit in some quality beach lounging. My favorite beach is the Grande Saline on the island’s south shore, or “Caribbean side.” It has those swimming-pool-blue waters, rolling waves and beautiful scenery, with no shops and bars to clutter it up. St. Barts boasts 20 beautiful beaches, and between them there’s something for everyone – yachting, jet skiing, snorkeling, fishing, surfing and good old relaxing.
St. Barts’ capital, Gustavia, is a scenic town located on the island’s most beautiful harbor. It features some of the best shopping in the world. Hermès, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Cartier, La Perla, and Prada are just a few of the designers who cater to the “St. Barts clientele.” Affluence is everywhere on the island. Because it’s hard to get to and not well known, St. Barts attracts royalty, moguls and celebrities looking for privacy. Autographs and stargazing is strictly out of the question. Celebrities such as Julianne Moore, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Sir Elton John, Leonardo DiCaprio, Puff Daddy, and Mariah Carrey can be seen eating and shopping in the boutiques of Gustavia.
Gustavia’s harbor is quite a spectacle in itself. Yachts dock there from all over the world. Lined up, side by side, they look like a fleet of lost cruise ships. Paul Allen’s five-story yacht, with its four wave-runners hanging off the sides and helicopter landing pad on the upper deck, sits next to the Estee Lauder yacht, which rubs shoulders with Leonardo DiCaprio’s chartered $80,000-dollar-a-day yacht, which floats next to…. The list goes on and on.
Food of the Gods
St. Barts offers an array of places to dine and people watch. Right on the beach is the trendy La Plage. Owners Carole Gruson (at left) and Thierry de Badereau throw annual themed lunch parties – reservations required. It’s a wild affair, and themes range from disco Tuesday and cowboy Thursday to Red Party, where you must come dressed in red. Carol’s clothing boutique inside La Plage Restaurant sells great accessories and costumes, as well as some hot garments designed by Carol and other famous fashion houses, displayed on some of France’s most beautiful models. You can purchase an outfit right off the models and have it wrapped and ready for you to wear.
After lunch has been served and the tables cleared, the music gets bumping and dancing on tables commences. The same people who own La Plage also run Le Ti St. Barts Cantina. It is the place to be in the evenings, full of beautiful people and amazing food! Be prepared for late nights at Le Ti – around 2 a.m. the party’s just getting started.
The island is packed with restaurants to enjoy (more than twenty-five by my count). I would need to be there an extra month to try them all. One of my favorites is a lunch place called Le Tamarin. You can choose between traditional Caribbean dishes and fresh catches of the day, such as mouthwatering lobster. Don’t miss their famous chocolate desserts!
While I was in St. Barts this year, there were two restaurant opening parties. The first was for the beautiful Niki Beach, and the other was for Zanzibarth. Niki beach sits right on the beach, with lounges and oversized beds to relax on and a beautiful white-on-white bar motif, and Zanzibarth just oozes “cool.”
- L’Iguane in the heart of Gustavia for happy hour and sushi.
- Baie des Anges for their lobster salad.
- Maya for their eclectic dishes.
- L’Orchidee on the beach at the Christopher Hotel, in Pointe Milou.
- Le Deck for an indoor/outdoor nightclub after midnight.
- L’Esprit Saline for a wonderful Medeteranean dish.
- Le Piment for Salmon tartare and paninis.
Before I knew it I was facing a flight out the next morning. My two weeks in St. Barts had flown by. I knew that all good things must come to an end… especially the most decadent ones. I found myself so relaxed and “in love” with everything St. Barts. I really didn’t want to go home just yet, which is rare for me. I’m usually always looking forward to somewhere new, hardly visiting to the same place more than once.
On the plane I took a moment to close my eyes and reflect on one of the most incredible travel experiences I’ve had to date, all the while thinking, “I can’t wait to see you again next year, St. Barts!”