Its easy to feel skeptical about this star-studded Caribbean getaway; until you find yourself being pummeled back into shape at a spa overhanging the cerulean waters, strolling the island's untouched beaches or snoozing to the sound of the ocean's swell by an infinity edge pool, that is. And you reluctantly realize that, you too, have fallen head over heels for the paradise island.
After being on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic for months, just three years after the island was wiped out by Hurricane IrmaSt. Barts has finally reopened. Travelers from all over the world are currently welcome to enter St. Barts in accordance with the testing requirements and regulations outlined here. Follow our guide of seven highlights not to miss when visiting this far-flung corner dubbed "little France."
The turquoise waters of Gouverneur Beach in St. Barts.
Surrounded by warm translucent waters and adorned with sloping hills draped in jungly vegetation, the tiny 10 square-mile St. Barts is a volcanic island of incredible natural beauty. Now a French overseas collectivity, it was first discovered and named in 1493 by Christopher Columbus after his brother Bartolomo.
Geared toward a high-flying clientele of celebrities (Johnny Hallyday, Frances answer to Elvis, is buried here for instance, and his grave has become a pilgrimage site for his many fans), billionaires come to lounge poolside at their private villas and show off their designer beachwear at the islands clutch of upscale hotels. Add the French gastronomical offerings to the mix, and youve got the whole picture.
1. The Event to Book: St. Barts Gourmet Festival
Celebrating a longstanding tradition of culinary excellence and the islands French ties, the Gourmet Festival tops St. Barts' social calendar. And the good news is that the seventh edition has just been announced.
The 2020 festival will take place November 11-15, it will be overseen by three-star chef Pierre Gagnaire and will feature chefs Dimitri Droisneau, Marcel Ravin, Jean-Rmi Caillon, Sbastien Vauxion, Cdric Groletand Juan Arbelaez.
The sixth edition of the St. Barts Gourmet Festival welcomed a host of French chefs, including ... [+] Michelin starred Guillaume Goupil from Le Burgundy Hotels Le Baudelaire restaurant in Paris.
And as American and French visitors tend to flock to the island at this time just to get a taste for the Caribbean-meets-French experience, do book your table early.
For the occasion, the organizers round up a handful of Michelin starred chefs from France and jet them off to the Caribbean island ("its a hard gig," the chefs will tell you wryly), so they can cook alongside locally established chefs in their kitchens, and give regular guests a new spin on the St. Barts dining experience.
Last years instalment included a star-studded cast: from patron of the festival Arnaud Faye (two stars at the bewitching La Chvre dOr in Eze in the South of France), to Eric Bouchenoire (two stars at Atelier Joel Robuchon), Taku Sekine (one star Dersou and Cheval dOr both in Paris), Guillaume Goupil (one star at the top-end Burgundy Hotel in Paris), Stphane Buron (two stars at the iconic Courchevel hotel Chabichou), Jean-Denis Rieubland (one star at the sumptuous Royal Champagne Hotel and Spa an hour outside Paris), Patric Vander (one star at Les Fresques at the Hotel Royal Evian Resort), and Philippe Jourdin (one star at Le Faventia, Terre Blanche Hotel on the Cte dAzur).
For one week, the chefs rustled up special dinner menus at local restaurants and hotels: Le Barthlemy Hotel & Spa, Hotel Christopher, Hotel Le Toiny, Le Sereno, Hotel Manapany, Le Tamarin, LEsprit Jean Claude Dufour and Nikki Beach.
The highlights were plenty. But one chefs dinner that particularly stood out was Guillaume Goupils Italian-infused French feast at Le Sereno Hotel. His simply grilled local lobster with fresh corn pasta and ginger stock will remain forever engraved in my memory. Tangy, fleshy, light and moreish, it was perfection.
2. The Eco-Hotel to Stay at: Manapany
Unless youve been sleeping under a rock for the last three years, youll have read about the grand undertaking to rebuild the island following the widespread destruction of Hurricane Irma. Along with the reconstruction (coming in at no less than $1.4 billion) the islands swanky hotels have reemerged looking slicker than ever. However, far from the kerfuffle of swanky cars disemboweling vacationers ready to bask in the sun in their designer clobber, is eco-hotel Manapany. Run by hotel collection B Signature CEO Anne Jousse, its desert-island atmosphere is its main asset - and a unique one at that.
The hotel bar looking out over the pool and ocean and the turquoise waters at the end of the beach ... [+] path of Manapany Hotels beach.
Tucked at one end of the islands wild Anse des Cayes beach, devoid of buildings, the setting is one of dreams. The hotel's two pools, both with ocean views, and the all-wooden circular restaurant that overhangs the water, are backed by beautiful hills of thick tangly nature that soar up to cobalt blue skies.
An all-wooden villa at Manapany Hotel and the view from a villa of the hotels preserved, wild bay.
Mealtimes here will have you stay for an hour - or two, or more - as you take in the changing colors of the skies above the inky horizon. And before you know it, your day chimes to a slower local pace of life made up of breakfast on the water, sunbathing to the sounds of the waves, and drinks on the castaway-style terrace of your room.
3. The Dreamiest Beach to Drive to: Plage du Gouverneur
Open to all and away from man-made constructions, the retina-pulling waters of this beach are lined by a ribbon of the finest of white sands that screams: Ive arrived in the Caribbean!
The white sands and cerulean waters of Gouverneur Beach, St. Barts.
Located on the south side of the island, the unspoiled stretch of beach is ideal for reconnecting with nature outside of a hotel setting and meeting locals who come here for some downtime and a swim in the cool salty waters. When the waters are calm, its also a great snorkeling hotspot. Other beaches to check out on the island include Saline, Shell Beach, and Colombier.
4. The Place to Go For Lobster: La Langouste
Something else that should be on your to-do list, is eat lobster, bien sr. And lots of it. St. Barts doesnt have many local specialties culinary-wise, cherry-picking its produce in neighboring St. Martin and Guadeloupe islands - except for lobster. Have it in a sandwich, tossed in a salad, or, as its served at La Langouste, mixed with fresh creamy tagliatelle.
Lobster is a St. Barts staple, and La Lagouste is the place to go to sample it.
Tucked away in the quieter north-western part of the island in the Bay of Angels, is an empty stretch of sand you get to have all to yourself. And it's here, at a low-key three-star hotel, that you'll find La Langouste. Its laid-back no-frills vibe is a welcome breath of fresh air though, especially if all the glitz and glamour of the fat-cat hotels have left you wondering where the local life is at.
La Langouste also serves lip-smacking good creole dishes like curries with rice and spicy fritters, which are perfect for mixing up your culinary experience while on the island.
5. The Hotspot to Go Shopping: Gustavia Harbour
The main town and capital of the island, Gustavia is a picture-perfect port surrounded by green hills, red-roofed houses and a handful of restaurants along the water like the Victoria. A smart colonial-style white clapboard set-up, it serves cocktails and stone-baked pizza but also large healthy salads and fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices. Looking out on the port and calm waters, from here, its easy to imagine the islands early days.
Gustavia Harbour, St. Barts.
After it was discovered by Christopher Columbus, the island became a French colony in the 1600s, before being handed over to the Swedes at the end of the 1700s for almost a century - in fact, Gustavia gets its name from the Swedish king of the time. A century later, the island returned to French rule until it became an autonomous territory in 2007 and left the EU in 2012.
As well as the islands main town, Gustavia is also its main shopping hub with plenty of French brands like Cartier and Herms to keep the crowds busy. Get lost in the cobblestone streets garlanded with fairy lights that click on at nightfall as music drifts through the streets. Pick up silk sarongs from Poupette,and pop into Clic to browse photography books by lesser-known designers. For something a little more cocktail-appropropriate, St. Barts has its very own offshoot of Pariss Montaigne Market. And for something a little more local, head to Ligne St. Barth beauty brand where products are made locally.
6. The Spa to Book: Hotel Christophers Sisley Spa
The smart Hotel Christopher, with a swanky infinity-edge pool, is where youll want to lay sunbathing all day. But its discreet iconic French branded Sisley spa with killer ocean views is a must for some post-flight TLC.
The Sisley Spa at Hotel Christopher, which looks out onto the ocean.
Small and intimate, its tucked away right at the very extremity of the hotel, along a stone path lined by villas on one side and the turquoise water on the other. Understated, the spa's seating area hangs over the water and looks out on one of the islands many curved bays.
Theres no changing in a communal area here. Each guest is led to their private cabin with glass doors thrown open onto the water and an outdoor shower youll never want to leave. Except the treatment is well worth going back inside for. Laying on the massage table, the sound of the waves just down below and the therapists slow and steady expert movements will transport you somewhere close to nirvana.
7. The Place to Party: Nikki Beach
Regulars seem to all descend on the island to compare notes and suntans, catch up on gossip - and party. And one essential go-to for a champagne-fuelled brunch that, before you know it, turns into an everyone-on-tables daytime dance marathon, is Nikki Beach.
The smart set-up at Nikki Beach, right on the beach.
Its gentle clubby vibe is what keeps people coming back, but also its setting. Laid out on a gleaming white open-plan wooden deck just steps from the lapping turquoise waters, its the perfect spot for groups of friends and families to eat and drink with their toes in the sand. A must, no St. Barts experience is quite complete until youve danced the afternoon away here.
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