Saint Barthélemy, or St. Barths, possibly the chicest island in the Caribbean, is best known for its glamorous clientele and brilliant aquamarine water. Located between the US Virgin Islands and St. Kitts, it has mastered the balance of Caribbean charm and European sophistication, drawing everyone from honeymooners and (affluent) families to rock stars and starlets. Make sure these seven must-do’s find a spot on your ultimate St. Barths itinerary.
While you’re on the island, explore as many of its breathtaking beaches as you can. Rent a car, grab a towel, an umbrella (most hotels will provide one), and your swimsuit (or not—even though nude sunbathing is officially prohibited in St. Barths, topless sunbathing is permitted).
Although there are over 20 beaches (all public), there are several crowd favorites. The most picturesque and well-known beach is Saline. Its water is calm and perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Just west of Saline is Gouverneur, which is equally scenic, great for snorkeling and even a little surfing. For great views of St. Martin, visit Flamands, one of the few beaches with any shade.
Baie de St. Jean is the best beach for partying and people-watching—grab a drink here at the Pink Parrot, Nikki Beach, or Eden Rock.
Colombier, only accessible by boat or a half-hour walk, is an especially romantic place to have a picnic. Before beginning your hike to this secluded and romantic beach, pick up gourmet bites for your picnic at Maya’s-to-Go.
For water sports like windsurfing and snorkeling, be sure to stop by Grand Cul de Sac. After you’ve worked up an appetite here, pop into O’Corrail, located right on the beach.
Finally, if you’re looking for true isolation, take the trail from Grand Cul de Sac to a beach called the Washing Machine. This beach got its name from the strong waves that have created pools within the rocks.
Ask for a map of the island before you leave on your beach-hopping adventure. Locals insist that the roads are easy to navigate, but the truth is its easy to get lost without one.
Hit La Plage
La Plage epitomizes the island’s chic-meets-low-key vibe. Located at Tom Beach Hotel, this hip supper club is the place to see and be seen. Expect to hang with island regulars and even an occasional celebrity like Demi Moore or Jimmy Buffett. Its sandy floor, tropical breeze, and incredible views are guaranteed to seduce.
La Plage always has some kind of party going on: on Friday nights it’s the famous "I Love Fridays" party, with its upscale dining and a live fire show, on Saturdays it’s Bikini Brunch, an afternoon party reminiscent of Nikki Beach soirees (only a bit more casual), and finally, Sunday evenings mean a seaside barbecue with live music by island superstars like Robb Tito (Request his famous "St. Barth Song").
Savor the Sunset
The sunsets in St Barths are worth writing home about. We mean it when we say you should make sure that no matter where you are each evening, you have a cocktail in hand and a front row seat to take in the gorgeous hues that take over the sky. Our favorite spot is Do Brazil, a casual restaurant located in Shell Beach, where you can sit with your feet in the sand and sip some of the island’s best caipirinhas and mojitos. On the Rocks with Jean Georges at the Eden Rock Hotel is also a prime evening locale. From here, you can also watch as small commuter planes depart from the island’s infamously tiny runway. After the sun has set, stick around for an unforgettable view of the stars through a glass roof.
Forget Your Beach Diet
There’s more to indulge in on St. Barth than the just sunsets and clear, blue waters. Although the best restaurants will cost you—prices are high even by New York standards—the high end cuisine here is some of the best in the Caribbean. And its easy to see why with all the freshly-caught seafood and an endless string of French imports.
For a swanky night out, reserve at Le Gaïac, at Hôtel Le Toiny. Order the truffle pasta that is prepared table-side in a massive wheel of cheese.Brunch at Le Gaïac is an island classic, so be sure to reserve in advance.
For a casual bite, Le Select is the perfect place to savor burgers and beer at unusually affordable prices. Its unassuming plastic chairs have hosted many a celebrity. The restaurant is even said to have inspired Jimmy Buffet’s song, "Cheeseburger in Paradise."
Embrace the island’s tranquil vibe and unwind with a relaxing treatment from a mobile spa. Therapists from Art et Bien Etre will come to your guest room or villa armed with everything necessary to transform any space into a sanctuary. If you don’t mind leaving the comfort of your "home," the Guanahani spa by Clarins at Hotel Guanahani is recognized as one of the best in the Caribbean. It embraces old healing traditions that will melt away your anxiety. And last but not least, perched above Gustavia’s harbor, Carl Gustaf’s Boutique Spa by Carita offers stunning views of St. Kitts Island and a wide range of luxurious massages, body treatments, and facials.
Dance on a Table
Nightlife in St. Barth doesn’t get going until midnight, so plan on dancing until the sun comes up and sleeping the next day on the beach—a St. Barths way of life. The most iconic hotspot that has endured over time is Le Ti St. Barth. Book a late night table for about 10 pm and enjoy one a mouthwatering steak. Order a few bottles of bubbly and stick around after your meal so you can catch all the action. Sit back and watch the glitterati funnel in; it won’t be long before you’re dancing on the tables with them. The First is another trendy spot to start your evening with a couple cocktails before heading downstairs to the Yacht Club.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
St. Barths offers the best shopping in the Caribbean, and since it’s a duty-free island (go back and reread that—it is a duty free island), it’s easy to justify a splurge. If you’re going to do some real damage, head into Gustavia where you’ll find designer outposts like Hermès, Chopard, and Louis Vuitton.
Human Steps and Stephane & Bernard also offer luxurious labels like Prada, Miu Miu, and Missoni. Or spring for local brand Free in St. Barth, which specializes in comfy tees and sweats.
The other major shopping destination on the island is St. Jean. Spend an afternoon perusing laid-back threads at Christiane Celle (the island’s most popular boutique) and pop into Pain de Sucre for the trendy swimwear. Don’t leave without visiting a few markets to sample imported French cheese and wine.
Katie Goldstein is a freelance travel journalist based in New York City. In addition to Fodor’s, her writing and photographs have appeared on Forbes and CBS.com. Keep up with Katie’s adventures on her travel blog, Travelingpanties, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photo Credits: All courtesy of Katie Goldstein