I finally pulled back the curtain and discovered what draws the elite to this island paradise.
It’s hard to say when my fascination with St. Barths began. Between reading and hearing about the island for so long, soon curiosity was killing me. I was set to go to this Caribbean paradise in 2017, but that dream was put on hold when Hurricane Irma hit. Still, I had a sweet spot for St. Barths and my curiosity remained piqued.
Last summer, like a long-lost lover, St. Barths called to me again via an invite to attend the St. Barths Gourmet Festival in November. I’ve never said yes so fast. At long last, I would check this island off my travel list and discover what consistently draws the Hollywood elite and wealthy to park their yachts here. The intrigue was intense. What would I discover about this Caribbean island, also known as the little France of the Americas? It’s so steeped in mystique and has that buzzy je ne sais quoi.
There are no direct flights from the States to St. Barths, but that was quite okay. My entrance to the island felt grand. I had the privilege of flying St. Barths Executive, a private charter from nearby St. Maarten. For a minute, I felt like a queen during the short flight; a plane regally outfitted and frequented by A-listers. From my window, the beauty of the flight was surpassed by the bluest sea with yachts and sailboats afloat. Simply put, there’s no place like St. Barths.
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Mother Nature is the real star of the island. There are beaches and then there are beaches. The more than a dozen beaches are extraordinary, from those with rugged beauty worth the hike to visit, to the calm waters of the sea just steps from your hotel. The turquoise water is a colorful contrast to the red roofs of villas and mansions tucked in the hillsides that dot the lush green landscape. The narrow and winding roads make something as ordinary as driving around an adventure. When visiting St. Barths, you’ll want a jeep, scooter, or rag-top (and big sunglasses). And the views from on high? Well, you’ll get weary of oohing and aahing because every turn around the bend is more spectacular than the last.
Unlike some other Caribbean islands, you won’t find mega-hotels and sprawling all-inclusive resorts at St. Barths. Instead, the island is dotted with 5-star boutique hotels and charming villas. Whoever heard of an island of 10,000 people with 10 five-star hotels and 800 villas? That’s St. Barths.
For my visit, I checked into Villa Les Lataniers—its oceanview terrace and infinity pool made me wish I could move in permanently. The hotels are part of the lifeblood that keeps St. Barths pumping, with their exquisite restaurants, bars, spas, and amenities that are meant to impress. At Hôtel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf, there are suites and villas with their own private pool or plunge pool, and private terrace—including some overlooking the ocean. Some private pools even come equipped with water bikes.
When it comes to eating, it’s unsurprising that the cuisine shines as much as the accommodations on St. Barths. On the island, there are more than 80 eateries—ranging from upscale French, Italian, and Thai to Creole, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and more. For fine dining, look no further than La Casa De L’Isle, the seaside restaurant at Cheval Blanc hotel. For a more casual option (yes, even St. Barths can be laidback) check out Le Select, with its signature burgers and Fish Corner.
Wherever you choose to eat, the island’s cuisine is so elevated it’s worth the trip. It’s not for naught that 10 multi-Michelin-starred chefs from France said they felt honored to be guest chefs at the St. Barts Gourmet Festival. The 2021 festival was an opportunity to showcase restaurants at iconic hotels like the Hôtel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf, Hotel Christopher St. Barths, Le Sereno, Hotel Manapany, and Cheval Blanc St Barths Isle de France.
Night after night, each course presented at the Gourmet Festival was an incredible feat of creativity. From crispy chicken brioche and caviar to the red tuna served with mezcal aguachile—each decadent dish paired perfectly with the wine. It’s the flavors that stick with me, such as the spiny lobster served with a smoke tapioca cream or the confit pork cheek with split peas, horseradish, and West-Indies’ sausage. The memory of each dish and its intoxicating flavors still lingers on my palate.
Of course, beyond cuisine and accommodations, it is the beaches that draws one to St. Barths. While all the beaches here are idyllic, like something straight out of a movie, you don’t want to miss Saint-Jean, Gouverneur, or Colombier, which is well worth the half-hour trail walk to get there. If you’re not a water worshipper, you won’t be bored. For retail therapy of the highest quality, head to Gustavia to shop a plethora of luxury brands. In Gustavia, you also can get a bit of history and culture from Le Musee Territorial “Wall House,” which tells the St. Barths story, and Le Petit Collectionneur Museum, for added Caribbean history.
The thing about St. Barths is that for as much as there is glitz and glamour, there is also an understated chill vibe. People on the island are often immaculately dressed. At the opening reception for the food festival, women appeared in floor-length gowns, replete with beaded and sparkly details; while the men looked as though they had stepped off a magazine shoot. While taking in the scene at the restaurants and bars, women wore beautiful kaftans and men donned crisp linen shirts and shorts that might have cost more than some’s monthly mortgage. Despite the obvious display of style and wealth, there’s the sense that people are simply dressing up and now showing off. That non-plussed attitude is one reason anyone can feel welcome in St. Barths.
While on the island, I enjoyed people-watching. No doubt the people are a part of St. Barths’ inherent magic There’s old money in St. Barths, but it’s vibrant from the hipsters who live and flock there. The island keeps things interesting for residents and visitors alike. Nearly every month there is some sort of festival—be it art, books, films, music, or nautical-themed events. This ups the “it” factor of the island and brings in a diverse mix of people. You never know who you might meet at a St. Barths event.
During the day, St. Barths makes clear it can cater to different travelers. There are lunchtime DJs spinning at places like Nikki Beach, where party-goers can be seen dancing at the tables by midday. There are elevated cocktails and a “fire show” being served at Eden Rock, the island’s first swanky hotel. There are beachgoers, sun worshippers, and serenity-seeking spa lovers as well. In short, the island has a little something for everyone, no matter your interest.
INSIDER TIPIn peak season—mid-December through mid-April—the traffic can be onerous in and around Gustavia. Parking can be difficult. Thankfully, that’s being addressed with plans for new parking places for boutique owners, restaurant employees, and office workers, which will free up parking for visitors.
When visiting St. Barths, you frequently hear locals say that visitors to the island rarely only come once. After a stay that brought me the finest comforts, explosive flavors, and idyllic beaches—I’m confident that I too, will return one day.