- Category: Destinations
- Author: Francis Tran
Saint Barthélemy: The Most Fashionable Island in the Caribbean
When the first colonial ships sailed to the West Indies, the winds blew them there southwest from Europe. This is why the southeast islands of the Antilles were called the Windward Islands (upwind), and those north of Guadeloupe, the Leeward Islands (downwind). The second group includes many of our favorite vacation destinations, such as Montserrat, Anguilla and the French island Saint-Barthélemy. Each is known for its sandy beaches and almost always sunny weather.
Like Guadeloupe and Martinique, St. Barths is an overseas territory of France. So French is the official language and both Bastille Day and Mardi Gras are celebrated. Expect to enjoy macaroons and café au lait, for this is very much a tropical France.
St. Barths’ capital Gustavia was named for the Swedish king Gustav III, reflecting the island’s history as the only one in the Caribbean to have come under Swedish rule (albeit very briefly). To appreciate the island’s breathtaking beauty, check out this slideshow by the Architectural Digest.
Boutiques make Gustavia a shopping destination second to none in the Lesser Antilles. Small enough to be fully explored in a day trip, its shopping district can provide everything from the most chic of sundresses to high-end jewelry. And bonus: anything you buy here is completely duty-free! Don’t expect to find bargains in St. Barths though, for the stores focus mostly on quality fashion and designer clothes.
While you’re in town, pay a visit to the city’s main museum. Le Musée Territorial de Saint Barthélemy reveals the island’s history in paintings and artifacts.
The island is also renowned for its fine dining. More than 80 restaurants operate on St. Barths, offering fare ranging from Creole to French, from other continental options to Asian fusion, and from pub burgers to restaurants serving fresh seafood with a wine list to quell the fears of any connoisseur. Rockefeller so loved the fine things here that he bought a house on the island. The famous French chef Vongerichten also spends his vacations here. You can find a list of his favorite restaurants in this interview with the New York Times.
But the main attractions of St. Barths remain its its beaches. More than 20 are available to the general public, each charming in its own way: St. Jean Beach in the shadow of the famous hotel Eden Rock is the one best known, while Flamands Beach is a popular choice for surfers, thanks to its steady winds. The reef-protected Lorient Beach has calm waters for snorkelling, while Grand Cul-de-Sac Beach offers ideal conditions for sailing or windsurfing. Saline Beach and Gouverneur Beach are also well known for their beautiful sand, scenic cliffs and nude sunbathing.
St. Barths doesn’t have a lot of beachfront resorts. Supremely comfortable luxury villas are the popular choice for accommodation. This situation appeals to fashionable crowds demanding only the best of the best. Recent visitors include Beyoncé and family, Sting, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Villas are available virtually everywhere in St. Barths, from right on Gouverneur Beach to near Gustavia.
- The New York Times, Eat Like a Chef on St. Barths. Check out Vongerichten’s blog for the New York chef’s delicious culinary stories.
- Architectural Digest, The Magnificent Beaches, Hiking Trails, and Restaurants of St. Barths (Lee F. Mindel)