St Barts SummerSt. Barth's - Champagne Afternoons
If idyllic means champagne-fueled afternoons and dancing on tables, St. Barth’s defines the word. On any given evening, bottles of Dom, topped with sparklers make like the Black Eyed Peas and light up the night, while cougars prowl for local and imported antelope. The only snooze fest that happens is on the following morning. The summer may not be celeb season, but it’s the most attainable for mere mortals to glimpse how the 1 percent lives. And they live very, very well.
The Inside on Logistics
There are no direct flights to St. Barth’s. Even those with private Lear jets change to a smaller airplane in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, or San Juan to fit on the tiny runway in St. Barth’s. In addition, pilots have to contend with high winds, a narrow mountain pass, and a runway that literally ends at the beach.
The best and safest way to get to St. Barth’s is to fly with Tradewind Aviation from San Juan. While you can privately charter any type of plane, they have a scheduled charter to St. Barth’s, which is just like flying private. During the high season, the flight runs around $450 each way. It’s competitive with the other airlines, and if you’re connecting without baggage, you don’t need to exit security. The only problem is after flying Tradewind, commercial will never be the same.
For the off-season trip, you’re stuck with Winair, which is like taking an old bus in the sky. The airplane seems manual but somehow they get their well-heeled clientele back and forth safely for the 10 minute flight to St. Maarten.
When you get to the airport, pick up the gorgeous magazines of St. Barth’s, especially the annual Guest Book, which has menus from the top restaurants on the island. The magazines will give you the inside scoop on the St. Barth’s social scene, players on the set, shops and restaurants. Best of all, they’re all gratis.
Hotels only shuttle you to and from the airport, so a car is essential in St. Barth’s. In typical St. Barth’s style, even rental cars are chic and include convertible Mini Coopers or Jeep Wranglers. Cool Rental will also drop off the car at your hotel and pick it up from your destination of choice. For evening fun, cabs run 25-35 euros between destinations.
It Lives Up to the Hype
St. Barth’s is part of the French West Indies, and the French influence is evident in the culture, language, food, and wine. Instead of an all-inclusive resort, there are interesting towns to explore, dozens of high-end restaurants, and crazy good shopping. The nightlife is fantastique, as the French would say, with the best experiences at Nikki Beach, Le Yacht Club, Bagatelle, and Le Ti St-Barth.
Geographically, the island is worth exploring, from the gorgeous beaches in Flanders and Gouverneur to the wild, overgrown greenery near Le Toiny, where more advanced surfers (aka the locals) catch a set. In Gustavia, the hitters dock their yachts and disembark for very high-end shopping.
A Place to Call Home
As each hotel has its own distinct personality, where you stay is an important part of your St. Barth’s experience. With a big group of friends, a villa rented through WIMCO is the way to go. If you’re taking someone for the first time, Le Sereno’s Grande Suite Plage chambres offer the best value of room space to money spent coupled with a modern, chic, Miami vibe. Located in a private cove on the waterfront, it’s also where you can partake in water sports galore like paddle boarding, water skiing, and kite surfing.
Le Sereno’s restaurant is also tops in Pointe Milou, with specialties like crab with French-style guacamole and snapper cooked in a salt crust, which they crack away tableside with a wooden hammer to reveal the beautiful whole fish inside. Don’t miss dessert either. Their pastry chef has skills, crafting a melt-in-your-mouth crème brûlée and chocolate confections. Follow up dinner with a night of raucous fun at Le Ti St-Barth, the burlesque house and nightclub, which sees many nights of tabletop dancing and sparkler-topped magnums of champagne.
The most romantic of hotels is Isle de France. It’s also one of the most exclusive hotels in St. Barth’s, which is saying something. Located in Flamands, it’s a short drive from the main town of Gustavia. The scene is beautiful people, starting with the staff, who become the models for the lunchtime and Tuesday night fashion shows. The service is impeccable and location even better. Located on a ¼-mile stretch of pristine beach, it’s a must in the afternoon, whether or not you’re staying at the property. The lunch-time wok of the day is a specialty and tastes great with one of their killer cocktails. Isle de France also has one of the few full-service spas on the island and specializes in oxygen treatments which end with a trio of sorbets. Even better, starting this May, Isle de France will be running low-season deals through the summer.
The hotel which epitomizes glamour and glitz best is Eden Rock. It’s the place to see and be seen, and a hop, skip, and a jump away from Nikki Beach, where you’ll swill rosé and dance on tables from day until night. Although it’s near the airport, this is no airport hotel, but one of the best and most historical hotels on the island. Built into a rock, it was intended to be a crash pad for the original owner’s friends, like Greta Garbo and Howard Hughes. Today, you’ll still find celebs, from Penelope Cruz, Usher, and Paul McCartney, to business titans like Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman. There are 34 rooms of pure perfection, from the Greta Garbo-inspired suite to the charming beachfront bungalows. While some think luxury is over-the-top overtures and flowery service, Eden Rock is none of that. It’s luxurious yet unpretentious, polished yet warm, and filled with a collection of the most beautiful people you’d be challenged to equal anywhere else. The real hitters rent Villa Nina or Villa Rockstar, which is so spectacular it will have its own feature this December, right in time for Wall Street bonus time.
Shopping Up a Storm
If “R” rum, at 700 euros/bottle, is any indication, shopping in St. Barth’s is meant for those with lots of disposable income. There are the usual suspects: Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Cartier, but boutique shopping in St. Barth’s is really where it’s at. Locals buy their clothing at the Stock Exchange for gentler prices, but alas you’re on vacay, so splurge. 100% Capri has gorgeous white linens, priced accordingly $500 - $700/piece. It makes the white silk and cotton caftans at Azibi and colorful cover-ups at Pouppete St. Barth at around the $350-$450 mark look like a deal.
The gift shop at Le Toiny has beautifully edited items, and everyone buys beauty products from Ligne de St. Barths. Pain de Sucre in Saint-Jean is the place to buy your pearls. It’s a ritual to choose the quantity and colors of your pearls, which range from white and pink to black. Plan to drop at least $500-$2000, if not more, for this status symbol.
Wining and Dining
Locals and tourists alike converge for eating and drinking in St. Barth’s. Bonito is the one of the best dinner options in Gustavia. The cuisine is elegant and expertly uses foam emulsions in its preparation, while also including an array of fresh and light ceviches. Standouts are the Wahoo tiradito with ponzu sauce and a shrimp and bay scallop ceviche with watermelon, corn, and fresh cilantro.
One of the most enjoyable meals in St. Barth’s is at Jean-Georges’ outpost On the Rocks, at Eden Rock. Chef Jean-Georges blends Asian with French food that doesn’t take itself so seriously but makes a powerful culinary impact. The menu is diverse enough that you’ll want to dedicate more than one meal there during your stay. Standout starters are the crispy rice topped with tuna, salmon, and avocado; lobster tacos, which have a subtle kick; and melt-in-your-mouth tuna tartar with avocado. Even the seemingly simple shrimp and arugula salad is so flavor packed, that it makes you hungrier with every bite.
Main course highlights include the lightly battered and fried St. Barth’s lobster, served with bok choy, ginger, and a light soy sauce. The ginger fried rice—a beautiful dish of mounded rice topped with onions and a sunny side up egg, is the dark horse of the meal. End the meal perfectly with a Café Gourmand, an espresso served with mini desserts of raspberry macaroon, crème brûlée, and chocolate caramel confection. Check out our Cooling Your Jets this week for Jean-Georges and his team’s recipes, which will bring St. Barth’s home to you.
For classical luxury, Le Toiny hotel has the best gourmet restaurant on the island and on par with any fine dining restaurant in the top cities in the world. The restaurant alone is a reason to stay at the hotel. Le Toiny has its own greenhouse and uses the organic produce in their seasonal menus, which can begin with a light entrée of crab in a crisp cylinder shell. The signature dish is the parmesan black truffle spaghetti, cooked al dente and tossed table-side with rich cream and truffles in a sauté pan, then transferred to a hollowed-out parmesan wheel, which coats each and every noodle with cheese. They will undergo a $1 mil renovation, but fingers crossed they don’t change a thing with the food.
But it’s not all fun and games. Well, OK – it is all fun and games. St. Barth’s achieves what others in the Caribbean can’t touch: the chance to be island chillin’ while drinking in a high dose of French culture, minus the cranky French. Yes, this is idyllic defined.