This French island has morphed into the chicest shore in the Caribbean, but still maintains its European flair and unique small-town roots.
By Joe Yogerst
1 of 8Photo: Laurent Benoit
The isle of St. Barthélemy is a dream destination with a neverending list of glitterati photographed along the sugar-sand beaches. At just eight square miles, St. Barts is about one-quarter the size of Manhattan. Despite its petite size, the volcanic island boasts a variety of terrain, from its desert-like landscapes studded with cactus to its plush tropical valleys and coconut palm-fringed bays.
A crescent of bright white sand on the island's south shore, Anse du Gouverneur (left) is hands-down St. Barts' most beautiful beach. Rocky headlands at either end make the bay swimmer-friendly, yet there's still enough wave for bodysurfing.
2 of 8Photo: Laurent Benoit
Hot Spot with Heritage
The demographics of St. Barts set it apart from other Caribbean islands—most residents here are of European descent, around half of them the progeny of French fishermen and farmers (mostly from Normandy and Brittany) who came here in the 1600s. Sweden ruled St. Barts for almost 100 years (from 1784 to 1878), giving the place yet another layer of European heritage.
Quaint, red-roofed Gustavia (left), the island capital, flaunts its Scandinavian heritage proudly with harborfront street signs in both Swedish and French. Luxury shops such as Cartier and Louis Vuitton dominate the waterfront. Apartments and a few houses crawl up hillsides behind old churches. (Crooner Jimmy Buffett and actor Steve Martin both own villas overlooking Gustavia.)
3 of 8Photo: Laurent Benoit
St. Barts's other hub, St. Jean, is a quintessential Caribbean beach town wrapped around a turquoise bay with a whitesand strand where locals and visitors flaunt their stuff. Eye candy of both genders ambles along the strand and the main road, which is flanked on each side by upscale boutiques. The community is also home to the island's only airport.
St. Jean beach is best for people-watching; a blend of active beachgoers and young beauties lounge around Nikki Beach club (left).
4 of 8Photo: Laurent Benoit
Dive and Discover
Scuba divers and snorkelers flock to bays at the eastern and western end of St. Barts that are part of a marine reserve where fishing and boating are tightly restricted; underwater life (tropical fish, nurse sharks, turtles, starfish) now flourishes in these zones.
5 of 8Photo: Laurent Benoit
Catch the Breeze
Boat ownership is common, and those who don't own their own craft often crew in the island's many sailing regattas throughout the year. The breezy north and east shores are ideal for windsurfing and kite surfing.
6 of 8Photo: Laurent Benoit
St. Barts Essentials
Your View: From the lighthouse-topped hill between the airport and Gustavia, you have a panoramic view of the yacht-filled harbor, with the Caribbean islands of Statia, Saba, and St. Martin in the hazy distance.
Your Weather: St. Barts is hot and tropical year-round. Daytime temperatures are in the 80s, and overnight lows rarely dip below 70.
Your Main Street: Along the eastern edge of the harbor, Rue de la République is the capital's main drag, lined with luxury boutiques that make this one of the Caribbean's poshest retail districts. Tucked in among the global icons are quirky shops like LouLou's Marine (for beach and boat wear, and yacht supplies), Clic bookstore and art gallery, and Le Cellier du Gouverneur (wine, rum, and more unusual spirits, such as absinthe). The waterfront shops of Gustavia (left) provides ample opportunity to stroll and shop as well.
7 of 8Photo: Annie Schlechter
Where to Eat
The Sand Barat Eden Rock Hotel (left) is known for shipping fresh ingredients direclty from Bordeaux; edenrockhotel.com.
Maya's—on the water's edge in Anse de Public—includes fresh grilled mahi-mahi and a creamy Creole pumpkin soup; mayas-stbarth.com.
Wall House, on the other side of the harbor, blends classic French cuisine with American, Asian, and Caribbean accents in a romantic setting right on the water; wallhouserestaurant.com.
Le Ti St. Barth is a fun-loving spot that offers seafood and caviar potatoes in the restaurant, in addition to nightly entertainment that might include fashion shows and cabaret performances; letistbarth.com.
8 of 8Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Guanahani & Spa
Where to Stay
Hotel Guanahani & Spa (left) sprawls across a peninsula on the island's north side. The 67 rooms are about equally divided between suites and individual bungalows. The resort's restaurants—gourmet Barto and beachside Indigo—count among the island's best. Rates start at $488; 800/216-3774 or leguanahani.com.
Aubèrge de la Petite Anse is a friendly, 16-room bed-and-breakfast overlooking the bay. Rates start at $99; 011/590/590/276-489 or auberge-petite-anse.com.