Brian Vanden Brink

A St. Barth's villa gives renters endless views, sugar-sand beaches, and a taste of Europe without the jet lag.

When your puddle jumper lands just short of turquoise waters, youknow you're in the islands. But after a village stroll and a mealor two, you wonder. Is this the South of France? No. Too manybikinis. The Riviera? Couldn't be-the water's too warm. Welcome toSt. Barth's, a tiny volcanic island in the French West Indies. "Youfeel like you're in Europe even though it's a tropical paradise,"says Heidi Perez, a two-time renter of Villa MCK, a hillsidehideaway overlooking the yacht-speckled waters of Baie de St. Jean.

Heidi and her husband, Manuel, come for the pool, the views, andthe way this retreat-one whole side is exposed to fragrant islandbreezes-rejuvenates their souls. And they come for the food, whichranges from café au lait and pastries in the village of St.Jean to Chef Jean-Claude Dufour's sole meunière at Eden RockHotel. "It's the perfect blend of casual elegance andsophistication," says Heidi.

When Deedy and Don McKenna of Hilton Head, South Carolina,bought this villa, they furnished it with a container full ofhousehold goods shipped from Florida (including colorful art andplush linens), plus locally crafted drapes and pillows. "I tried toappoint it in a way that would make me proud if my best friendsstayed there," says Deedy.

To reach the ocean, guests walk down narrow, cobblestone streetsto the water's edge and the shops and galleries of St. Jean. There,they can swim, lounge on the beach, or watch prop planes taking offfor neighboring St. Maarten. Though St. Barth's is rocky and small,its steep, undulating coastline creates many coves. There's SalineBeach, a broad expanse of soft sand beside a salt pond; shelteredGrand Cul-de-Sac, where wave-free waters attract Jet Skis andwindsurfing; and Gouverneur's Bay, with its shallow, kid-friendlysnorkeling. "We get up, put on our sunscreen, and live outdoors,"Deedy says. The chief daily decision is where to eat. At The SandBar at Eden Rock, "I can eat in my bathing suit and a cover-up withmy toes in the sand," says Deedy.

"Time [in St. Barth's] for me is downtime," she adds. "I readmore books there than I do the rest of the year."

What should visitors read to prepare for verdant hillsides,outdoor living, and lingering lunches? Try Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence.

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