French Connection

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

Text by Logan Ward
When your puddle jumper lands just short of turquoise waters, you know you're in the islands. But after a village stroll and a meal or two, you wonder. Is this the South of France? No. Too many bikinis. The Riviera? Couldn't be-the water's too warm. Welcome to St. Barth's, a tiny volcanic island in the French West Indies. "You feel like you're in Europe even though it's a tropical paradise," says Heidi Perez, a two-time renter of Villa MCK, a hillside hideaway overlooking the yacht-speckled waters of Baie de St. Jean.

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

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

To reach the ocean, guests walk down narrow, cobblestone streets to 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 off for neighboring St. Maarten. Though St. Barth's is rocky and small, its steep, undulating coastline creates many coves. There's Saline Beach, a broad expanse of soft sand beside a salt pond; sheltered Grand Cul-de-Sac, where wave-free waters attract Jet Skis and windsurfing; and Gouverneur's Bay, with its shallow, kid-friendly snorkeling. "We get up, put on our sunscreen, and live outdoors," Deedy says. The chief daily decision is where to eat. At The Sand Bar at Eden Rock, "I can eat in my bathing suit and a cover-up with my toes in the sand," says Deedy.

"Time [in St. Barth's] for me is downtime," she adds. "I read more 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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