Wheels up at the island of St. Maarten and we skim across the waters of the French West Indies to St. Barthelemy — a tiny Caribbean jewel for Francophiles, foodies and fashionistas.
The island is a haven for the chic and the hip. Cutoffs rarely meet the dress code, unless they’re designed as such and topped off by a fabulously sexy top — for men or women.
St. Barthelemy has a couple of pet names. Americans tend to say St. Bart’s, while the Francophiles declare the nickname is St. Barth, though still pronounced “bart.” The capital is Gustavia, a port town resembling a Mediterranean village with stucco buildings and colorful decor. The world’s top designer boutiques, including Hermes and Roberto Cavalli, line the streets, along with a myriad of restaurants and cafes.
The second major community on this dot in the ocean is St. Jean, also a shopper’s paradise with elegant hotels and inns on the beach and nestled in the mountains just above the commercial area. The language is French, the atmosphere refined and laid-back and the currency is the euro on this island that is far more European than it is Caribbean. Typically, you fly to St. Bart’s via nearby St. Maarten, the Dutch side of an island that is shared with the French St. Martin.
On the beach at St. Jean, topless is de rigueur, though not mandatory. No worries if you don’t have the perfect magazine-cover figure; you see all ages and shapes enjoying the sun, pure white sand and turquoise sea, sans swimsuit top.
For guests of the world-class Eden Rock hotel, ice buckets with your beverage of choice (usually Perrier and Evian) along with a petite brochette of pineapple, blueberry, watermelon and cantaloupe, are brought to you in your personal lounge chair at midday by servers who could grace any modeling runway.
St. Bart’s feels unassuming and unpretentious despite its wealth. Shoppers who shyly ask whether an item is made in China are sweetly told that such merchandise is not found on St. Bart’s. Instead, the boutiques are filled with clothing and accessories that come mostly from France and Italy, though Portugal and Romania appear on labels from time to time.
In addition to the top designers, you will find lesser known manufacturers that are still stylish in their lines and fabrics, including orange cobra and suede handbags by Claudio Merazzi, Loona Cantare cotton tank tops, Hartford Moroccan linen trousers and linen or cotton skirts by Interfashion SPA from Rimini, Italy. Even the beach towels are finished with a French jacquard design.
If you can tear yourself away from the beaches, the restaurants and the boutiques, take a stroll up some of the mountainous side streets.
You’ll see a goat here and there and hear roosters crowing throughout much of the day. A chartreuse parrot also might approach you for a chat. Just say, “Bonjour! Ca va?”
Hotels offer packages that often include a car. With driving on the right and roads generally in good shape, tooling around St. Bart’s is an uncomplicated diversion when you’re shopped out and seeking new adventures. Grand hotels such as Le Toiny and Isle de France may be off the beaten path but are worth visiting.
By the time you arrive, you’ll want to cool off in the hotel pools, have a snack and a graciously served cool drink. Just be sure to wear your new St. Bart’s swimsuit with your new St. Bart’s linen coverup.
If you go
GETTING THERE: Regular air service is offered to St. Bart’s from St. Maarten and a few other Caribbean airports. Flights to St. Bart’s are famous for the harrowing landing on an extremely short runway that ends abruptly at the edge of the water. Ferries from St. Maarten are also available. Travel options are described at www.st-barths.com/guidepgs/gettingto.html.
THE INSIDERS’ GUIDE TO ST. BARTHELEMY: www.sbhonline.com. This Web site offers details on accommodations, dining, shopping, events and more.
EDEN ROCK HOTEL: www.edenrockhotel.com or 877-563-7105. Rates begin at $1,017, Jan. 4-April 11.
HOTEL VILLAGE ST. JEAN: www.villagestjeanhotel.com or 590-590-276-139. Rates begin at $327, Jan. 9-April 13.
ON THE WEB: www.st-barths.com
Source: St. Barth Tourist Office/AP
Budget-minded accommodations on St. Bart’s
Starting at $226 per night
If you can avoid St. Bart’s high season (which started Saturday and goes through Jan. 3), the Normandie Hotel — located 100 yards from Lorient Beach in St. Bart’s — is offering guest rooms from Jan. 4 to April 14 starting at $226. Continental breakfast and complimentary wine in the afternoon are included. Other perks include Wi-Fi, flat-screen plasma TVs (with French and U.S. channels), telephones, air conditioning and refrigerators in all rooms.
Airfare to St. Bart’s
Starting at $771 per person
Getting two St. Bart’s from the Bay Area requires a minimum of two stops. US Airways has a four-hour, 45-minute flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Charlotte, N.C. (CLT); from here, you connect to a three-hour, 40-minute flight to St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles (SXM); at St. Maarten, you connect to a 15-minute hop on Winair to St. Barthelemy, Guadeloupe (SBH). Tickets in economy-class are running approximately $771 per person; first-class tickets will run you approximately $1,822.