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St. Barth’s: Where to Stay, Eat and Shop on the Island

On the road from St. Jean to Gustavia, just past Nikki Beach, you can’t miss the fire-engine-red barricades that mark the location of the Eden Rock Hotel, the legendary five-star luxury property on St. Barth’s that’s owned by Pippa Middleton’s in-laws. And the messaging emblazoned (in that famous Eden Rock script) across the red walls surrounding the construction site of the red-roofed fortress sums up the state of the island right now: Forever Moving Forwards. #SolidasaRock #StrongerThanIrma #EdenRock2.0.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which raged over the nine-square-mile island in September 2017, bringing 220 mile per hour winds for five hours, the biggest question was how long it would take for the luxury hotels and restaurants hit hardest to be up and running again. The answer, a little over one year on was, thankfully, not long for the majority of them. Last week, there were still Déviation signs in St. Jean and Gustavia, due to ongoing repairs, and many roads being readied for the busy holiday season, but from Indagare’s latest scouting trips, the good news is the island still has all the elements that make St. Barth’s, well…St. Barth’s—that underlying spirit of joie de vivre, sophistication, and a chill vibe that’s hard to come by, but you know it when you feel it.

Locals are still telling their stories of Hurricane Irma (if you were among the luckiest, you didn’t lose your roof) and the major devastation wreaked by the storm is still apparent in places. Visible signs of a slower recovery were evident in Flamands and in the area around Saline Beach (tarps and construction) in mid-November, but if the uptick in activity at Nikki Beach during the recent St. Barth Cata Cup regatta is any indication, the scene is heating up, just in time for the usual holiday throng of celebrities, the fashion flock and assorted regulars who jet in for the end-of-year parties on the luxury yachts that line the harborfront in Gustavia (to secure a spot, it is first come, first served, so your boat has to be in port early). Here is the intel you’ll need to make your next trip to St. Barth’s.

Contact Indagare to arrange a trip to St. Barth’s. Our dedicated Trip Designers can match you with the hotel or villa that is right for you, plan great activities and secure reservations at the best restaurants. 

Where to Stay on St. Barth’s

All the five-star hotels we love on the island have been refreshed and reopened or will be almost completely new when they do, some next year, thanks to Irma. Many properties have used the wrath of Irma as an opportunity to make upgrades. This is the shortlist of Indagare favorites:

Le Toiny is still Le Toiny, only refreshed. The hotel has 7 new Spirit suites with 3 duplexes, 3 junior suites with private pools, 11 Signature standalone villa-style suites and one two-bedroom villa. The duplex villas, with pools and private garages, are super chic and lovely, if a bit remote, though that’s the idea. For a romantic retreat or a honeymoon or someone who wants something special or truly private, this is the place. They have mirrored furniture, massive lamps and billowing white curtains, with a white, greige and sand color scheme. The beach you look out to from the lobby, dining and pool areas is a five-minute ride in a Land Rover Defender. The vibe at the Beach Club is tiki hut-chill, with hammocks between trees and comfortable cushioned chaises, a superior DJ, the restaurant and bar and a boho-chic shop with caftans, sandals, jewelry and hats. And there’s a brand-new pool. It’s a perfect spot to while away an afternoon. The spa is another option and involves a trip by golf cart. Also worth the effort: the trek to the Washing Machine (an area where the waves come crashing in) and a swim in the natural pools. The area to the east of Le Toiny, which is less well marked, has views of the rugged coastline of the Cote Sauvage and is good for a short hike.

Related: Ultimate Exotic Beach Vacations: Indagare Matchmaker

Like Le Toiny, Cheval Blanc Isle de France also has a new look. The brand-new interior spaces of this sophisticated hotel on the island’s northwest side have been designed by Jacques Grange, and the tropical garden with views of the water has been re-envisioned by landscape wizard Madison Cox. The hotel now has 33 rooms, several with private pools and jacuzzis. The restaurant, La Case de L’Isle, was up and humming last weekend, just in time for the holidays as is the spa and fitness area. The integration of the Taiwana property next door is slated to be completed over the next year or so, along with the addition of a children’s program and a second restaurant, La Cabane, coming in 2019.

Aside from the villas at Le Sereno, much of the resort has gotten a full post-Irma makeover. Now 39 rooms, mostly rebuilt from scratch, are larger and feature dark wood detail work, modern bathrooms, Italian tiles and stylish touches everywhere. While (happily) the chef remains, the open-air Restaurant Le Sereno has also been redesigned and the bar relocated closer to the pool; there will soon be a rare feet-in-the-sand option for lunch by the beach at a second restaurant and both will serve appealing Mediterranean dishes. (This is a welcome addition, now that the island has implemented stricter regulations on beach dining and few options exist.) Two family suites with private pools have been added and the spa and fitness areas are also brand-new and enhanced. The three 7,000-square-foot four-bedroom villas are the top options here. They have been updated and the terraces and pools (which are heated) have lovely views of the Grand Cul de Sac.

Villa Marie in Columbier is a serene and private tropical garden oasis. The colonial plantation look is très chic, designed by Jocelyn Sibuet, with the similar high-level resort and design treatment given to her properties in France. Rooms are all one-of-a-kind and most have lovely views of Columbier and Flamands from the terraces, along with fun bamboo swings. The pool is small, but the chic yellow umbrellas make it appealing. Service at François Plantation is good but intentionally moves at a slower pace. The longtime restaurant, which lost parts of its roof during Irma, is the perfect spot for a special celebration for a group or for foodies. The staff is young, genial and authentic, and better trained than the staffs at most of the other resorts on St. Barth’s.

Related: 5 Questions for Jocelyne Sibuet

Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa, a great newish option for families with kids/teens looking for a true resort-at-the-beach experience, now has 44 rooms and suites plus two villas. The pool looks out on the cove, where the water activities (kite- and windsurfing and boating) are definitely happening. The décor is contemporary but classic—white-on-white and hints of sea tones in the pillows and glass sculptures. Dark wood shutters can be opened from the bathroom, so you can even enjoy the view from there as well. The new restaurant, Aux Amis, has a relaxed, open-air vibe for breakfast, lunch or dinner. WTF (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), the new rooftop bar, promises a scene on weekends. The beach bar also serves lunch and drinks. The spa, which offers an array of treatments, has a hammam and sauna.

Related: 6 Eco-Friendly Resorts We Love

Hotel Christopher, also newly revamped, is the place to find value on the island. The hotel has recovered from a double whammy—they were up and running three months after Irma but then a fire destroyed the restaurant and pool deck, just before they were ready to open again. The staff is friendly and welcoming. The restaurant formerly known as Taino, which looks out to the water and the pretty pool, has been rechristened Christo. The atmosphere and the food are sophisticated and the breakfast (included) makes for an appealing spread, with everything from fruit and house-made yogurt to crèpes. Mango is also a good option for a toes-in-the-sand lunch or sunset drinks. The Sisley Spa treatment rooms feature ocean views and outdoor showers. They are planning to open more villas in 2019. Don’t miss the small but chic boutique that carries fun graphic surfer tees and adorable children’s clothing that can be found only here.

Manapany, the five-star eco resort on the island that promises to be “clean and green” recently debuted. It has 43 private villas and suites on the Anse des Cayes, near Flamands, with sundecks and views of either the tropical gardens or the ocean. The resort also has an open-air restaurant and bar, two swimming pools near the beach (one is adults-only), as well as a fitness center and a game room. Fruits and vegetables are grown on-property or sourced locally. The spa uses organic products from Dr. Hauschka.

The crowd at the Pearl Beach Hotel, formerly the Tom, is young/see-and-be-seen, in its newest incarnation, and the restaurant is a failsafe alternative to Nikki Beach or Shellona or Le Barthélemy or Mango for deliberate beachside dining that promises people-watching and good seafood. The crowd spills over from Nikki Beach. There is a tiny boutique called Pop, which carries slinky crochet caftans and beachy accessories. Guests staying here can expect DJ music playing late into the night.

Related: Indagare’s Top 5 Honeymoons for 2018

On the horizon

After considerable debate on the timing, Eden Rock will not re-open until late 2019, with 34 rooms and villas, a new kitchen on the rock built like a submarine, plus five additional villas (two with private pools), at the top of the rock. The new and improved Sand Bar will still be helmed by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a new beach bar and sun deck and an expanded boutique are also being added. They are still very much in the villa business, and judging from the young concierges from the Hotel’s Guest Care Teams, who can be seen buzzing around in their red pants and white oxfords at the airport, attending to arriving guests, business is booming. For those who love Le Guanahani, it plans to reopen in late 2019. The Barrière hotel group has taken over Carl Gustaf and will have a new property connected to Shellona when they open, but it sounds like it is at least one year out.

Where to Eat on St. Barth’s: Top Tables

 

Most of the best restaurants on the island are also back in business. Here are our picks of the Top Tables to book this season that were open as of December 11th:

For seafood with a view: Bonito (don’t miss the ceviches and tiraditos)
Best Italian: L’Isola and L’Isoletta (the latter for pizza and panna cotta and a chic but lower-key vibe)
The (French) Classics: La Guérite, Le Toiny, Francois Plantation all serve consistently good food. The first two have water views; the latter, the most polished service.
For a toes-in-the-sand lunch at the beach: Still Nikki Beach (with a new sushi bar), Shellona (best on Sunday afternoons), Pearl Beach (a scaled-down version of Nikki Beach but still a scene), Le Toiny Beach Club, Mango (though not technically on the beach), soon-to-open Restaurant Le Sereno, Aux Amis at Le Barthélemy and Cheval Blanc’s La Case de L’Isle


For Global Cuisine: Orega (sushi), Black Ginger (Thai), Eddy’s (Creole/fusion)
For a scene after dark: Bagatelle, Baz Bar, Quarter Kitchen and Rhum Room, La Case de L’Isle, Le Ti, WTF
Romantic or Big Night Out: Bonito, Le Toiny, Francois Plantation, Tamarin
Best by the Beach: Tamarin, L’Esprit, Le Grain de Sel (all near Saline), Santa Fe (near Gouverneur), Maya’s
The Newcomers: Aux Amis, Christo (formerly Taino)

Where to Shop on St. Barth’s


The best boutiques are often at hotels or the beach clubs: Nikki Beach, Le Toiny Beach Club, Hotel Christopher, Cheval Blanc St Barth Isle de France, Villa Marie  and Le Sereno  (coming soon), all have great options. Here are the rest of our top shopping picks:

Best for Beach Fashion: Victoire Lolita Jaca, L-Joy, Human Steps, Victoire
Best Bohemian Chic: Poupette, Lili Belle, Sunday Saint Barth
Best for Easy Beach Style: Clic, Cabane, Caravan
Best for housewares and gifts: Baya, French Indies Design, The Beach House
Best for jewelry: Bijoux de la Mer (for the seed pearl and leather necklaces and bracelets)

Related: Tastemaker and interior designer Jocelyne Sibuet of Villa Marie’s St. Barth’s favorites

Getting to St. Barth’s 

Airport Advisory: If you fly through St. Maarten, be advised that SXM Airport is still being renovated. While the arrival in St. Maarten is better than the return, be advised that as of December 11th, mobile/automated check-in for international flights are still not available, so you can expect a wait to get your boarding pass and go through security, even if you are transferring via private charter. The very crowded Departure Hall is a converted airport hangar with fans (no AC) and can be hot; food options are limited. Your best bet, if you don’t mind a 45-minute ride from San Juan in a small plane (versus 10 to 15 minutes from St. Maarten) is to fly with Trade Wind Aviation.

Getting Around: Renting a Mini Cooper or Fiat is the best way to see the island, but book early because there are a limited number of rental cars on the island. At night, the best option may be a taxi from your hotel, as roads are narrow, sometimes unmarked and can be difficult to navigate in the dark, if you don’t know the island or you are staying in a more remote location. Parking in Gustavia can also be congested. But even with the occasional déviation or two, buzzing around St. Barth’s when the sun is out and the top is down is one of the island’s simple pleasures.

Contact Indagare to arrange a trip to St. Barths. Our dedicated Trip Designers can match you with the hotel that is right for you, plan great activities and secure reservations at the best restaurants.

– Jen Barr on December 10, 2018

Quotable

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which raged over the nine-square-mile French West Indies island in September 2017, bringing 220 mile per hour winds for five hours, the biggest question was how long it would take for the luxury hotels and restaurants hit hardest to be up and running again. The answer, a little over one year on was, thankfully, not long for the majority of them.

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