Lay of the Land
“I can think of few places in the world where the plain seem attractive, the beautiful somehow become more lovely or the old feel younger—and in St. Barth’s they all do.”~Melissa Biggs Bradley
Not enough pleasures in life are guaranteed, and St. Barth’s is as sure to please as fine wine, chocolate and other sensuous epiphanies. From its world-class hotels to its excellent restaurants and shopping, the island accomplishes something few others can – retaining its pristine, undeveloped shores while satisfying serious jetsetters that are happy with nothing less than the best. As with all edens, long-timers mourn simpler times. You’ll hear minor complaints about how the rush of arriving New Yorkers in winter can cause even the locals to obsess about work, and how living standards have been corrupted by the excess spending of the yacht club. But in the end, there are few places in the world where the beautiful somehow seem more lovely or the old feel younger—and in St. Barth’s they do.
Situated on slightly more than eight square miles, St. Barth’s lies nineteen miles southeast of St. Maarten and is a part of the Leeward Islands. Although Guadeloupe (which together with St. Barth’s, St. Martin and Martinique form the French West Indies) formerly ruled St. Barth’s as an overseas regional government, in 2003 islanders gained their independence, becoming a self-governing territory of France. They retained all the economic and cultural benefits of the motherland but took control over local matters, and the change has been a success. As many St. Barth’s regulars will say, landing on the island feels akin to arriving in the South of France, not the Caribbean.
St. Barth’s has twenty-two beaches, multiple five-star hotels, dozens of fashionable boutiques and close to a hundred restaurants. No wonder it’s called the “capital of luxe.” There are two towns, Gustavia and St. Jean. Part of the island’s appeal lies in the fact that due to its hilly landscape, things have been built on a diminutive scale with an emphasis on fitting in. Even the newer buildings have peaked roofs or shingles, with a nod to traditional West Indian architecture. Although the island is small, rental cars are a must for properly exploring it. Select something compact – a Mini or Smart car are popular choices – both for navigating the narrow lanes as well as parking in tight spots.