WHY GO: St. Barths (also known as St. Barts or Saint Barthélemy) was long the forgotten child of the French West Indies. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and named for his brother Bartholomeo, the fierce little isle resisted easy settlement. It wasn’t until the late 1600s that an enterprising band of Normandy Huguenots made a go of sheltering pirates who looted Spanish galleons. Descendants still speak in a lilting Creole dialect, and in some ways, it’s as if time stood still. Beaches are pristine, fishermen still wield hand-woven seines, and women weave palms into baskets. And yet, St. Barths also has a glamorous side, hosting celebrities, sailing regattas, and some of the finest French boutiques.
Things To Do in St. Barths
SUNBATHE/SNORKEL: Grande Saline Beach. Lovely and secluded, this beach is not for prudes. Topless bathing is pretty much standard in the French Caribbean, but here, it’s not unusual to spot Full Monty sunbathers. Shallow coral reefs and an abundance of vivid tropical marine life makes this a great spot to go snorkeling too.
SNORKEL: Gouverneur Beach. A little drive rewards the adventurous with a remote and private beach that rivals Saline Beach for both beauty and seclusion. Nudity NOT on display.
DO: Colombier Beach. One of the nicest beaches on St. Barths, Colombier Beach is ideal for those willing to put in a little work to get there: it’s accessible via boat or 30-minute hike. The plus side of this is that it’s usually pleasantly secluded, although it is a popular local hangout on weekends.
VISIT: Corossol. It’s as if time has stood still in the sleepy little fishing village of Corossol. Colorful boats sit in the sheltered cove, fronted by even more brightly painted houses. Observe traditional crafts as hands, gnarled with age, weave fishing seines or transform palm fronds into baskets and hats. Venders sell these and other handcrafted trinkets. Extend a short visit with a stop at the beach or nearby café.
DO: Grand Cul de Sac Beach. Calm and shallow water, extending quite a way into the lagoon, is perfect for watersports. An outfitter, as well as restaurants and restrooms, can be found at several hotels and restaurants located on and near the beach.
COLLECT: Shell Beach. True to its name, Shell Beach is a mixture of sand and shells, so it’s a great place to hunt for interesting shapes and colors along the shore. It’s small, but does have a restaurant/bar where you can grab food, and the swimming and snorkeling is decent. Avoid going barefoot, as the broken shells can be sharp.
PLAY: St. Jean Beach. Although it is the most popular beach on St. Barths, and convenient, St. Jean Beach is relaxed and uncrowded. Watch the occasional small plane take off or land at the nearby airport, and stay to catch the golden glow as the sun sets on Eden Rock, the resort built on the rocky cliffs that divide the beach. Active folks will find plenty to do, too. Lessons and rentals include beach chairs, kayaks, snorkels, windsurfers, catamarans and skim boards.
SHOP: Gustavia. Red roofed buildings speckle the lush tropical landscape in Gustavia, St. Bart’s tiny, relaxed Caribbean capital whose historic sites can be reached in one day of trekking around town. 17th century forts line the harbor, from Fort Karl in the north to Fort Gustaf with its lighthouse and cannons in the south. Near Fort Gustaf is the popular Shell Beach, where beachcombers rove for sparkling shells. The town’s many duty-free boutiques call to shoppers while cozy cafes offer views over the harbor.
What to Eat in St. Barths
EAT: La Plage Restaurant. There’s nothing better than dining while poking toes into the sand, except when it’s at one of St. Barth’s most beautiful beaches. Set at the stunning and popular St. Jean Beach, La Plage offers delicious lunches and dinners — often with a theme. Although the menu leans toward a sophisticated palate, with a focus on fresh seafood and salads, the kitchen is very accommodating.
EAT: Grain de Sel. Seemingly built into a huge boulder fronting the old salt flats, pass under a tree canopy to enter Le Grain de Sel. Inside, the vibe is beachfront casual–Saline Beach is just down the road–but don’t let the relaxed air fool you. Chef Eddy presents a creative menu featuring fresh seafood and decadent deserts served with a flair for drama.
Where to Stay in St. Barths
STAY: Hotel LeVillage St. Barths. Within a short walk of St. Jean Beach, the family-owned hotel was one of the first to open on the islands. Native rock and mahogany holds up well, and a recent redo ties in nicely to the colorful landscape. Loyal guests return year after year, enjoying spectacular ocean views through glass windows recommended by actress Greta Garbo “should one wish to see something outside the air-conditioned rooms.”
Now, guests can observe the ocean, with its dramatic Caribbean sunsets, through glass patio doors that lead to private decks.