The little island of Saint Barthélemy, in the northeastern Caribbean, also known as St. Barth’s, has a reputation for offering the height of luxury to the most discriminating travelers—though that opulence is not clearly evident at first blush. Anyone expecting the likes of the Rue du Faubourg-Saint Honoré in Paris, Rome’s Via Condotti or Worth Avenue in Palm Beach may be disappointed. St. Barth’s—true to its Gallic heritage, with its tastefully chic aura—is like none of these, at least not on the surface.
Gustavia, the capital, is a pretty little town and seems an unlikely place for finding some of the best cuisine this side of Paris. Along the way from the tiny Gustaf III Airport, the roads climbing through the hills and secluded beaches give no hint that some of the world’s most famous denizens have traversed them for decades. On this volcanic island of 8 square miles, understatement is the word.
Keeping with the understated theme are the 37 suites and villas of Le Sereno, the reincarnation of the Sereno Beach Hotel. In 2003, the resort was reimagined by famous Parisian designer Christian Liaigre, a man of less-is-more persuasion for whom beauty is uncluttered. The living and sleeping areas in each room and villa speak of simplicity and elegance. By discarding the unnecessary and incorporating the finest materials and amenities, Liaigre has created the ultimate luxury.
Le Sereno’s accommodations are scattered over a small rise that overlooks the Grand Cul de Sac beach. The hotel doesn’t claim its beach as the best, nor is it exclusive to Le Sereno, but it has the advantage of being at the end of the road, girdled by a coral reef, which translates into more privacy and fewer waves. One can find a wealth of waterfront diversions, including snorkeling, sailing, bonefishing, kiteboarding and kayaking.
The allure of the pristine sandy beach and fun on the water is powerful, yet the temptation to stay at Le Sereno is also rather compelling. Each suite has a private teak patio and comfortable lounges for those who don’t wish to venture to the hotel’s infinity-edge pool and wide lounge chairs. And why leave the suite when facials, pedicures and full days of spa packages can come to you?
Without casinos or golf courses, one wonders what all the celebrities and high-powered CEOs do on this famous isle. They might answer, “We beach. We nap. We dine. We party.” The island’s gorgeous cove beaches truly are obligatory. Partying is an option, and—it must be said—a good one. Dining is the absolute necessity.
This isle harbors so many superlative restaurants, many with a French twist, that leisurely dining is more than a nightly event; it is a major form of entertainment. The hip Le Sereno Bar & Lounge and the hotel’s Restaurant des Pêcheurs (which serves a killer bouillabaisse) are not to be overlooked. Eating at every fine dining establishment on the island would be a nearly impossible undertaking, but one can always try—if not for the food, definitely for the people watching. lesereno.com