Few flights are as scenic as this. The eight-passenger Tradewind plane hums above an azure ocean, passing over the occasional rocky landmass. Now and then, a rainbow appears—then disappears as quickly as it is spotted.
Suddenly, it comes into view: an island blanketed in green, dotted with red roofs and outlined by clusters of white sailboats. They are lured to the same place we are, a dichotomous destination at once remote and popular, carefree and luxurious.
St. Barths, officially Saint Barthélemy, is part of a collection of islands in the Caribbean belonging to France. Named for Bartolomeo, the brother of Christopher Columbus, who discovered it in 1493, the eight-mile island has been a French property since its settlement in 1648, with the exception of a nearly 100-year period when it was owned by Sweden. Its Swedish heritage is subtly reminded in the island’s historic architecture and landmark names, including its capital city, Gustavia.
In modern years, St. Barths has been a secluded playground for affluent travelers since David Rockefeller purchased property on the island in 1957. Like Palm Beach, its high season is winter, particularly New Year’s, when vehicles crowd the narrow, curvy roads that hug the mountainous terrain.
Getting there is part of the adventure. Anyone who has flown to St. Barths will warn of the heart-pounding rush from the quick-drop landing at Gustaf III Airport, whose short runway begins at the base of a steep hilltop and ends by the ocean. Wary fliers can instead opt for a ferry ride from a nearby island, like St. Maarten.
|There’s never a bad view in St. Barths.|
St. Barths has a handful of exclusive resorts, but to experience the ultimate luxury escape there is no better stay than in a villa. These private rental homes could be anything from a one-bedroom cottage to a five-bedroom modern mansion with living room-sized closets. The plethora of options means visitors can find a vacation home that perfectly complements their needs and aesthetic, whether they desire a mountaintop house with a working office, a beachside location with a garage, a chic Asian abode with a koi pond or a West Indies family home with a state-of-the-art kitchen.
More than 260 of the island’s villas are managed by Sibarth Villa Rentals. A family-owned company founded in 1975, Sibarth has served celebrities such as Mariah Carey, Tom Hanks, Steven Seagal, Johnny Depp and Russell Simmons. It is the only one on the island that provides a 24-7 personal concierge to cater to guests’ every whim, whether that means reserving a rental car, arranging a romantic setting for a marriage proposal or just ensuring Nutella is in the kitchen pantry. Truly, staff will heed any request—“so long as it’s legal,” assures Sibarth CEO Ashley Lecour.
The personalized service begins immediately upon arrival. A Sibarth driver greets you at the airport with bottled water and whisks you to your villa. You’re hungry after a long day of travel, which is why Sibarth has pre-stocked the fridge with charcuterie and cheeses, breakfast items and Champagne. A shelf in the bedroom holds your favorite novels at your request, and the bathroom is outfitted with Hermès products. A hallway closet is brimming with plush beach towels, sunscreen and beach bags. You’ve never felt more at home despite being so far away from it, and that’s the point.
|Beach signs (above) hold soda cans for visitors to borrow as ashtrays to keep the beaches clean. Turtles (below) roam freely, often seen crossing roads.|
Island activities revolve around simple yet luxe relaxation, such as lounging by your private infinity pool while listening to mourning doves coo. Painting watercolors of the natural scenery is a way to bond with the family, while children are entertained by chasing lizards among cacti. Of course, the main draw in St. Barths is its velvet-sand shoreline, which is never far. Petit St. Jean is a popular spot, as the lake-like water is ideal for children. La Saline has choppier waves, and Gouverneur Beach is a picturesque alcove with rocky cliffs.
The tiny island has always protected its slice of paradise. Laws designate green zones—areas that cannot be built upon—ensuring this idyllic destination will never become too commercial. Traffic lights don’t exist. And the panoramic views of blue sky blurring into miles of Caribbean Sea make all who visit feel disconnected from reality—a sensation many vacationers long for and the reason for coming here.
Gustavia offers more sightseeing, including a thriving nightlife. Peek inside historic churches, wander by the fish market, admire vessels at the harbor and shop. Anything goes in St. Barths as far as fashion is concerned—you can dress up or go barefoot for a week—as illustrated by the eclectic mix of high-end and casual boutiques.
|Maya’s Restaurant is a waterfront establishment in Gustavia that incorporates local produce like chayote to create a different menu every day.|
Restaurants, like everything else on St. Barths, operate on island time, but the local French-Caribbean cuisine is worth the relaxed service. Eddy’s, an island institution since 1995, serves standout Creole dishes like goat curry and wahoo sautéed with ginger. Stop at a local boulangerie for croissants in the morning, and enjoy lunch on the beach at La Gloriette, a casual joint in Grand Cul-de-Sac. In the evening, dine at Maya’s Restaurant, a waterfront establishment in Gustavia that incorporates local produce like chayote to create a different menu every day. Complement your meal with Planter’s Punch, a fruity, rum-based cocktail that is the island’s unofficial drink. Most restaurants also offer complimentary after-dinner rums in flavors like passion fruit, vanilla and ginger.
When it’s time to bid the island adieu, the flight presents a different view—or perhaps a different feeling. As the plane drifts away, St. Barths resembles the island from Castaway. The difference, however, is you didn’t want to be rescued.
Traditionally, Caribbean works have dominated the art scene in St. Barths. Many villas hang the paintings of Antoine Heckley, known for his window-view depictions of the island. Yet the artistic landscape is becoming edgier. American street artist Alec Monopoly‘s iconic graffiti, for instance, is spotted throughout Gustavia (above).
Space SBH, a popular gallery in the town, shows works from contemporary artists like Dominique Rousserie. Based in St. Barths, Rousserie uses natural items he finds on the island, such as goat skulls and feathers, to create tropical pieces with a modern twist—like a discarded turtle shell that shows a map of the island, which he carved using dental tools. The artist, who has exhibited at Art Basel, also experiments with futuristic materials; The Smoking Room (below), for instance, is a laser-cut aluminum iridite submarine sculpture.
Photos by the author
- Pack your comfiest espadrilles for walking around.
- For a perfect photo opportunity, head to the Grand Fond overlook, an off-the-road spot with a view of the valley.
- Bring the Black Card—St. Barths is full of amazing boutiques and restaurants.