Even the common folk can enjoy island playground
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Friends of mine have raved about Saint Barthélemy, better known as St. Barts (or St. Barths, depending on how much of a Francophile you are), for years.
Friends, that is, who have money. As a writer who lives in New York, particularly without a trust fund, I tend to be more judicial in choosing vacation destinations. Plus, I had no interest in dabbling in the playground of the rich and famous.
Then I had an opportunity to visit the French West Indies island, and my resistance went out the window — the window of my luxurious bungalow at the Hôtel Guanahani & Spa , www.leg
uanahani.com, rates start at 340 Euros ($512 approximately).
The hotel sits on a peninsula on St. Bart’s northeast coast and offers 68 exclusive bungalows and suites.
Mine came with its own private pool, surrounded by lush palm trees, bougainvillea, frangipani and hibiscus. I took full advantage of the pool for relaxing early morning and midnight swims.
The principal gateway to St. Barts is through Juliana Airport in neighbouring St. Maarten, where flights arrive daily from both the United States and Europe. From there, Winair , www.fly-winair.com, Air Caraïbes (www.aircaraibes.com) and St. Barth Commuter (www.stbarthcommuter.com) offer puddle-jumper flights to the island.
Nervous flyers beware: There’s a mountain and a steep drop to the short runway that stops just shy of the sunbathers on the adjacent beach. (One could literally hop off the plane, strip down to their swimsuit and have a refreshing Ricard in hand on the sand in a matter of minutes.) There are also ferry options.
You won’t find a typical Caribbean vibe here. St. Barts is one of the few islands in the region that did not have a large native population and has been under French rule since 1648, save for about 100 years in the 19th century when Sweden owned it.
What you will find are celebrities, great food and fantastic duty-free designer shops. (My friends were right.) The atmosphere is more Riviera-casual. The official language is French, with English widely spoken. Prices are in Euros.
Chanel, Dior, Bulgari and many other designer labels have stores in downtown Gustavia, the island’s capital. Other boutiques sell locally made jewelry, straw hats, swimwear and terrific linens. The sales during the summer season were bargains indeed.
St. Barts teems with excellent restaurants, many of them French, running the gamut from casual to chic. The prices are high, with some dishes costing close to $100 at the finer places, but many venues offer a set menu option that provides better value.
In all, an excellent meal can be had for about $75.
After strolling the narrow streets lined with brightly coloured buildings, rest your feet at Le Select, the dive bar and restaurant made famous in Jimmy Buffett’s homage Cheeseburger In Paradise, or watch the mega yachts go by at the harbourside La Route des Boucaniers restaurant. K’fé Massaï is an inland favoured by locals with a wide selection of seafood and meat dishes.
The best way to get around the island is to rent a car. Unless you regularly drive a stick, request an automatic: The island has steep hills, narrow winding roads and no traffic lights, only stop signs. A must activity for any visitor is a day out on a private boat, which can be arranged by most hotels, or check out two great online resources for all things St. Barts:st-barths.comandsbhonline.com.
There’s something to be said for living the good life. My four-day jaunt felt like a restorative weeklong vacation.
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