My own travels recently took me to St. Bart’s, which a reporter once described as a private French club posing as a Caribbean island—with all the attendant exclusivity and Gallic charm, or not, that implies. The description always stuck with me. I hadn’t been to St. Bart’s since the ’80s, but I recently picked up a JetBlue ticket and headed there for a long Thursday–Monday weekend. The weather wasn’t perfect, but luckily the island still pretty much is. Off-season in St. Bart’s has recently become très chic. In fact, I wouldn’t even consider crashing with the crowds in-season but would much prefer May or August.
So, yes, it’s been built up. Tremendously so since I was there. But what made St. Bart’s a jet-set dream is still very much part of the DNA: great little hotels, beautiful beaches, the best food in the Caribbean. To tell the truth, I have no memory of where I stayed on my first honeymoon all those many years ago, but this time around, I opted for Le Guanahani, which recently completed a four-year, $40 million renovation of 67 beechwood cottages done up in a sort of French-Creole style, along with the public rooms, three dining areas, and a brand-new spa by Clarins, where I had the best “full body” massage in years. The ten two-and three-bedroom suites are the pièces de résistance of the property and are some of the largest anywhere on the island. Given its sprawl, swimming pools, three restaurants, where the service is particularly accommodating, and two beachfronts, it’s also ideal for families.
And if you don’t want to have every meal at Le Guanahani, here’s my take: Lunch at O’Corail, a little beach hut near the hotel, which has the best ceviche, Thai salads, and fresh fish tartare, and rum, particularly ginger and vanilla. “I buy the bottles to take home just because I love the labels,” said Francesca Leoni, the chicest woman we know, who runs international communications for Valentino in Rome and spends two weeks in St. Bart’s with her family every March. “And did you go to the Jean-Georges restaurant at the Eden Rock?” she asked. We did, and it was terrific. There’s also Maya’s, which has been around forever; Orega, a new French-Japanese fusion restaurant; Bonito has a good Caribbean vibe; and Do Brazil on Shell Beach is perfect at lunch for a Caribbean tea with lemon and a shrimp skewer. My own favorite is the new Bagatelle in Gustavia at the harbor. Aymeric Clemente and his partner, Remi Laba, who also have Bagatelles in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, combine amazingly wonderful food with one of the craziest, sexiest, coolest party scenes anywhere. And as for shopping? I hand that over to Ms. Leoni, who wrote me: “Yuma is tucked away in the Oasis village area and is owned by a lovely, chic, and very elegant Italian woman who has lived on the island for 26 years. I love her objects and clothing. Apart from the local Hermès store, it’s a must-stop for me. I also like Donale’s gorgeous vintage caftans and cool jewelry and a fragrance called White, which is great for the body and home for only 55 euros. Best and cheapest thing on St. Bart’s.”
Le Guanahani: D209, 97133, St. Barthélemy; 590-5/90-52-90-00; leguanahani.com.
O’Corail: O'Corail beach; 590-5/90-29-33-27; st-barths.com.
Jean-Georges's On the Rocks: St Barths, St Jean Bay; 590-5/90-29-79-99; jean-georges.com.
Maya’s: BP 197, Plage de Public; 590-5/90-29-83-70; mayas-stbarth.com.
Orega: Gustavia 97133; 590-5/90-524-531; oregarestaurant.com.
Bonito: Rue Lubin Brin, 97133 Gustavia; 590-5/90-279-696; ilovebonito.com.
Bagatelle: Rue Samuel Fahlberg, Gustavia; 590-5/90-27-5151; bagatellestbarths.com.
For more suggestions on getting off-property in St. Bart's, see our guide to staying like a local »