The renowned es­cape for the well­heeled has come back in inim­itable style—with ex­tra­or­di­nary vil­las, chic beach ho­tels, and fan­tas­tic food

Coastal Living - - NAVIGATOR -

THE TYP­I­CAL FLIGHT INTO ST. BARTS ends with a heart­stop­ping drop over a hill­side traf­fic cir­cle, the plane’s wheels al­most scrap­ing the tops of cars, onto one of the short­est run­ways in the Caribbean. It’s a fit­ting wel­come to this lit­tle is­land of ex­tremes, just scary enough to sum­mon a jolt of adren­a­line— and pos­si­bly a small gasp.

That feel­ing tends to stay with you as you travel the is­land’s wind­ing, nar­row roads that hug cliffs with lit­tle or no shoul­der. Ev­ery­thing about St. Barts is dra­matic, from the sleek su­pery­achts bob­bing in Gus­tavia har­bor to the ex­pan­sive (and ex­pen­sive) white vil­las with red roofs and open porches perched on the hill­sides. The prices for just about ev­ery­thing can be shock­ing, too, as well as the celebri­ties who are likely to show up at the next ta­ble. (Wait, is that Bey­oncé?) But what makes this is­land so unique is its ge­og­ra­phy. Its 14 white-sand beaches, most of which have lit­tle to no de­vel­op­ment and very few peo­ple, are tucked into a rugged vol­canic land­scape. It’s tough to grow any­thing here and tough to get to—a com­bi­na­tion that his­tor­i­cally made the is­land unattrac­tive to colonists and de­vel­op­ers.

This may also be why the peo­ple of St. Barts are so re­silient, not un­like the co­conut palms and flam­boy­ant trees that thrive in the rocky soil. When the eye­wall of Hur­ri­cane Irma slammed into the is­land on Septem­ber 6 with sus­tained winds of 200 miles per hour, most of the ho­tels, rental prop­er­ties, and restau­rants were badly dam­aged, not to men­tion hun­dreds of homes. Mirac­u­lously, no one was killed, but there was so much de­bris in the streets that life­long res­i­dents didn’t even rec­og­nize their own neigh­bor­hoods. In most parts of the is­land there was no water or elec­tric­ity for 18 days, but the re­source­ful is­lan­ders were un­de­terred. “The winds ended about 8:15 in the morn­ing,” says David Thyssen, a prop­erty man­ager for WIMCO Vil­las. “By 8:30 ev­ery­one was out try­ing to get de­bris off the road.”

Ma­rina Morel, who runs the Shel­lona Beach Club on the edge of Gus­tavia, lost not only the front half of her restau­rant but also most of the beach, which had to be re­built us­ing im­ported sand. With no one avail­able to do the ren­o­va­tions, her crew of cooks, bar­tenders, and wait­ers did much of it them­selves. “Sand­ing ta­bles, var­nish­ing chairs, put­ting up walls, do­ing elec­tri­cal work—we did ev­ery­thing,” Morel says. Now Shel­lona is back to be­ing one of the hottest lunch spots on St. Barts, serv­ing up an in­ven­tive Greek menu while a DJ plays techno mu­sic un­der a canopy of white um­brel­las.

As dozens of restau­rants have re­opened, St. Barts has quickly re­claimed its sta­tus as one of the best din­ing des­ti­na­tions in the Caribbean. Eat­ing is sport here; hot spots like Bonito, L’Esprit, and Orega up the ante with ad­ven­tur­ous, mod­ern takes on French Caribbean cui­sine. Mean­while, lo­cal fa­vorites like Le Grain de Sel (near Sa­line Beach) and Eddy’s serve de­li­cious Cre­ole food at rea­son­able prices. There’s also Le Select, the leg­endary dive bar in Gus­tavia that Jimmy Buf­fett called his “of­fice” for years, where you can or­der a pair of mar­gar­i­tas for $10. The bar’s credo, painted on a sign above the door: “Avoid­ing progress since 1949.”

“To re­ally get a feel for the is­land, you must go to Le Select and have a beer,” says David Sierra, the gen­eral man­ager of Hô­tel Mana­pany in the vil­lage of Anse de Caye. “This is the real St. Barts.” The Mana­pany was more than halfway through a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion when Irma hit, break­ing the pool in half and de­stroy­ing the beach­side spa. Sierra spent a ter­ri­fy­ing night dur­ing the storm with his fam­ily. “All the roof from my neigh­bor came onto my roof,” says the French na­tive, “so it was very loud—pow, pow, pow, pow. I will never for­get this noise.” Sierra has op­er­ated five-star prop­er­ties all over the world, from Tu­nisia to St. Tropez, but says he’s never seen a stronger, more re­source­ful com­mu­nity than the peo­ple of St. Barts. “It is a small is­land, so ev­ery­one was very mo­ti­vated to help.” The Mana­pany re­opened this spring, af­ter seven months of ren­o­va­tions. Its col­or­ful, mod­ern rooms are nes­tled into a rocky hill­side fac­ing the ocean. You have to drive down a steep, nar­row road with a few crazy turns to get there, but it’s worth it.


Tradewind Avi­a­tion, known for its ex­cel­lent pilots and com­fort­able, eight-seater prop planes, con­nects daily to the Gus­tav III Air­port from An­tigua and San Juan, Puerto Rico; fly­tradewind .com. Wi­nair (fly-wi­ and

St. Barth Com­muter (stbarth com­ con­nect daily from St. Martin; Air An­tilles (airan­ con­nects daily from Guadaloupe and Mar­tinique.


Just five min­utes from the air­port and near the glitz and bus­tle of Gus­tavia, Hô­tel Mana­pany (above) hides away on Anse de Cayes bay with a charm­ing bo­hemian el­e­gance. Its 43 rooms and suites have ocean views, wide porches, and col­or­ful, so­phis­ti­cated interiors. Rates start at $508; hotel­mana­

On a ver­dant ridge over­look­ing Fla­mands Beach, Villa Marie Saint-Barth has 18 bun­ga­lows and vil­las done in im­pec­ca­bly chic West In­dian style. Rates start at $499; saint-barth.vil­la­

If you’re trav­el­ing with fam­ily, hon­ey­moon­ing, or just want more space and pri­vacy, the vil­las on St. Barts are ex­tra­or­di­nary. Most have pri­vate pools, ocean views, and open-air liv­ing spa­ces with ameni­ties like out­door show­ers and satel­lite TV (if you must). More than 80 per­cent of the is­land’s ap­prox­i­mately 800 vil­las have re­opened; the re­main­ing 20 per­cent is pro­jected to open by De­cem­ber. WIMCO Vil­las pro­vides per­son­al­ized concierge ser­vices for its port­fo­lio of

360 vil­las (in­clud­ing pref­er­en­tial restau­rant reser­va­tions and beach ser­vice);

The is­land’s famed re­sorts, among the most se­verely dam­aged prop­er­ties, re­turn in force for high sea­son (the two weeks of Christ­mas and New Year’s) and be­yond. Ho­tel Le Toiny has added vil­las to its mix, and re­opens in Oc­to­ber. Le Sereno and Le Barthélemy plan to re­open in Novem­ber. While Eden RockSt. Barth rental vil­las are al­ready wel­com­ing guests, the re­sort prop­erty will re­open on De­cem­ber 22, the same day as Che­val Blanc St. Barth Isle de France. Le Gua­na­hani will re­open in 2019.

St. Barts’s rugged ter­rain and pris­tine white beaches

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