DESTINATION GUIDE

St. Barts Guide

Dotted with untouched beaches, rugged coastlines, and shell-swathed shores, this tiny island in the Lesser Antilles is known for its standout hospitality and natural wonders waiting to be explored

Colombier Beach
Colombier Beach

By Lane Nieset on 04.01.22

Part of St. Barts’ appeal is that it’s tricky to get to, and the infamous airstrip — considered one of the shortest in the world — always makes for a surprise landing. It feels quite exclusive as, instead of major cruise ships dominating the port, capital Gustavia’s tiny harbor sports sailboats and yachts — while megayachts anchor in the distance, a 2-minute tender boat ride away. So, while it became known as the Caribbean playground for the rich and famous, we were eager to discover the more wild, untouched side of the island, like its natural pools and cliffside hikes, and how some of the finest international hospitality shines bright on the island.

Getting There 

Located in the Lesser Antilles, in the eastern Caribbean Sea, St. Barts is just north of Guadeloupe’s main islands. Just 11 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, in about 30 minutes, you could drive around the entire island (that is, if there’s no traffic). Unless you’re arriving by private boat, neighing Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten is the main point of entry to St. Barts, with 15-minute direct flights on Winair taking off every hour throughout the day (If you’re staying the night, we recommend booking into the island’s most lauded hotel, Belmond La Samanna.). From San Juan, Puerto Rico, private jet charters on Tradewind offer a bit more comfort on the 55-minute flight.

Eden Rock St Barths is a hotel high on Gautier's list of must-stays
Eden Rock St Barths is a hotel high on Gautier's list of must-stays
Shellona beach club. Image by Tisa Sencur
Shellona beach club. Image by Tisa Sencur
Lemon ice cream at La Guerite
Lemon ice cream at La Guerite

When To Go

Originally inhabited by the Arawaks and the Caribs, St. Barts later went through centuries being passed between pirates, England, and France, and even spent 100 years under Swedish rule. While the capital (and only town) may bear the name of Swedish king Gustav III, St. Barts distinctly colonizing culture is French. Shops and restaurants often have a sister spot in Cannes or Saint-Tropez, and the vibe is every bit as jet set — which is why it’s a favorite in winter and New Year’s for the likes of stars like Leonardo DiCaprio. This is the high season, and when the island is at its liveliest. Season continues through the annual St. Barths Bucket Regatta, which attracts some of the world’s largest superyachts, and tapers off in April.

Prices and influx dip in the shoulder season, so this is a good time to visit the island if you’re looking for a more affordable stay that’s on the calmer side, since not all of the bars and beach clubs will be open. Keep in mind the height of hurricane season is August through mid-October, and this is when the majority of hotels are closed.

Tropical Hotel
Tropical Hotel
La Petite Plage
La Petite Plage

Where to Stay 

While visiting during the regatta, we checked into Le Tropical Hotel, St. Barth, technically the second-oldest hotel on the island. The French family-owned hotel was almost entirely destroyed during Hurricane Irma, so when it reopened this season, it showed off a new look with 24 rooms and suites swathed in shades of pastels and tropical vintage decor inspired by Miami and Palm Springs. Located up the hill from Saint-Jean Beach, with an infinity pool showing off stunning shots of the bay, Le Tropical is a central base for exploring the island, yet still feels like a tucked-away paradise slightly removed from the nightlife below. 

In just a 3-minute walk, however, you’re at the island’s oldest property, Eden Rock – St Barths, which has long been a Hollywood favorite. While exuding a resort feel, Eden Rock has just 37 rooms, suites, and villas dotting the rocky coastline, beach, and surrounding gardens. Encasing a strip of sugar-white sand, the hotel capitalizes on its prime real estate, with both a beach bar with sun loungers, as well as the Sand Restaurant and Rémy Bar & Salon, which overlook the water and feature cuisine dreamt up by master chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Spend the day on the sand before heading up to the Rémy Bar for a craft cocktail and elevated bar bites (think big-eye tuna tartare with caviar) come sunset.

Across the island, Hotel Le Toiny’s 22 villa suites sit on a hillside above the sea, while the barefoot chic Beach Club below feels like you’re on an untouched private island far from the glitz and glam over in Gustavia. 

Gypsea beach club
Gypsea beach club
Japanese French fusion at Kinugawa
Japanese French fusion at Kinugawa

Where to Dine, Drink & Dance

Known for its fantastic food is Cheval Blanc St-Barth — the only Palace hotel in the Caribbean — is where Hôtel Plaza Athénée’s Jean Imbert helms La Case, an indoor-outdoor concept that looks out at Flamands Beach. Apart from hotel restaurants, the majority of the dining options in St. Barts are concentrated in and around Gustavia and the harbor. Hillside Bonito, set in a former private beach house, is Selfbook founder Khalid Meniri’s favorite place to dine in Gustavia — especially for the lobster tacos and orange soufflé.

HeavenSake managing director Nes Rueda also says it’s one of the best restaurants for a drink since “it has an incredible view over the city, good energy, and the mixologists have spent so many years developing their skill sets.” The sake connoisseur is a huge fan of Asian cuisine and “a little hard to please,” he admits, but there are three spots for him that truly stand out: Kinugawa, Black Ginger, and Orega. As for where to enjoy a day that slips from lunch into sunset, he recommends Shellona, or “Shell Beach,” which takes inspiration from Ibiza and Mykonos for the Mediterranean-style fare and festive atmosphere. On the Route de Saline, meanwhile, upscale French eatery Tamarin unfolds in a tropical garden with lanterns lighting the tables and trees, creating a romantic setting come nightfall.

For something more low-key, take a seat at the island’s oldest bar, Le Sélect, which Marie Sibuet, owner of Villa Marie Saint-Barth and Gyp Sea, says is great for a cold Carib beer and snacks in a more “local kind of spot.” Also in Gustavia, Marie recommends popping into artisanal ice cream parlor Le Petit Deauville and ordering their banana ice cream.

Some restaurants transition from dinner to a nightclub, so there are plenty of options to continue the party post-meal. A few of the popular spots for nightlife: La Guérite, La Petite Plage, and Le Ti, known for its extravagant dinner cabaret. If you’re looking for somewhere to start the night along the water, Marie recommends sipping a Sicilian margarita at newly opened bohemian beach club Gyp Sea, which sits on St. John’s Bay. Next door, Nikki Beach here still feels fresh and is popular for its buzzy, all-day beach party and dining that runs from morning to midnight.

Orega, Guillaume Beaubatie
Orega, Guillaume Beaubatie
La Select, back in the day
La Select, back in the day
Suite terrace at Tropical Hotel
Suite terrace at Tropical Hotel

Where to Shop Like a Local

There’s no lack of luxury in St. Barts, so you can find everything from Chanel to Céline, but one shop that curates a nice mix of local and European designers that are on the more up-and-coming side is Volver, which features items like pearl jewelry from local brand TerreMer. Down the street, Kalinas & Taïnos showcases a collection of hand-rolled leather and pearl jewelry that is strung on site in the shop (and can be custom ordered).

For home goods stores, don’t miss Yume in St.-Jean, and Varda and Baya in Gustavia, and for women’s fashion, pop in Clic, Montaigne Market, and Lolita Jaca. Khalid recommends MACKEENE in Gustavia for menswear, which is “a local brand for high-quality and chic beachwear, combined with an amazing selection of products (like skateboards and snorkel masks), making it the perfect concept surf shop,” he says.

 

Tamarin
Tamarin
Shellona beach club
Shellona beach club

Where to Soak up Nature

While Shell Beach is a favorite for those who want a beach club vibe, some of the other stretches of sand on the island are more discreet (meaning harder to find). On the southeastern coast, sand dune-dotted Saline Beach sits near old salt marshes (thus the name saline) and is accessed via a rugged, rock-strewn trail. Swells make this spot tough for swimming, but great for sunbathing or picnicking. 

 Colombier Beach, meanwhile, sits on the western end of the island and is only reachable by boat or 30-minute hike — but when you arrive at the bottom, the crystal-clear water is the perfect reward for the light trek. Google Maps is practically non-existent on St. Barts, so some of the beaches and coves are off-the-beaten-path and may take some help to navigate, like the piscines naturelles, or natural pools. “These are a little tricky to find, and require local guidance due to their approach over the cliffs, but they are truly magical once you find them,” says photographer Tisa Sencur, who has lived on the island for many years.

As for surfing, Tisa says the best surf spots on the island depend on the swell. “Toiny, Anse de Cayes, and Lorient are the three main beaches to check out, and you can get surf lessons at all of them.”

Hiking in St. Barts
Hiking in St. Barts
Share this Story

More AHL Destination Guides

Brooklyn

Welcome to the borough of celebration!

tell me more ›

Washington DC Guide

Springing back to nature with Cherry Blossom season and the best to do in the US capital

tell me more ›

Austin Guide

The insider scoop and how to make the most out of SXSW with hot locals and The LINE Hotels

tell me more ›

Los Angeles Guide

Frieze LA is back and we've got the best to do in town with The LINE Hotels and 9 local creatives

tell me more ›