With its reputation as a chic getaway, French St. Barts has a natural side, too, with rolling hills, secluded beaches and gin-clear waters.
At just eight square miles, tiny St. Barthelemy (known as St. Barts) is a diamond in the rough – arid and hilly, with a handful of good beaches. But scratch the surface and you’ll see why jet-setters have had an ongoing love affair with the island Christopher Columbus named after his brother Bartholomé.
After hundreds of years of back and forth between European powers, St. Barts became a French province in 1877 and is a dependency of Guadeloupe. Most of the residents are French-speaking descendants of the first Norman and Breton settlers, so French is the official language, though just about everyone can converse in English.
The island offers plenty to do – such as snorkeling, diving, windsurfing, sailing and fishing – but most savvy vacationers visit to get away from it all by holing up in villas hidden in the hills. You can find a beachfront room, but seasoned travelers know the best buys are high above the water where the views are even more spectacular than the architecturally bold lodgings themselves. If you’re looking for a bargain, rates drop up to 50 percent in the summertime.
Even if you decide to stay on the beach, you’ll want a car to explore the steep roads. Though you may not be here for a history lesson, take a day trip to quaint Corossol, a fishing village where local women in starched white bonnets sell their woven baskets, bags and hats along a narrow road.
Gustavia is the main town, with a harbor full of impressive yachts and fabulous duty-free shopping for French and Italian goods. Most of the island’s 100 restaurants are here, and French cuisine is on par with some of the world’s best dining. Seafood is tops, from tuna and spiny lobster to fish soup and salt cod fritters, prepared with imported ingredients that arrive twice a week from the United States and France. Notable chefs from France and the U.S. frequently visit the island to sample the food, and young chefs who have trained in many of France’s greatest restaurants often head to St. Barts for their first jobs.
After-dark diversions can be offbeat on St. Barts. To watch a movie, gather with the locals at the A.J.O.E. tennis court in Lorient, where films are projected onto a concrete wall. Tip a few with sailors at Le Select, a local hangout. To hobnob with the other vacationers, head to lively spots like Bête à Z’Ailes, La Plage, “Nikki Beach” and le Ti-St Barth, which often have live music.
Every year, St. Barts hosts the Festival de Musique, attracting top international performers in January and February, and an April film festival specializing in Caribbean cinema.
It’s a place with plenty to do, but many visitors do little more than eat, sleep and play. The small island has more than a dozen beaches. You can choose from the secluded Anse a Colombier, reached via hike on a steep trail unless you go by boat, or the easy-access Baie de St. Jean. All the beaches are public and free.
Entertainment available includes: Wine Bars. Live jazz (high season). Night Clubs.
Via St. Maarten. Air Caraibes. Windward Islands Airways. St. Barths Commuter (flights to/from the French airport of St. Martin and Charters). Caribbean Connection Plus’ Shared & Private Charters. AIRPORTS: St. Barths airport has a short landing strip that can handle nothing larger than 20-seat STOL aircraft. It is not equipped for night landing.
Tradewind offers year-round scheduled flights to and from San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU), St. Thomas (STT) and Antigua (ANU) and private charter flights from all points in Puerto Rico, the USVI (STT and STX) and more. Enjoy air-conditioning, complimentary snacks and refreshments.
For stays of up to three months, Effective January 23, 2007, all US citizens traveling by air to and from Bermuda and the Caribbean are required to have a valid passport to enter the United States. Canadian citizens must have proof of citizenship in the form of a valid passport or a passport that expired not more than five years ago, or a notarized birth certificate with raised seal or a voter’s registration card, accompanied by a government-authorized identification with photo. For stays over 3 months, or for nontourist visits, a valid passport is required. Resident aliens of the U.S. and Canada, and visitors from countries other than those of the EEC and Japan, must have a valid passport and visa. A return or onward ticket is also required.
The Musee Municipal de St. Barthelemy in Gustavia showcases the island’s history through photographs, documents, costumes, and antiques. Inter-oceans Museum in Corossol has a collection of 7,000 seashells. Mountainous vicinity of Vitet, with stone-fenced farms and tile-roofed houses.
Documents needed: Birth Certificate (with raised seal). Certificate of good conduct (including certification of single status). Residency card (one of the couple must have resided on the island at least one month). Medical certificate (including blood test), issued within 3 months of marriage. French translation of English language documents. A “Bulletin de Marriage” and “Livret de Famille” are delivered at the ceremony. No fee is involved.