St. Barth is perhaps a perfect island – a very expensive perfect island, often visited by the rich and famous. Its mountain peaks offer splendid views of quiet coves with white sand beaches, with rocky outcrops of tiny islands not too far offshore. Gustavia, the compact port with its picturesque harbor, shelters watercraft from sleek luxury yachts to colorful fishing boats. Shoppers browse upscale shops, galleries and boutiques with chic outfits and purses that could set you back a few weeks salary. Many say the French cuisine here is second-to-none in the Caribbean.
As one writer once put it, life on St. Barth might feel more like living in a small town in the South of France rather than on a Caribbean island. Walking along Gustavia’s tranquil harbor reminds me of my time in scenic St. Tropez, or on a much smaller (and much quieter) scale, Marseille’s dramatic boat-lined inner harbor.
Although a part of France, many of Gustavia’s stone and brick colonial buildings stem from when Sweden controlled the island from 1784 until 1878. The Wall House with its stone facade, for example, is of Swedish origin and now houses the Saint Barth Museum. Perched on a hillside overlooking Gustavia’s hillside red-roofed neighborhood is the landmark green-sided Swedish Clock Tower, once the campanile of a Lutheran church destroyed by a hurricane.
“St. Barth was Swedish before, so we still keep the same way of doing things,” says island Tourism Director Inès Bouchaut-Choisy. “St. Barth wants to keep its architectural heritage because it’s the soul of the island. This is the way for us to think about what St. Barth was before, what it is today and what St. Barth will be tomorrow.”
I must admit I was quite shocked when window shopping along some of Gustavia’s high-end designer stores and boutiques before taking the ferry back to St. Martin. In one upscale shop, a T-shirt was €150, sneakers €260, designer jeans €450, a polo shirt €290, a vest €900 and a sport coat at €1,800. A handsome mannequin sported a herringbone-patterned sport coat for €2,350. I am relieved to say, meanwhile, that I did find T-shirts at more reasonable tourist shops for €27-€60.
Most island resorts are located along St. Barths’ beautiful beaches or on hills with great views. Most are smaller luxury properties with 15 rooms or less, and low-end room rates I researched start in the €300-€600 a night range. Yes, l wasn’t kidding when I mentioned expensive. If you don’t want to pay those rates yet still want to visit St. Barth, I recommend taking the ferry from St. Martin as a day trip. Ferry roundtrip tickets on the same day (at the time of this blog) are just below $100 USD.
I was a guest for one night at the Hotel Carl Gustaf, a luxury property on a hillside with terrific views overlooking Gustavia. Just a ten minute walk to the harbor, restaurants and shops, the hotel has 14 one- and two-bedroom suites, each with a private plunge pool. Suites ascend the hillside, each offering splendid harbor views. The hotel’s lobby and fine-dining restaurant, Victoria’s, are perched atop the hill. Recent renovations included refreshing the suites with new flooring, furniture and accessories with new color schemes, evoking a luxurious beach house feel.
What I particularly like about the Hotel Carl Gustaf is its location. It’s an easy walk down the hill (and not too hard a walk back up) to the marina with its restaurants and subtle nightlife. The hotel provides shuttle service to nearby beaches.
According to a St. Barth press release, the Hotel Carl Gustaf is offering a new value-added package for this summer (low season) called the “Summer Delight Package,” available May 1 – August 30. The package includes:
– Three nights in a Superior One-Bedroom, with upgrade to a Deluxe One-Bedroom based on availability
– Daily breakfast
– Three-day car rental (excluding gas and insurance)
– Dinner for two at the hotel’s Victoria’s restaurant
– One cocktail per person at the Carl Gustaf Lounge
For more information:
www.karine-taxi-sbh.com (Taxi Service by Karine)