Having had the distinct pleasure of traveling the Caribbean (almost in its entirety) for my book, Caribbean Hideaways, I can say, with honed certitude, that ST. BARTH’S is my favorite island in the Caribbean. Although St. Barth’s is technically a volcanic island, like many in the Caribbean, it has zero traces of black sand and is surrounded by shallow reefs making the water even more azure and wonderfully comfortable for bathing. As someone who generally shies from naming favorites, the attachment I feel towards the isle of St. Barth’s is powerful.
Sure, this is no novel opinion. For those who have been fortunate enough to have visited this French tropical paradise, I imagine you agree with its superiority. This being my second visit, I was particularly eager to get there. I was lucky enough that, even with the hideous weather in NYC, I was easily rescheduled on JetBlue’s morning flight to San Juan. Given the magnitude of passengers flying the San Juan – NYC route, JetBlue has three to four flights a day, but the trick is timing it with the twice-a-day charter flight, available from premiere charter company, Tradewind Aviation<, which makes traveling via San Juan the ideal route.
Once I landed in San Juan, avoiding customs, I set out to find a suitable, alfresco destination to wait out my three-hour layover before the charter departure. Unfortunately, Tradewind does not have a lounge, so I chose to wait at the only outdoor option in the airport: the wings bar, Buffalo Billys. Although the waitstaff was incredibly kind (especially when I didn’t order anything other than water) I suggest trying to minimized your layover time as much as possible. Fortunately our flight left right on the dot. And in less than five minutes we were up and off, soaring over San Juan and out to sea, passing over the BVI, Anguilla and ultimately landing in the crown jewel of the Caribbean, St. Barth’s.
As most know, the landing at St. Barth’s is no easy feat. Accidents have happened in the past and stories are often exaggerated. Nevertheless, it can feel a bit daunting when the plane slows down midair and then drops, rather suddenly, to the runway. But, what makes Tradewind Aviation the preferred option is twofold: The pilots are incredibly well-trained (and that there are two of them!) and the plane is exceedingly comfortable, helping allay potential fears. The pilots also offer top-notch service right from the getgo with clear safety demonstrations followed by self-service cold drinks and snacks in the back. The flight takes around 90-minutes and is rather enjoyable, particularly if you’re lucky enough to be in a Pilatus plane, whose plush seats are private jet material. Of course, the view is exceptional regardless of aircraft.
LE GUANAHANI HOTEL
Upon arrival to the Guanahani Hotel I was affronted by the astounding natural beauty of St. Barth’s, so beautifully laid out by the hotel’s colorful landscaping and supreme hillside location. Situated on Grand Cul de Sac beach, a haven for windsurfers and kitesurfers due to the sheltered cove and constant breeze, Le Guanahani enjoys one of the islands only private beaches while its other side overlooks the serene Marigot Bay.
After checking into my room, one of the remodeled suites at the hotel overlooking the gardens and a slice of the beach, I was pulled outdoors by the swaying palms, the rippling waters and the fierce desire to dip my toes in that powdery sand. Luckily, my walk down to the beach was mere steps, while other rooms at Le Guanahani can provide a bit of a trek. If the beach is your sole reason for visiting – and the beach at Guanahani surely deserves such singular focus – then I must implore the ease of staying in one of the beachfront rooms. Plus, they’re also next door to the newly refurbished gym with waterfront views and gleaming new TechnoGym equipment.
Later that afternoon we left the calm, quiet beach scene of Le Guanahani in favor of the notorious action at local hotspot, Nikki Beach. Long heralded as St. Barth’s see and be-seen locale, Nikki Beach is a rarefied beach club complete with wooden tables in the sand, cushioned banquets maleextra review add a comment website and the surefire club-winning recipe of bottles and models. Alas, I don’t have a picture here, but everyone at our table couldn’t peel their eyes away from the gorgeous woman (no doubt, a model) seated behind us, who single-handedly elevated Nikki Beach’s glamor quotient that day. The five of us split a magnum of Rosé, which I was told was a local product, though I have yet to find any corroborating evidence that actual grapes are grown and turned into wine on St. Barth’s. Perhaps that was the Rose talking.
Remodeled since my last visit, the year-old Bonito (Rue Lubin Brin, Gustavia) is an elegant ceviche restaurant with a white palette accented by marine colored throw pillows, wicker and upholstered seating and an attractive waitstaff outfitted in breezy silk getups. Situated at the top of a steep hill overlooking Gustavia Habour with its own boutique at the entrance, the restaurant is ideal for a romantic yet casual dinner where the drinks, ambiance and view take center stage. The seafood-dominated menu, including Tiraditos; “not carpaccios, not sashimi, tiraditos” as the menu says, is certainly high-concept, though can be a bit daunting at the outset. I highly recommend ordering the sampler of Ceviche and Tiraditos and one of the house cocktails. Another element of note is the open kitchen fronting a cozy, upholstered sitting area, not unlike a stylish living room in a local villa, complete with inlaid shelves displaying framed photos and coral. A nice, homey touch that gave the restaurant a friendly feel.
My favorite meal during this past visit was at local, Italian restaurant, L’Isola, run by chef Fabrizio Bianconi. We were spoiled by him personally and treated to such a delectable meal that we were too stuffed for dessert. He insisted anyway and supplied one of the better tirmisus I’ve had the pleasure of overstuffing myself with. The array of food was simply delicious with standout dishes like a crispy, vegetable starter, a delectable sea urchin pasta (seriously, unbelievable!) and succulent seared beef medallions. Alas, none of these dishes are on the menu listed online but, see if he’ll make them when you go, especially that pasta – mamma mia!
ITS ALL ABOUT THE BEACH
It would be a crying shame to visit St. Barth’s and not visit the two top beaches. First is Le Saline Beach. An unspoiled, shimmering white sand beach nestled into a long, protected cove, Le Saline’s entrance must be earned. Accessed by a rocky, uphill path, reaching Le Saline requires footware. Or, as I spied one beachgoer, at the very least, socks. Though, like most special spots, the mini-trek is well worth the eventual reward. I could spend hours at Le Saline Beach, from the people-watching (yes, we did see some nudists) to the refreshing water to the bright sunshine and slight breeze.
The second beach we visited was the highly-praised Gouverneur Beach. It was my first time and though the repeated raves equipped me with very high expectations, I was still blown away by the sheer vibrancy of the water color and then, by its unbelievably smooth texture. Never have I swum in the Caribbean Sea and had it feel so utterly silky. Plus it had decent waves. It sounds like an odd thing to note, but truly, I couldn’t keep myself out of the water. Forget mineral baths and hot springs – get me to Gouverneur Beach. Not only was it the ideal temperature, but it had me with the electric aqua color.
Both Saline and Gouverneur Beaches are service-free beaches, relying on their exceptional natural scenery to guarantee visitor satisfaction. Not unlike my other favorite island, (Nantucket), the bring-it-yourself beach experience allows for all types of beachgoers, but most of all, ensures that those visiting the location are there first and foremost to enjoy the setting. And if you are lucky enough to be staying at Le Guanahani, do not miss out on their fabulous picnic lunches, complete with chilled Rose. (It’s clearly the national beverage) Just be sure to ask for an umbrella (there’s no shade on either beach).
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