Barthélemy (St. Barts) is the designated playground of the wealthy and famous. It can, however, be an unforgettable destination for everyone looking for a special getaway. It may be a bit more dressed-up than some other Caribbean islands as it combines healing relaxation with an air of sophistication. Fabulous beaches, indulgent shopping, and gourmet dining is only the beginning of a vacation on St. Barts.
About St Barthélemy
The island of St. Barts is a part of the Lesser Antilles chain in the eastern Caribbean Sea. It used to be a part of Guadeloupe, but now it is an independent overseas French territory. The 11-mile-long island is mountainous and encircled by glorious white-sand beaches. Its capital is Gustavia, which is the only town on the island.
St. Barts was discovered by Christopher Columbus when he arrived in 1493, but it was officially settled by the French. By 1784, the island was traded to Sweden, which turned St. Barts into a free (tax-free) port. The fact that it has remained tax-free only contributes to its popularity. The French and Sweden influence gives the island a wonderful European ambiance without travelers having to cross the pond.
St. Barts remained relatively undiscovered until the 1960s, when luminaries such as the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds arrived and purchased property on this unheard-of island, only to be followed by major jet setters in their yachts and private planes. These elites were initially attracted not only to the heavenly scenery but also to St. Bart’s legendary cuisine, such as truffle ceviche. The harbor in Gustavia has been lined with Aristotle Onassis-sized yachts ever since. A-listers come here for vacations and honeymoons, and it’s a favorite spot to spend the holidays. Designer shops, such as Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and Dior, and first-class restaurants are ready for them.
In addition to the first-rate shopping and dining, visitors come for a secluded beach and a midnight swim. And they usually make a list of all celebrities they have sighted. On St. Barts, the nightspots are hot, the parties are serious, and the elite and everyone else shares the same dancefloor. While there are expensive resorts, there are also many small, affordable beach cottages with kitchens for preparing meals. This can make a vacation in St. Barts quite affordable. Interestingly, the resorts in St. Barts are luxurious, but a bit less extravagant than one might expect. Legally, they can only be two stories high, and visitors won’t find many extras such as casinos. That is because when you visit St. Barts, St. Barts is the star. The hotel is mainly a plush place to change one’s clothing.
The best way to St. Barts (if you don’t have your own yacht) is to fly to the island from San Juan or take a ferry from St. Martin. Its isolation only adds to its allure and exclusivity.
Language Spoken in Saint Barthélemy
While French is St. Bart’s official language, everyone speaks English, as well.
Currency in Saint Barthélemy
The standard St. Barts currency is the Euro, but the U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere.
Things to Do in Barthélemy
Nightlife in St. Barts
To no one’s surprise, St. Barts embraces a good party. Lots of good parties. Some include magnums of champagne, others a cool sip at a nice bar.
Le Ti in Gustavia is a famed restaurant with cabaret dancers and a strolling costume fashion show. It’s St. Barts’ version of the Moulin Rouge, and just as much fun. Come and leave your inhibitions at the door.
The elegant Nikki Beach Club on St. Jean’s Beach attracts visitors from all over. Many are A-listers while others are looking to spot them. Reserve a table and let the wine and cocktail flow with ease. The food here is delicious. Sundays at Nikki’s means unlimited Rose wine and dancing on the beach. Any reason to celebrate is deemed reasonable, such as St. Barts’ Carnival with the theme, “We’re All Crazy Here.” And that sums up the Nikki Beach Club very nicely.
Diving in St. Barts
There is a world of adventure beneath those St. Barts’ yachts. Most of the scuba sites are located in the eco-protected Marine Nature Reserve, where special flora, fauna, and marine life can be found.
A luxury yacht named the Nonstop sunk during a hurricane by Gros Ilets, and it’s a favorite wreck dive site for beginners. Two additional wrecks, the Dakar and the Marignan are located near Gustavia. A bit north of Gustavia, the wreck of the Kayali is 100 beneath the surface and is a site for experienced wreckers only. The Kayali is now home to sea turtles and eagle rays. On the northwest side of St. Barts, the Anse de Colombier is surrounded by coral reefs and a great deal of flora and fauna, making it a favoring diving site.
Charter a Boat
To get the whole St. Barts experience, visitors should rent a boat to explore the magical waters surrounding the island. It doesn’t have to be a giant yacht; there are several affordable options.
Neighboring islands such as St. Martin and Anguilla can be explored on a crewed motor yacht. For something a bit more calming, rent a sailing yacht and sunbathe on the deck while cruising the azure waters.
Another popular option is a crewed catamaran, which offers wonderful comfort and lets you cruise very close to the shoreline and white beaches.
For some extra adventure, charter a bareboat, a yacht without a crew. That leaves you in control, and it’s fun for children, who can pretend they are roaming pirates.
The Wall House Museum (not to be confused with the closed Wall House Restaurant) in Gustavia holds a compilation of St. Barts’ French, English, and Swedish history. It takes visitors on a journey in time with artifacts and documents that tells the story of St. Barts’ roots to today’s glamorous existence. It is a lovely way to discover the cultural history of the island.
Best Beaches to Visit in Saint Barthélemy
St. Barts has some of the greatest beaches in the Caribbean. Be aware that all allow topless bathing, which is considered quite the norm here. Only a few beaches are completely clothing optional.
Gouverneur Beach is a favorite due to its secluded location. There are no restaurants or shops nearby, and the rolling of the waves will be the only sound. It’s a fantastic beach for swimming and snorkeling. Pack a picnic and just revel in the stunning sunset. Gouverneur Beach is a nude beach, so visitors are likely to come across others in various stages of undress.
Anse de Grande Saline is another clothing-optional beach on St. Barts’ southern coastline, with its turquoise water and white sand. Like Gouverneur Beach, it is a place to simply enjoy the moment and relax. No clothes are needed to enjoy a picnic of baguettes and creamy French cheeses. But you can wear some if you want to.
St. Jean Beach
St. Jean Beach is an expanse of brilliant aquamarine waters and white sand, making it one of the most popular beaches on St. Barts. The calm waters are ideal for windsurfing and snorkeling. Located by the super-deluxe Eden Rock Hotel, this is a people-watching beach, and everyone keeps an eye out for celebrities (are those Kardashians over there?).
Lorient Beach is one of the best family beaches as the water is shallow enough for kids to play in. Adults can take long swims from the shore. For surfer wannabes, there is a surf school situated on this beach. There is a burger restaurant, JoJo Burgers, just minutes away.
Grand Cul-de-Sac Beach
Grand-Cul-de-Sac with its shallow waters is a great beach for children. There are windsurfing and kite flying schools on site. Lining the beach are several deluxe hotels, the Guanahani, Le Sereno, and the Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa.
As its name suggests, Shell Beach in Gustavia is a great place to collect shells. The restaurant Shellona serves some wondrous Greek cuisine right by the beach. It also offers a place to cool off midday, along with a cold drink.
Some of St. Barts’ best dining happens surrounded by sand. Le Toiny Beach Club by Toiny Beach specialized in anything grilled, including lobster.
The Sereno Hotel’s Al Mare Restaurant at the Grand Cul De Sac beach was voted by CNN as one of the world’s best waterfront restaurants.
Best Resort or Hotel in Saint Barthélemy
Eden Rock Hotel at the stunning St. Jean Beach is the ultimate luxury getaway. For a special indulgence, guests can arrange a private jet pickup from San Juan. The restaurant and bar are overseen by a Michelin-starred chef. Suites and individual villas are set within a blooming garden for privacy.
Arrangements are available for daily breakfast delivery to the private villas, and a private butler and private chef are available upon request. Eden Rock specializes in several holistic wellness programs to restore body and soul. There are watersports for all, including guided sandcastle-building for children. The resort’s boutique has elegant, fun, and memorable souvenirs.
Best Resort or Hotel for Couples in Saint Barthélemy
Hotel Le Toiny is a secluded escape with 15 villas spread throughout the property, and the higher up the hill the villa, the more heart-stopping the view. Each lovely villa has its infinity pool and ocean vista.
Except to dine at the hotel’s restaurant or wander to the Toiny Beach Club, there is no real reason to leave. Or the couple can shop at the inhouse La Boutique for an array of gifts and other goods. For some physical activity, there is tennis, yoga, and pilates at the beachfront.
Best Resort or Hotel for Families in Saint Barthélemy
The Sereno Hotel by the breathtaking Grand Cul de Sac Beach has open-air or on-the-beach dining just a few steps from the water. Kids can wiggle their toes in the sand while filling up. Each Monday guests enjoy a concert and cocktail at the beach, and the pool bar offers mixology classes.
This is a true St. Bart’s vacation, especially when guests take advantage of the outdoor, beachfront spa spaces. The ocean offers every type of watersports, from windsurfing, snorkeling, kayaking, or fishing. While parents are kept busy, the Sereno Hotel has babysitting services available for the younger set.