|Photo by Freeimages.com/Ramona Alt|
by The Daily Telegraph, March 03, 2016
St Barts has always been sexy, but this was getting ridiculous. I found myself on the island in the middle of the Victoria’s Secret swimwear shoot and there were so many models about I was practically tripping over them. One certainly nearly tripped over me. As I lay on St Jean beach I looked up to see a skimpy lime-green bikini bottom reversing towards me, pursued by men with lighting umbrellas and cameras. I didn’t even have time to find out whether she was wearing a Flirt Bandeau or a Hottie Halter.
It was a fitting scene though. St Barts is unquestionably the sexiest island in the Caribbean and has inimitable French style. Pretty young things – men and women – zip by on quad bikes and loiter on the beaches dressed in a mere nuance of a bathing suit. The streets of the main town, Gustavia, are lined with Hermès, Chopard and Bulgari. And the restaurants outstrip those on any other island by a long chalk.
St Barts is expensive of course, and feels more metropolitan French than French West Indian, but clearly the island is doing something right. It is best known for its exceptionally wealthy, international but predominantly American clientele and for its celebrities, more of whom gather here over Christmas and New Year than anywhere else in the islands.
The tranquil beach coast of St BartsCredit: forcdan - Fotolia
“St Barts does have a reputation for being glitzy – and for those two weeks each year it is,” says Charles Vere Nicoll, one of the island’s leading hoteliers. For all the swanlike progress though, you know that legs are working hard beneath the surface. St Barts is better organised than almost any other Caribbean island and goes to considerable efforts to satisfy its glamour-seeking guests. So, when I wasn’t fending off models, I went on the lookout for what’s new this season. The island was adding its final touches before the rush.
The big news on the restaurant scene was the opening of La Guérite, sister to the trendy restaurant of the same name in Cannes. When I was there just ahead of the start of the season proper, it was still a bit of a building site, but I could see the potential. Its setting is superb – right on the harbour – and the huge yachts on the opposite dock look magnificent at night. La Guérite duly opened on December 21 and has been the happening spot ever since (DiCaprio, de Niro, Jagger, McCartney). After dinner the music goes up and there’s a party till 4am.
I was able to eat at Orega, also new for the season, which is set in one of Gustavia’s pretty “cases” or wooden houses, a raised dining area and courtyard dressed in muted grey and white. Unlikely as it may seem for the Caribbean, Orega is a French and Japanese fusion restaurant. Beneath striking works of art (Orega is part owned by artist Kate Kova, who has a gallery on the island, confusingly called Ortega), I ate a sashimi roll with salmon and tuna topped with yuzu tobiko and then lamb with aubergine and sweet potato with a shiso crust.
Sunset over Gustavia harbour in St BartsCredit: Leonard Zhukovsky - Fotolia
They were as good as anything I have tasted in London, but then the supply chain itself is mind-boggling. Vegetables arrive fresh twice weekly from France via the larger neighbouring island of St Maarten, and their tuna transits from Japan via New York and Miami.
The best hotels
- Eden Rock St Barths Baie de St Jean, Saint BarthélemyTelegraph expert rating8
The island’s original luxury hotel, Eden Rock St Barths offers glamour, exceptional gourmet experiences and charming aesthetic idiosyncrasies from its dramatic perch atop a rocky promontory. Read expert review
Rates provided by Booking.com
- Le Guanahani Gustavia, Saint BarthélemyTelegraph expert rating8
St Barts’ largest resort, stylish Le Guanahani impresses with amenities and facilities galore, while still retaining a high degree of exclusivity and intimacy. Read expert review
Rates provided by Booking.com
It’s this level of sophistication that sets St Barts apart. Importers actually bring wine in young to minimise the damage from sea travel. The prize for the introduction of the most exotic new ingredient for this year must go to L’Isola, still one of the island’s most popular restaurants, which has added Mediterranean blue lobster to its menu.
Many of the restaurants in St Barts have international ties and Le Sereno, a hotel at the eastern end of the island designed by Christian Liaigre, has just teamed up with Giuliano Lotto (a London restaurateur for many years). They have created a new Mediterranean menu under the supervision of Alex Simone of Il Baretto Restaurant.
The dining room sits on the waterfront, a split-level deck looking through palm trunks on to a turquoise lagoon, with white bench seats flashed with purple and blue. I arrived looking forward to a risotto or tagliolini with garlic, crab and courgette… and found a catwalk set up over the swimming pool, with crystal chandeliers slung between the palms. And models of course. That evening was the finale of the shoot and a beachfront party.
Le Sereno, St BartsCredit: lesereno.com
At this point my host at the Hotel le Village in St Jean, Catherine Charneau, decided I needed to see another side of St Barts, so we sailed to a pretty, almost undeveloped bay, Anse à Colombier, which can only be reached on foot or by boat. A marine reserve, it was a perfect place for a swim and a chat about the island. On an island as developed as this, it’s impressive to find some untouched beaches. The only house on Colombier dates from the Fifties, when Caribbean aficionado Laurance Rockefeller discovered the island. And the south coast bay, Anse de Grande Saline, remains undeveloped too.
Recently there have been political changes. St Barts, once appended to Guadeloupe, now has more freedom to set its own laws and taxes, though it remains an “overseas collectivity of France”. The island is changing in other ways too. Service has become more professional over the years.
There has also been the smallest intrusion of corporatisation in the island’s few hotels, though the purchasers are distinctly niche, luxury hotel companies. Cheval Blanc, part of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, bought the Isle de France a year ago (now going into its second season, it hasn’t made radical changes this year) and the Oetker Collection has bought into Eden Rock. Elsewhere the Carl Gustaf hotel has been bought and this year work is due to start on the Francois Plantation hotel.
The Eden Rock hotel, St BartsCredit: Onne van der Wal/Onne van der Wal
It’s all pretty rarefied stuff. The latest trend at this elevated end of the market is private space. The Eden Rock hotel has just opened its spectacular new Christopher Columbus suite, covering a whole floor of the main house on the rock. Surrounded by modern art, the bed offers a view through a huge glass sitting area across St Jean Bay, one of the loveliest in the island.
The biggest development this season is at Le Toiny, which has been bought by the above-mentioned Charles Vere Nicoll (since he sold Isle de France). Tucked away at the eastern end of the island, Le Toiny has always been known for privacy (by the celebrities who don’t want to be seen). It has 17 hillside suites, each with a terrace and plunge pool, secluded by curtains of greenery and looking onto a seascape of islands. They have been completely redone.
“I didn’t want very modern and sharp,” says Vere Nicoll, “and the scenery here lends itself to something subtle.”
He commissioned London-based designer Bee Osborn. The green tin roofs have been softened to grey and the interiors are now decorated in sandy tones ranging from cream to beige and biscuit, touched here and there with a vibrant blue.
Le Toiny resort is often used by celebrities looking for privacyCredit: letoiny.com
“The colour palette is motivated by the beach,” says Osborn. “It is calm and neutral, offset by the blue, which was custom-made for the hotel. The hot pink [in the bar] is a personal favourite of the owner.” It certainly feels restful and the reception and hilltop pool area are extremely stylish.
The dining room at Le Toiny has always been renowned as probably the best on the island (rightly in my opinion – my mahimahi fillet hovered on a herb mousse suspended with wasabi-steeped fish roe which exploded on my tongue like miniature grenades), but until now it’s mainly been for dinner. And yet a comment you hear quite often in St Barts is that there aren’t really many nice places to have lunch on the beach.
So Le Toiny has added a beach club, with restaurant, bar and boutique, beneath the hotel. It feels natural, almost wild, after the kempt character of other beach restaurants, with chairs and tables made of distressed wood set among the palms and shaded by sea grape trees. Music is piped around the loungers and the sun glints and dazzles offshore. Another ideal relaxing retreat.
“Outside Christmas and New Year, St Barts is informal, gentle and fun,” says Vere Nicoll. “Glamorous rather than glitzy, a bit like the south of France 30 years ago.”
I agree, though I do cast a quick eye around me in case I’m about to be run down by a model in a skimpy bikini.
James Henderson stayed at the Village St Jean ( villagestjeanhotel.com, 00590 590 27 61 39), rooms from €270 a night in high season, and at the new Le Toiny ( letoiny.com, 00590 590 27 88 88), Junior Suites from €1,545 in season.
Scott Dunn ( scottdunn.com, 020 8682 5050) offers seven nights at Hotel Le Toiny, St Barts from £2,845 per person. This is based on two people sharing a Junior Suite with a private pool on a b&b basis and includes flights and private transfers.
St Barts tourist board: saintbarth-tourisme.com/en .
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