St. Barth (formally Saint-Barthélemy) has an enormous reputation for an island that’s a mere 9 square miles. An overseas collectivity of France, the island proudly wears its French identity in its language, cuisine, and overall style.
This tiny Caribbean island has made a remarkable recovery from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Now most of the island’s hotels, private villas and restaurants are back open and looking even better than they did before!
There are no direct flights to St. Barth from the U.S. or Europe, instead visitors can get to the island either by boat from Saint Martin or by taking a short flight from Guadeloupe (one-hour flight) or Saint Martin (12-minute flight). The descent over the “Col de la Tourmente” is in itself an attraction, with the beautiful beach of Saint Jean sitting right at the end of the runway.
Despite its stunning Caribbean beaches and landscape, St. Barth feels far more like the South of France than it does the Caribbean in many respects. It’s clean, it’s quaint, it’s posh, it’s organized, and it offers a palatable sense of refinement with its rosé-fueled lunches and glamorous hotels. For many, it’s perceived as the domain of the wealthy; a playground for A-listers and business tycoons looking for a glitzy getaway. Truth be told, that reputation is limiting for little St. Barth, a place that die-hard repeat visitors will tell you they embrace for its simple pleasures, rather than its lavish ones.
The airport is located where the two sides of the island meet. To the west is the leeward side, dominated by peaks with such names as Grande-Vigie and Colombier. This is the more populated side of the island, which includes the “capital” of Gustavia. The leeward neighborhoods are filled with surprises: secret little coves like the charming Petite-Anse and beaches accessible only by foot or by boat, such as Colombier. The beach in Flamands is beautiful, with its palm trees and restaurants. The leeward side is also home to several typical neighborhoods such as Corossol, with its traditional houses nestled in tropical foliage and its small fishing port. The weaving of palm fronds for baskets and hats is a traditional artisanal activity still practiced here. The perfect souvenirs to take home from your visit!
To the east, the windward neighborhoods alternate with beautiful beaches. To reach the beach in Lorient, take the path along the picturesque cemetery that runs along the beach. The inlets in Marigot are popular with sea turtles who love the sea plants that flourish here, in a bay also frequented by snorkelers. Humid zones and lagoons, as found in the area of Cul-de-Sac, provide a veritable paradise for birds, especially the beautiful brown pelican, the symbol of St. Barth. To the Southeast, the point of Toiny and the bay of the same name mar the beginning of the “côte sauvage,” or the most unspoiled coastline on the island. The landscapes are breathtaking, from hidden coves and natural pools sculpted into the rock by erosion. This is the side of the island that seduced the great Russian dancer, Rudolph Nureyev, whose wooden dacha-by-the-sea still hangs over the sea on a cliff. The windward side also has charming old stone walls, which divide the land dotted with traditional Saint Barth cottages faded by the sun, and even a few cows in a pasture.
If you would like to explore the entire island, you’ll need a vehicle, because even if St. Barth is small in size, its landscape is very mountainous. You will find taxis by the ferry terminal in Gustavia, and car rental companies are located in town or at the airport. You can also explore the island by taking a guided tour on a quad scooter!