HELPING FAMILY FARMS FLOURISH. HELPING FEED THE HUNGRY.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

This Year's Top 10 Things to make your St. Barth Vacation Better than ever in 2014


What is it about St. Barth that we made our 23rd trek there a couple of weeks ago?   Were it not a very misguided decision to try Nevis about 5 years ago, we’d have an unbroken string of March vacations on the island dating back 20 continuous years. We can’t stop ourselves.  We simply love the place.  We get off the plane after its harrowing flight from St. Maarten, and we are instantly home.  Within 24 hours, we can’t remember how long we’ve been there.  We’re swept away to an island that only seems to get better year after year. 
      
What gets better?  We can start with the roads, which are so much safer and less threatening now that virtually every one of them has neat stone walls to keep you from hurtling your rental car into the sea.  We can move on from there to the Supermarche U which has more on offer with each passing year.  And on an island with a reputation for food that far surpasses that of any other island in the entire Caribbean, even the restaurants get better every year—their cuisine more varied and inventive.  Finally, there are the people.        
St. Bartholomew's Anglican Church
Gustavia, St. Barth
There’s talk that the ‘fancy people’ have moved on to Turks and Caicos and to Anguilla.  That may be true and explain why St. Barth feels more and more like a private club whose members return year after year.  Membership includes being remembered by restauranteurs, being greeted by old friends on their annual trips to the island, being so at home in your villa or hotel, it takes all of five minutes to settle in.     
         Herewith I present you with 10 items that we were particularly taken with this year.  They range from our car rental to our favorite things to eat and places to shop.  They’re in no particular order. They are things that struck our fancy and that we’d like to share with our fellow St. Barth ‘gentille membres’ (gentle members). So here goes:
        
Sunshower...about all the rain there was!
1. First of all, you need a great place to stay. The one and only time I stayed in a hotel here, was the very first visit I ever made to the island in 1981.  Since then, it’s been villas all the way.  There are of course, great hotels like the Ile de France, Eden Rock, Le Toiny which are so luxe they take your breath away…and you’ll also part with a few Euros to do so.  Villas on the other hand represent a surprising value.  We can’t say they are inexpensive. They are not.  But consider this:  The villa we’ve made our home for the past four years has two pavilions:  One houses the living room

and kitchen.  There’s also a small powder room for visitors.  The other houses a king sized bedroom, two showers—one indoors and one out—a bathroom with double sinks, a safe for valuables and all the closet and drawer space a couple could need.  Outside there’s a tropical garden, a completely tiled pool area and an outdoor living room and a dining room, plus a lap pool and four lounge chairs.  We’re not about

to tell you the price but imagine what this would cost at any deluxe hotel and I am almost sure it’s less expensive.  Maid Service arrives 6 out of 7 days a week. But the true heaven is being able to have breakfast from the patisserie, lunch from the grocery store, and no one is nickel and dimeing you for drinks anytime you want them.  Your villa rental can easily be arranged through Bethany Ludwick of Wimco (bludwick@wimco.com) .  While there are other agencies on the island, we wouldn’t budge from Wimco – having had one grim experience with a competitor.  You can of course rent directly from owners like our friend Nancy Robbins (narobb@aol.com) whose “Petits Pois” is beautifully maintained and very well priced.        
You can rent this car from Oscar
but that's my driver!
2.Next you need a car and driver.  A car is essential here unless you plan to plunk yourself down and seldom leave your hotel or never leave your villa.  This year we were introduced to the island’s newest car rental agency, Phillippe Mayet’s Oscar Car Rental (www.oscarstbarth.com).  We instantly became fans when Phillippe arrived at the airport to hand over our brand new Fiat Cinque Cento (that’s 500) convertible.  This is the car introduced to the US with those sensational commercials where the Fiat dives into the Mediterranean only to show up on our shores with the cry
www.oscarstbarth.com
“The Italians are Coming!”.  By this time, Oscar’s Mini Coopers will have arrived to join the flotilla of Mini’s that have swept St. Barth.  But what really separates Oscar is that, with your car rental, you have 24 hour a day access to Oscar’s Gustavia Parking lot which is directly in front of Isola Restaurant. Parking in Gustavia can be a drag especially at dinner time.   With an Oscar car it never is! 
        
3. Now you need to eat.  We always think that the first night on the island is the perfect time to dig into a pizza and get to bed early.  We were thrilled to find a new “Roman pizzeria” called L’Isoletta that’s opened on Rue du Roi Oscar II, just beyond the Creperie on the road heading out of town to Colombier and St. Jean.  These gorgeous thin-crusted pies are sold by the meter and also by the slice.  You
can pick and choose between dozens of varieties all ready to be put into the oven and brought to casual seating on the outdoor terrace. The night we were there, we were completely surrounded by local families—kids, infants, parents, grandparents. It was a wildly pleasant way to arrive. L’Isoletta, from the owners of L’Isola, which is just down the street. Tel: 05 90 52 02 02.
       



4. Next up, next morning a visit to what I call the Costco of St. Barth’s.  On the Route de Saline in L’Orient, just down from the Ligne St Barth spa, on the left side, you’ll come to pale green shed-like building.  Here’s where you can buy the all-essential bottled water used for everything from making ice cubes to brushing teeth.  And here’s where you will find the best prices on things like “Coca Cola Light”, which is what Diet Coke is called here. They’ve also got great prices on soap, shampoos, body washes—things that don’t always come with your villa.
         5. Next stop: Marche U.  I can’t say enough good things about this
place. It’s right across from the airport and clustered together with a pharmacy, an ATM for your Euros, several boutiques and the office of Wimco.  Marche U used to run on island time, locking up tight at 1 and only opening at 4. This year, it’s open from 8 to 8 and 8 to 1 on Sundays.  Traffic seems heaviest in the late afternoon and early evening.  So go early, avoid the crowds, and pick up a rotisserie chicken because they’ll all be gone well before noon.  Marche U has a fantastic selection of cheese and charcuterie.  But then Marche U has a fantastic selection of just about everything.  And I was really impressed with its private label brands of everything from Greek Yogurt to shampoo.  Aside from the savings, these are great products.        
Le Sereno 
6. Now for some serious eating. Just a word on restaurant reviews.  Serious restaurant reviewers will tell you: A single visit to a place tells a single story.  To be truly complete, a reviewer should go back a minimum of three times with 4 companions eating their way through the menu, repeating dishes and then coming to conclusions.  Since we did not do any of these things but instead hit 7 island restaurants on 7 consecutive nights, these are our observations about what we enjoyed the night we were there.  We did not go everywhere.  We went on recommendations from friends who’d been down earlier in the season and those who live there.  We only had one meal that was a major disappointment and I’m not going to tell you where. And one that wasn't recommendable. Far better to focus on the 5 where we enjoyed great food. Starting with Dinner at Le Sereno Restaurant.
        
This year, the restaurant was taken over by Jonas and Alexandra Millan who own St. Barth’s Bonito.  This gorgeous place, designed by Christian Liagre and now owned by the Contreras family, is beachfront dining at its best.  The chef, Laurent Cantineaux, is a protégé of Daniel Boulud.  The Executive Chef Sunny Oh, helmed Nobu South Beach. This is a long way around to say if I had had only one thing to eat this entire trip, I would have opted for the Bouillabaisse Tropicale at Le Sereno. With its homemade croutons, a rouille to die for, a broth so rich in fish flavor I wanted to lick the bowl and finally, flawlessly cooked fish, this was a triumph.         
7. If I heard once that Santa Fe was the place to eat on all St. Barth, I heard it twenty times.  So up the hill we traipsed with our friends Mark and Jeff, slightly nervous that it could possibly live up to its reputation.  Well, it did and every one of us was taken with our meals.  Here Foie Gras Poele and a Corn Risotto were superb.  The Chef Owner Emmanuel Maurin loves the classics so you’ll find Escargots and, the night we were there, a Blanquette de Veau, which while hardly Caribbean was hard to beat.        
8. For sheer food theater, Le Gaiac. This is a glorious place in the equally glorious Le Toiny Hotel.  While the infinity pool shimmers incongruously in purple, the magic comes out of the kitchen in waves.  There’s the amuse bouche—all three of them followed by yet another ‘soupcon’ of soup.  That’s the warm-up. I chose the truffled Parmesan Spaghetti which is prepared tableside using a huge round of cheese into which the pasta is tossed.  Andrew’s Pave of Veal was beautiful to behold.  My pasta was likely enough for a whole meal but I managed to tuck into an  order of sea bass.         
9. Go for the food and the view at Bonito.  There’s no better view in Gustavia, especially now that The Carl Gustav and its restaurant, Victoria, have mysteriously closed.  And the food lives up to the view.  Here’s the best sushi and Peruvian tiraditos on the island.  It is also the only restaurant the whole time we were there that was actually packed.  The crowd is varied-- yacht people, cruise passengers, locals and people like us.  And they have valet parking which is a huge help in Gustavia.        
10. And for a complete change of pace, Meat and Potatoes.
Quite honestly, our dear friends Nancy and Michel, snowbirds who make St Barth their winter home, chose Meat and Potatoes for our meal with them.  And I am very gladly they did.  It was a great change of pace from the pretty solidly seafood fare we’d been eating. The place is run by two men who were behind L'Esprit de Saline, right down the road. Here we shared a giant Cote de Boeuf, a mountain of very good frites, an arugula salad and four excellent sauces created to accompany the beef.  This was 72 Euros and worth every penny.        
So there we have it: Our vacation in under 2000 words. I could go on about the best beach—still Saline—and the kindness and courtesy that greeted us everywhere from M’Bolo, our favorite gift shop, to KIWI where our grandson and goddaughter’s annual swimsuits come from, to the service at Hermes.  But go down and discover this island for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you may want to join the club.  A la prochaine! (Until same time, next year).