St. Barthelémy, or St. Barth, as its habitués call it, is an island slice of paradise just 12 harrowing minutes by plane from St. Martin. But once you survive the plunge between two hills and what must be the world’s shortest runway, you’ve landed somewhere very luxe, very chic and very French. Just 8 ½ square miles, the island rises out of an azure sea, its beaches unparalleled not only for their white sand and glorious swimming but also for their uncrowded bliss and topless (even bottomless) sunbathing. In its hills, behind lush foliage and stone walls, fabulous homes are celebrity retreats, many of which can be rented by mere mortals. So much separates St. Barth from every other island in the Caribbean to make it truly unique.
Zealously guarded by a building code that precludes any building over three stories, the island is as famous for what it lacks as it is for what it stands for: A little corner of France without a stoplight in sight, with no hotel boasting more than 67 rooms, no golf, no gambling and no real dress code. Gentlemen can leave their jackets at home and ladies can explore their casual chic side. Gustavia, its ‘downtown’, boasts a harbor filled with world-class yachts and streets filled with world-class designer boutiques. And then, there’s the food. From the simplest barefoot beach bar to outstanding fine dining restaurants, St. Barth cuisine is unparalleled anywhere in the West Indies. For all the reasons listed, St. Barth’s devotees return year after year. This writer just clocked his 28th visit to the island. Here is my Annual list of St. Barth’s best in 2017.
|Oscar's Mini Cooper|
# 1. Car Rental. A car is pretty much essential to a stay on St. Barth. You can stick to the island’s reliable cab services but for true freedom, rent a car. While all the big brands are there –Hertz, Avis, Budget--our # 1 choice is Oscar Car Rental (Tel: +590 (0) 690 653 833 http://oscar-car-rental-stbarth.com/en. Not only does Phillipe Mayet, Oscar’s owner, rent the Car of the Moment, the Cooper S Mini Convertible, his rental agency has the distinction of having its own parking lot right in downtown Gustavia, a place with a perennial shortage of parking spots. This alone would be reason to rent from Oscar and with its superb customer service, there’s really no contest.
|Sunset at Villa LUZ, St. Barth|
# 1 For Hotel or Villa Rentals, the West Indies Management Company (WIMCO) is at the top of the heap. Agent Bethany Ludwick (email@example.com) has an encyclopedic knowledge of every place to stay on the island. WIMCO has the most carefully curated collection of hotels and villas to suit every taste. Once on the island, WIMCO’s ground service is impossible to beat. A concierge is assigned to every guest with service that starts when you step off the plane until you take off going home. Your luggage is whisked to your villa where your concierge explains every amenity, champagne arrives about an hour later and your first morning’s breakfast of Croissants and fresh Orange Juice is delivered to your door. Your departure is similarly handled right up to your departure gate. Unbeatable.
|Marche's U's great selection.|
# 1 Markets and Food Purveyors. The island is amazingly well-provisioned with a far greater selection of foodstuffs than we’ve seen on much larger islands. But then, the French take their food far more seriously than most. One of France’s première supermarket chains, “Marche U”, has two outposts on the island. Its competitor AMC has an amazing mini mart in L’Orient and a larger store in downtown Gustavia. There’s also “Meat My Fish” run by a local fisherman, a “Ti Marché” with vegetables imported from nearby Guadeloupe and no visit to St. Barth would be complete without stopping in at one of two “La Petite Colombe” patisseries. Here the Croissants aux Amandes are divine and you’ll find all kinds of great things for lunch from rotisserie Chickens to Croque Monsieurs.
|Le Restaurant at Villa Marie|
# 1 Restaurants. For such a small island, St. Barth lays claim to dozens of restaurants. These range from pizza by the slice at Isoletta to full-on French at Villa Marie. Because we visit these restaurants just once during our island stay, ranking them would be unfair. Instead, we’ll highlight the ones that stood out for a variety of reasons: Service, Ambience, and Cuisine. We also have the advantage of having been to these places year after year. Some years, restaurants surprise us with improvements. Other times, a chef leaves and the kitchen isn’t what it used to be. We’ll ignore our disappointments (with one exception, our Plus One) and just give you our impressions of the best the island has to offer.
|Villa Marie. Out of Africa or Out of Ralph Lauren|
Villa Marie opened last November, 10 years after François Plantation closed leaving its hilltop restaurant and lovely individual suites to await this wonderful rebirth. The hotel’s restaurant has retained its Out of Africa or at least, Out of Ralph Lauren look. The wrap-around terrace is ideal for drinks, the bar offers an amazing selection of rums and the food is sublime. This is a true French restaurant. The tableside service sets it apart from virtually every other restaurant on the island. And the food, start to finish, is superb. It also may lay claim to being at the top end of restaurant pricing but, to our mind, worth every centime.
|Aux Amis at Le Barthelemy, our "Plus One"|
Aux Amis at Le Barthelemy are both new this season too. The luxury lodging took the place of the St. Barth’s Beach Hotel which, for years, was a bargain hunter’s favorite. Le Barthelemy is a stunning piece of architecture with its restaurant, Aux Amis, at its center. You can dine on the outdoor patio listening to the gentle surf of Grand Cul de Sac or sit in the enormous open dining room which features an astonishing glass sculpture of flying fish flying overhead. If only the food lived up to the setting! There is however a Pizza menu which though pricey may be your best bet.
|Restaurant Le Sereno|
Practically next door, Sereno Beach Hotel’s Restaurant Le Sereno calls itself a Mediterranean Bistro. Its food has a distinct Italian accent while its setting right next to the beach could not be more Caribbean. It melds local delicacies like Spiny Lobster with linguine, but its house specialty is Gnocchi Le Sereno, a recipe with roots in its sister property in Lake Como. You can choose to eat with your toes in the sand or in the restaurant itself beautifully designed by Christian Liagre.
|Confit of Duck at Orega|
Orega is the talk of the town and the toughest table to get on the island. This is not just a feature of the restaurants relatively small size. It has more to do with its Franco-Japanese fusion food and the talents of its welcoming owner Greg and his entire crew. Orega excels in serving beautifully-cooked food with wonderful takes on familiar French favorites given an Asian accent. Order a Confit Duck or Mahi Mahi and see. But leave room for the Chocolate Bombe at dessert. A spectacular ending both visually and taste-wise.
|Spectacular Food with a View at Bonito|
Bonito will always take the prize for its setting alone. It’s virtually the only restaurant overlooking the yachts in Gustavia Harbor. What’s amazing about this lovely blue and white room isn’t just the view. It’s the consistency of the offerings here. There’s a whole menu of Peruvian Teraditos, a kind of South American sushi that’s incomparably fresh. The mains run the gamut from fish to fowl to lamb. My partner, who grew up loathing beets in any form, left the restaurant a convert just for the beet puree that accompanied his seared scallops. Don’t miss this one.
|Le Tamarin's Jungle Setting|
Le Tamarin is another great renewal story. For years, this garden restaurant, with its resident parrots, was a familiar standby. Taken over several years ago by a young French couple, the new owners made over the garden, planted water lilies in its ponds and spruced up a place that sadly needed it. The kitchen became much more focused on fine food. The result is one of the most dramatic settings on St. Barth. The place is very popular with locals which is always a good sign on this food-centric island.
|Eddy's for Creole Cooking in Gustavia|
Eddy’s is the island’s premiere Creole restaurant. It’s as local as can be but its Gustavia garden setting is lovely and its food reliably good, its menu reliably wallet-friendly. Here’s the place to try Accra, codfish fritters and wonderful fresh Fish Curries. Eddy, himself, opened the place in 1994 while his father, Marius, presided over Le Select at the other end of the street. Eddy's is always filled with a mixture of islanders and visitors enjoying true St. Barth food.
|La Gloriette for Creole Cooking at lunch|
La Gloriette’s is a great place to go for lunch when Eddy's isn't open. Sitting under the palm trees, this wonderfully budget-friendly Creole restaurant delivers fresh seafood par excellence. Our lunch consisted of Grilled Shrimp with Green Curry Cream Sauce and multiple glasses of Rosé that set us back all of 35 Euros. Gloriette has a Pizza only menu from 6:30 pm on. But go for lunch for the full effect.
Finally, there’s Grain de Sel which, we confess, we never made it to. But, in terms of a referral, our oldest island friend, Nancy
Robbins, (whose wonderful
house in Colombier (http://www.les-petits-pois.com/st-barth.html) is for rent) swears that this restaurant, right
next door to Saline Beach, has her favorite food on the island. Given that both Nancy and her husband Michel
are both retired chefs, we’ll take her word for it and put it on our list for
|Grain de Sel|
Until then, au revoir St. Barth’s. Same time next year?