St. Barthelemy (also known as Saint Barthelemy, St. Barts, or St. Barths) is a unique place like no other Caribbean destination. Even flying into the island is a thrilling experience unto itself. The airport’s runway lies between two mountains with very little room for clearance on either side. The runway ends in front of a beach, and it is not uncommon for pilots to overestimate the length and land on the water.
St. Barthelemy is one of the more exclusive islands in the Caribbean, which makes it a popular destination for the rich and famous. It is known for its gourmet restaurants, high-end shopping, gorgeous beaches, and terraced villas and bungalows on the island’s hillsides and beachfronts.
The landscape and scenery of St. Barthelemy is beautiful – its lush forests and majestic mountains provide a romantic background to the hotels that are nestled in the hillsides and overlooking private beaches. You can expect first class service along with sensational food. Unfortunately, a vacation is St. Barthelemy is not cheap, but if you want to be in a chic environment surrounded by beautiful people, this is the place to be.
St. Barthelemy was first “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1493. At the time, the island was occupied by Carib Indians. The French, however, were the first to claim and colonize the island in 1648. In 1694, more settlers from Normandy and Brittany arrived to strengthen the settlement. But the island had no sugar industry and was fledgling, so the French decided to sell St. Barthelemy to Sweden in 1784 in exchange for trading rights with the Swedes. The Swedes built the capital, Gustavia, and transformed the island briefly into a prosperous port, but natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes kept the island from any longer-term success. In 1878, Sweden gladly returned the island to the French. Today, St. Barthelemy is an overseas territory of France, its citizens being descendants of the Norman and Bretton settlers centuries ago. The island had long been part of Guadeloupe until residents recently voted to secede in 2003, which finally took effect in February, 2007.
St. Barthelemy is only eight square miles, so traveling around the island is not that difficult. Most visitors spend their time in the southwest at the capital of Gustavia where they are greeted by gingerbread buildings and open air cafes overlooking picturesque harbors that are docked by luxury yachts. You’ll find charming colonial architecture in Gustavia like the Swedish Town Hall and the Bell Tower.
St. Barthelemy is also duty-free, making Gustavia a great place to shop for luxury items, European designer clothes, jewelry, and imported liquors. The best shopping is at the Villa Creole Shopping Center, which is a cottage complex designed in the West Indian style. Other shopping areas include the St. Jean Commercial Center as well as the streets of Stephane and Bernanrd, Alma and Samson, and Vali Baba.
Another attraction is the traditional town of Corossol. People in Corossol still speak in Norman dialects and the women still wear large white sunbonnets, which was the style in the old country back in the day. Women also wear straw hats and weaved bags.
For beaches, Anse des Flamands north of Corossol, the nearby St. Jean, Grand Cul-de-Sac, and Marigot in the French village of Lorient are all popular beach spots where you can enjoy swimming, fishing, and snorkeling. If you like a more secluded environment, Grand Saline and Anse du Gouverneur around the Toiny Coast provide peace and quiet, as well as scenic views of neighboring islands. The Toiny Coast itself features craggy rocks and steep slopes, a favorite area for photographers.
The nightlife in St. Barthelemy is chic and stylish. You’ll find discos, jazz venues, dance clubs, and after-dinner bars. You may even find yourself at a yacht party if you are lucky.
The pristine beaches of St. Barthelemy provide a playground for sunbathers, swimmers, surfers, and other water-sports enthusiasts. The beaches permit topless bathing, but not complete nudity. Yachting and sailing is extremely popular. Small boats can be rented. Scuba divers, snorkelers, and windsurfers will also find a number of rental shops at the beaches and hotels. Diving trips can be arranged at St. Jean Beach. Fishing is another popular pastime in St. Barthelemy, but many of the fish can be toxic, which is why hiring a supervised guide is recommended. Unfortunately, there are no golf courses in this small, rocky island, but there are tennis courts at some of the hotels and at the tennis clubs in the towns.