The Caribbean is full of exclusive resorts; St. Barths (a.k.a. St. Barts or St. Barthelmy) is one of the few exclusive islands. Those who can afford to stay here enjoy a low-key European sophistication, where the person next to you at the topless beach, waterfront bistro, or fine French restaurant could easily be a famous rock star or movie magnate -- but probably not, since most spend their time in one of St. Barths many private luxury villas.
St. Barths is more a place to be, not see, but the tourist office offers a walker's guide to Gustavia's historic sites, including Fort Gustav and the Wall House Museum. The fishing village of Corossol has a traditional Norman culture and the InterOceans Museum, home to a huge seashell collection. The original settlement of Lorient includes a popular Ligne St. Barths cosmetics shop. St. Barths also offers good diving, fishing, boating, and especially windsurfing.
St. Barths has more than 20 beaches, ranging from the bustling St. Jean and Grand Cul de Sac to the more private Grand Saline, Gouvernier, and Flamands. If you're after true seclusion, Anse Colombier can only be reached by boat or a half-hour hike down a goat path. Topless sunbathing is common, even on family friendly beaches like Shell Beach and Marechal, but public nudity is illegal.
Hotels and Resorts
There are a number of independently owned hotels (no big chains) on St. Barths, mostly small properties with a dozen or so rooms. The largest, the Hotel Guanihani Resort and Spa (Book Now), has just 76 rooms. Of all the Caribbean islands, St. Barths is the one where visitors are just as likely to rent a private villa for the extent of their stay as booking a hotel. Whether you choose a hotel or villa, don't expect any bargains: rates range from moderate to stratospheric.
As you might expect, St. Barths is home to plenty of upscale French and Creole restaurants, including some reservations-only eateries favored by camera-shy celebrities. However, because so many people rent villas here, local markets and take-out shops are also popular options, whether you are cooking for yourselves or turning the groceries over to the villa staff to prepare.
Culture and History
St. Barth's history is familiar in the Caribbean -- first inhabited by Carib Indians, then fought over by European colonial powers. The twist comes in the form of its Swedish heritage: the Swedes made St. Barths one of their few overseas outposts during the 18th Century. Today, other than the name of the capital (Gustavia), few reminders of the Swedes remain. Rather, the island has a heavy French accent, with modest locals mixing with monied visitors in a sophisticated but low-key environment.
Events and Festivals
Many French holidays and a handful of Swedish ones are celebrated locally; larger international events include annual music festivals in January and August, and the Caribbean Film Festival in April. St. Barths residents have an avid passion for volleyball, and the St. Barths Volleyball Cup tournament in July draws big crowds.
St. Barths is hardly a party island, although there are a few hotspots catering to the young, rich, and reasonably famous. The still-popular Le Select bar in Gustavia is famous for inspiring Jimmy Buffett to write "Cheeseburger in Paradise." Discos include Le Feeling in Lurin and Le Petit Club, Casa Nicky, and the Yacht Club in Gustavia. For many, however, the ultimate St. Barths nightlife experience is lingering over a late dinner before retiring to their private villa.