Little Black Book

St. Barts Is Back: What's New on the Caribbean's Chicest Island

by California Chaney
Brand Hotel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf overlooking the port of St Bart's. Photo courtesy of Hotel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf.

The little slice of Caribbean magic is back — and stronger than ever before.

ST. BARTS — The heart of St. Barts is beating anew. After 2017's devastating Hurricane Irma tore through the island with winds reaching nearly 200 miles per hour, the little gem is glittering once again.

The recovery is a testament to the resilience and strength of the community (including high-profile clientele who donated to the recovery). Locals lived through the tragedy — supporting one another as they rebuilt their beloved (but fragile) island in such a way that it is more prepared for (inevitable) future storms. Which brings us to this year's high season and what this means for travelers: revamped and re-polished hotels, impressive new restaurants, reconstructed roads, frosè trolleys on the beach, and the (also inevitable) return of mega-yachts in the harbor. 

But let's not forget what made St. Barts so great in the first place: quaint port-side cafes, beach-y boutiques, remote swimming holes, and sunsets over Shell Beach.

Here's what new, renewed, and always awesome on the chicest island in the Caribbean.

New Rock Suites at Eden Rock. Photo courtesy of Eden Rock.
Infinity pool at Manapany. Photo courtesy of Manapany.
Cheval Blanc on Flamand Beach. Photo by Jessie Chaney.
Restaurant at Le Sereno. Photo courtesy of Le Sereno.
Brand-new Hotel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf above Gustavia port.

New and Revamped Hotels

Hotel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf
This February, a brand new five-star property debuts in the famously-posh port of Gustavia, with 23 cottages, lofts, and villas, all with their own private pool. Perched above the yacht-filled harbor, the hotel's central location is ideal for travelers wanting to be close to all the action — trendy restaurants, shops, and pristine Shell Beach (covered in thousands of white shells) and its chic beach club. The Parisian-inspired Diane Barrière Spa will include a full menu of luxury body treatments, yoga and Pilates studio, and an outdoor terrace relaxation area with 360-views of the harbor and neighboring islands of the French West Indies. Paris-based, Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire debuts his French-Caribbean brasserie, Fouquet's, designed with raw, unfinished wood, wicker furniture, and a sea breeze to complement his take on French classics. 

Eden Rock St Barths
One of the biggest heartbreaks from Irma was the destruction of the island's first hotel, the 1950s luxury home-away-from-home for celebrities and stars (a favorite of Howard Hughes in the '60s) perched on the infamous rocky cliff along the crystal-clear bay of St. Jean. Two years later, the hotel is ready to welcome posh guests back and debut an even more glam Eden Rock 2.0. All 37 rooms have been completely redesigned with three brand new suites built directly atop the cliff (the area was previously the reception area and the restaurant), a new spa stocked with local, plant-based Ligne St Barts products, beachside cabanas, a frosè trolley, and professional sunscreen attendants (yes, someone will actually do the greasy work for you). The previous three restaurants and bars have been transformed into one larger beachfront Sand Restaurant and Rémy Bar by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who was involved in every aspect of the restaurant's redesign, from the state-of-the-art kitchen down to the forks. While most of the hotel's interior will look new to the seasoned Eden Rocker, the 1950s island glamour lives on in the iconic red roofs easily spotted from the (thrilling) puddle-jumper landing.

Le Sereno
Tucked away on the northeastern part of the island in the intimate Grand Cul du Sac, the award-winning beachfront property unveils its complete rebuild this season. It's impressive: four brand-new Suite Piscines with optional connecting rooms and two large, heated pools, a spa with treatments from Swiss skincare brand Valmont, complimentary workout classes, and a retail boutique selling chic Italian beach attire. Taking advantage of the million-dollar ocean views, the hotel reopens its open-air fine dining restaurant and bar, along with a new beachside Plage restaurant shaded by coconut trees, sand-in-your-toes seating, detoxifying wellness elixirs, and simple, locally-inspired dishes. Starting in December, the hotel will offer beachfront movie screenings under the stars with snacks and drinks; all ages welcome.

Cheval Blanc
Tucked remotely away in lush gardens and its own private stretch of white sand on Flamands Beach, the tropical-chic, 61-room boutique hotel is the ultimate combination of luxury and simplicity, with a shimmering saltwater infinity pool and two restaurants overlooking the ocean.

Hotel Le Toiny
Perched on a hillside on the wild and untouched leeward side of the island, Le Toiny is known for its seclusion and luxurious simplicity. The hurricane actually worked in their favor, as the white sand blown in their direction created a beautiful new stretch of beach with calmer tides. Perfect for the adventurous set, the hotel is equipped with several Defender caravans used to drive guests down to the beach club and set up for a day in the sun. The Nureyev villa, built in the '60s, is the only villa constructed on the wild coast side of the island and is entirely surrounded by the ocean. It has four bedrooms, a private pool, jacuzzi, and steam room for total privacy and seclusion.

Christopher Hotel
On the northern shore of the island at Pointe Milou, a discrete road plunges down to a secluded bay of the Caribbean Sea, arriving at the expansive and private five-star property consisting of 42 rooms and suites with elegant contemporary design.There is no beach — the price for such privacy perhaps — but it does have one of the largest infinity pools with views of the surrounding islands. Large chaise loungers face the sunset, and the hotel bar serves fresh cocktails made with the island's local rum. The prestigious Sisley Spa offers private en-suite massages and hot shell treatments overlooking the water.

Hotel Manapany
A unique eco-resort set on the tranquil Anse des Cayes bay (a short drive from St. Jean and Gustavia) has 43 spacious rooms and suites, almost all of them facing the ocean, and is designed with local reclaimed wood, earthy materials, and splashes of Caribbean color. Surfers delight in this bay, as the rocky peaks are sheltered from onlookers, and the vibe is reminiscent of old-school, pre-yacht St. Barts.

Gustavia port at night.
New port-side Victoria's restaurant and lounge. Photos by Jessie Chaney.
Le Barthélemy rooftop bar, Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot.
Shell Beach and Shellona restaurant.

Bars and Restaurants

Victoria
A newly renovated port-side restaurant in Gustavia, perfect for a healthy breakfast of avocado toast and fresh juices or afternoon cocktails while watching the boats sail into port as the sun sets.

Le Papillon Ivre
St Bart's first and only French wine bar is a cozy and warm hideaway tucked behind St. Jean. It is centered around a large family-style wooden table with tall shelves of fresh bread, dusty vintage bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and black truffles —  very distinctively French. After overstaying the sunset at St. Jean, come for a glass (or bottle) of Bordeaux or Vouvray paired with large chunks of fresh cheeses, charcuterie, and vegetable plates. On the weekends, the bar turns into a mini farmer's market with local vendors selling organic fruits and vegetables between 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Shellona
Located on Shell Beach, Shellona is the ultra-chic restaurant and beach club where you want to sit with cold rosé in your hand all day. It's a favorite of locals on their lunch break (oh, to have French working hours). The restaurant serves a mix of Mediterranean and French cuisine with fresh locally-caught fish, herbs, and healthy salads paired with a view of the sparkling Caribbean Sea (no judgement if you leave the table for a mid-lunch dip). Stay for sunset hour and relax on the lounge beds as the vibe picks up with tropical-house DJs spinning until the sun dips behind the horizon.

Rhum Room
Unmarked from the street in Gustavia, this speakeasy rhum bar houses the largest collection of Caribbean liquor in the world — over 650 different ages and varieties. Accessed through the kitchen door and dark hallway of Quarter Kitchen and Cocktail Lab, the waft of Cuban cigar smoke leads to a floor-to-ceiling wall of golden bottles in all shapes and sizes. While some of the rhums are so rare they should come with a bodyguard, the ambiance remains relaxed, thanks to resident expert Christopher Davis, who travels across the room on a sliding ladder, sparking conversation with each pour.

Fish Corner
Truly a hidden gem, this lunch-only cafe in downtown Gustavia is owned and run by local fishermen who serve a simple menu of the day's catch. Early in the morning, it runs as a market for restaurants and locals to purchase fresh mussels, mahi mahi, and lobster.

Orega
Orega (which means "it's mine" in Japanese) may be a newcomer to the gourmet dining scene, but has quickly developed a stellar reputation for its Franco-Japanese fusion and house specialties. Since its 2015 opening, fresh ingredients have arrived daily from the Tokyo, Paris, and New York fish markets, which chef Clement Laffitte, a master in Japanese cuisine, turns into the most refined omakase meals.

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot
The new and trendy rooftop bar at Le Barthélemy in the Grand Cul du Sac bay has views of the ocean, great cocktails, and DJs spinning late past sunset. 

Maya's Restaurant
Since 1984, husband and wife Maya and Randy Gurley have serve the freshest ingredients in the simplest of ways (because what's better than that?) at this beloved waterfront restaurant tucked between St. Jean and Gustavia. Expect a daily menu of Mediterranean, Creole, and Asian cuisines; fresh seafood grilled simply with lemon and olive oil; and ceviches mixed with local fruits. Open for dinner only; closed Sundays.

Maya's to Go
You know a restaurant is good when its clientele wants to eat there more than once a day. The team behind Maya's created a grab-and-go version of their restaurant with daily salads, fresh-baked pastries, and baguettes for the beach. As conveniently located as they are (directly across from the airport and St. Jean beach entrance), they will also deliver breakfast, lunch, or dinner wherever you are on the island — perfect if you're staying in a villa or renting a boat for the day.

American Gourmet
If you're the type of traveler who panics without creature comforts (i.e. almond milk, RX bars, Skinny popcorn, gluten-free crackers), then this gourmet grocery store just solved all your problems — though at double the price, due to import taxes. Take it or leave it.

Shankar Juice Bar
A vegan juice bar and cafe above the boutique-lined streets of Gustavia with smoothies, acai bowls, and light bites.

Shops

Baya
If you want to fill your home with colorful global treasures, look no further. Owner Sonia de Baya sources home goods, jewelry, rugs, and unique gifts from all over the world: rugs from Morocco, African vases, colorful handbags from Peru, handmade jewelry from India and unique furniture, all shippable to the U.S. During the off-season, she returns to her home base in Morocco or sets out on adventures, bringing back unique and rare finds every season.

Poupette
Owner Poupette Giraud stocks her boho-chic outpost directly in the port of Gustavia with frilly and colorful printed caftans, dresses, and beach coverups made from the softest, machine-washable cotton. That's handy: Everything gets salty and sandy down here.

Yume
Across the street from Nikki Beach in St. Jean, this spacious boutique sells chic ready-to-wear caftans, wicker bags, and homemade jewelry, in neutral shades of blacks, tans, and whites, and sourced from Africa and around the globe. Come here for one-of-a-kind pieces for yourself and your jealous friends at home.

Clic Gallery
Christine Celle, the founder of the Calypso boutique (which sadly shut its doors last year), has moved on, opening a beautiful concept store in the heart of Gustavia that's part gallery, bookstore, and clothing boutique. Splitting her time between St. Barts and New York (she still has outposts in Soho and East Hampton), she sources an impressive collection of Taschen and Rizzoli coffee table books, Ulla Johnson dresses, Clare Vivier handbags, and oversized sunglasses.

The Best Time To Go

November through June, when the weather is moderate and the ocean is the perfect temperature. December and January are considered peak season, with reservations usually made up to six months in advance. Get in touch with the Fathom Travel Concierge and we can plan your trip for you.

Fly in Style

Your best option, currently, is to fly from the U.S. to San Juan, Puerto Rico, or the island of Antigua. Tradewind Aviation flies from both airports to St. Barts in about an hour. It's a pricey but chic option (starting at $400), with eight first-class-style seats in a roomy Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. 

The most frequent and affordable option is fly to St. Maarten and take either WINAIR and St. Barth Commuter 15-minute service from the newly re-opened Princess Juliana International Airport.

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