About the Island
St. Barthélemy, or, more commonly, St. Barths is a tiny volcanic island in the Caribbean. It is part of the French West Indies and located in the Leeward chain of islands. Only eight square miles in size, it is one of the smallest islands in the Caribbean.
St. Barths was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and named after his brother, Bartolomeo. France claimed the island in 1648, then sold it to Sweden in 1785, who sold it back to France in 1878. It has since remained under French control, making it a part of the European Union. French is the primary language, though English is widely spoken; especially in restaurants, hotels and shops. The currency used is the Euro, but US dollars are generally accepted.
St. Barths has the reputation of being an upscale island for the wealthy. Celebrity sightings are not uncommon, especially in the peak season. There are no casinos, mega-hotels, miniature golf courses, or any entertainment of that sort. People who vacation on St. Barths go there for the twenty pristine beaches, the amazing culinary experience and the shopping. In the capital, Gustavia, upscale shops like Louis Vuitton and Cartier line the streets, as well as boutiques unique to the island. Visitors in the summer months can often enjoy sales and specials at most shops. Dining on the island is varied and delicious (and expensive)! Food from many ethnic backgrounds is available and all is presented with fantastic French flair. Despite the elaborate plating techniques, the attire is always casual. Dining in St. Barths means never having to wear a jacket (don’t even bother bringing a tie) or evening gown. Several restaurants have tables on the beach and it is perfectly acceptable to kick your shoes off and wiggle your toes in the sand as you sip on a glass of wine and munch on saffron chicken!
Most visitors to St. Barths rent a private villa, though there are several hotels to choose from. The villas offer a sense of privacy, and have all the amenities you need including gourmet kitchens (where you can hire a private chef to cook your dinner), private pools, hot tubs and sensational views. Most villas are not beach front, as the best views are from the hillside, and the higher your elevation the more you can enjoy the gentle Caribbean breezes. Daily maid service and pool cleaning are also amenities of the villas. Everyone in St. Barths rents a car for the week, as there are so many places to see you don’t want to be stuck in one place! The “in-thing” is to rent a mini moke, which is an open air vehicle that sort of looks like a shrunken Jeep.
One of the greatest experiences you can have in St. Barths is the in-bound flight! Since the island is so mountainous, the airport had to remain very small. In fact, the St. Barths airport cannot accommodate large planes at all; twenty passenger planes are the largest ever seen on the island! Visitors usually land on nearby St. Martin and take a 15-minute flight to St. Barths (there is a ferry from St. Martin for those who wish to forego the flight). The airport is situated right next to one of the most popular beaches, St. Jean, and the runway actually runs right into the sand. Planes usually come in on the opposite side, and inexperienced pilots have been known to overshoot the runway and land in surf! The descent when landing is so rapid it often sets of alarms in the cockpit, and is quite roller coaster-like for passengers!