It’s daunting to travel to St. Barts. First, you board a tiny plane, which swoops over hills, narrowly skimming the tops. Then it lands at Gustaf III Airport’s 2,100-foot-long runway — one of the world’s shortest — that drops into the ocean. According to David Zipkin, vice president of Tradewind Aviation (which we flew there), pilots have to undergo an average of six additional hours of training for the landing alone.
When you finally make it off of the plane, your taxi plays chicken for space among the scooters, ATVs and other vehicles on the island’s cramped, undulating roads.
But it all falls by the wayside when you pull up to Le Barthélemy, the first new-build hotel to open on the island in 20 years. We checked into the 46-room beachfront property to scope it out. Here’s why our Forbes Travel Guide editors think it’s worth the trip:
The ground-level Océan Lux Piscine Privée rooms stand out for their private plunge pool and direct access to the crescent-shaped beach. But we enjoyed the higher ceilings and views from the second-floor Océan Lux units, where you can get a better vantage point of the kiteboarders gliding in the water from your balcony’s table or beanbag-like lounger (bonus: a retractable screen keeps bugs at bay).
Designed by Sybille de Margerie (who also did the vibrant interiors of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Paris), the stylish accommodations are awash in white, aquamarine and tan. Dark teal throws and pillows, aqua desks, sand dollar imprints on dresser knobs and white coral sculptures remind you of the sand and waves just outside (the more private garden-view rooms have pops of magenta).
Rooms also are outfitted with Bang and Olufsen sound systems, flat-screen TVs, Nespresso coffee makers and Kusmi teas.
In the beige marble bathrooms, we adored the spacious stalls with Bossini rain shower ceiling fixtures — they made for heavenly showers. They come stocked with fragrant Hermès Eau d’Orange Verte bath products.
Le Spa is tiny — there are only four treatment rooms and no relaxation space or locker facilities. There is, however, a room for a dry bar, manicures and pedicures along with a courtyard lounging space. A hammam will open soon.
Since it’s one of only a handful of spas in the world from coveted skincare brand La Mer, we signed up for a customized facial.
When the lights flicker off in the white room with teal touches, the fiber optic strands dangling from the ceiling twinkle like stars. They give you something to look at as you lie on the heated table and the expert aesthetician slathers the decadent La Mer products on your skin.
The customized facial offers three different options: regenerating, soothing or anti-aging. No matter which you choose, all of them are hydrating, and come with eye contouring to revive dark circles. (There aren’t any extractions — our aesthetician shuddered when we even mentioned it.)
We picked soothing. It was utterly relaxing, so much so that we drifted off to sleep (a first for us during a facial).
After lingering in the spa lobby couch with some Kusmi tea, we emerged from the spa without the usual post-facial redness, instead with our faces glowing and feeling refreshed.
Le Barthélemy enlisted Guy Martin (renowned chef/owner of Le Grand Véfour, which claims to be Paris’ oldest restaurant) to lead its eateries.
Le Barth serves a breakfast buffet (don’t bypass the fresh breads) along with lunch. For the latter, the menu features from-scratch pizzas (early in his career, Martin was a pizzaiolo), but we were drawn to the seafood, like the local ceviche, lime and peanuts soaked in coconut milk served in a coconut half shell, and the light quinoa, prawns and pomegranate seed salad with a tangy wasabi dressing.
At night, the airy white and teal indoor-outdoor space converts to Aux Amis. The vibe remains elegant and relaxed, but the food gets more formal. If the braised oxtail is on the menu, order it — the rich dish is one of Martin’s specialties. The tender meat is topped with a thick layer of mashed potatoes and then loads of black truffles.
For dessert, don’t miss the cube Manjari. Shatter the perfect white-coated chocolate square and a tropical mix of crispy coconut cookies, mango bits, passion fruit and guava sorbet tumbles out.
Another option is to have the hotel do a private lobster barbecue for your group at Le Turquoise. Sit outside next to the sea and hear the waves swish while the chefs grill not far from your table. Our feast came with huge local lobsters; sweet, buttery roasted corn on the cob; and silky, comforting mashed sweet potatoes.
Swing by Le Bar in the lobby for a nightcap. Our choice on the cocktail list is the suggestively named Menage A 3, a fun DIY drink. A cranberry juice ice ball sits in a cone-shaped glass on ice, and it’s accompanied by a shot of Thoquino cachaça and three test tubes containing green tea syrup, guava juice and lime juice. Tinker with the ingredients to your liking or just pour them all in for a refreshing, fruity concoction.
On the edge of the property you’ll find Le Watersport, where you can borrow complimentary kiteboarding, snorkeling and paddleboarding equipment. The Grand Cul de Sac lagoon is the best place on the island to learn kiteboarding, since the water in this well-protected bay is fairly calm and shallow.
Le Barthélemy also plans excursions. We took an island tour with local ambassador Géraldine Beal, whose family first arrived in St. Barts around 1878. She gave us insight into local culture, like the architecture of traditional houses (not the vacation mansions, but the gingerbread-trimmed one-story cottages made to withstand hurricanes) and the fact that there are no high schools on the island (teens relocate to Canada, France or elsewhere for education).
She also pointed out the well-known hot spots, like the titillating Le Ti cabaret and famed Nikki Beach, along with insider spots, like Corossol, a beach only locals visit. We also made a pit stop to peruse hand-woven baskets, ornaments and more made of latanier palm fronds, a vanishing art form in St. Barts.
One activity that should be on the top of your St. Barts to-do list is a catamaran tour. Le Barthélemy arranged a half-day charter for us aboard the 25-foot-long St. Barth Sailor. Our private catamaran headed to Colombier, a secluded beach whose only sign of life is the Rockefellers’ deserted villa. Colombier is only accessible via a 20-minute hike or boat.
We spent the day sunning on the boat with a glass of rosé — the hotel packed bottles and lunch in charming white picnic baskets — and snorkeling (equipment provided by the Sailor). Despite running into a stingray and swordfish in the water, it’s a leisurely way to see one of the island’s best-kept beach secrets.
For further exploration back on land, rent one of the hotel’s brightly colored Mini Mokes. The small safari-like convertibles make it easy to drive to out-of-the-way beaches, make frequent pit stops for photos of the magnificent scenery and maneuver around other vehicles. But as we mentioned, dodging the careening cars on the narrow roads is part of the St. Barts experience.