An Expert’s Guide to Enjoying St. Barts
St. Barts has long enjoyed a reputation as a jet-setters playground, where celebrities and supermodels mingle in luxury villas and the mega-wealthy toss star-studded parties aboard their superyachts. Even if you didn’t get an invitation to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s annual New Year’s Eve party — where the likes of Paul McCartney, Prince and the Killers have played — you can still experience this exclusive Caribbean paradise like an insider with these tips from Martein Van Wagenberg, Managing Director of the chic five-star island resort, Le Guanahani.
Q: What is the best time to visit St. Barts?
A: Of course, New Year’s is always fun to experience with all the hustle and bustle and private parties. March and April are the best months, with longer days, a little breeze, warm but not too hot. The rest of the year, the weather is still beautiful and there’s always plenty to do. [Note: many hotels and restaurants close in September, so plan your trip accordingly.]
Q: Everyone on the island is always so effortlessly fashionable: What are some must-haves when packing for a St. Barts trip?
A: A pair of white slacks and linen shirt, casual but chic beachwear for lunch, and obviously, a swimsuit and sunglasses. Also bring sandals, but if you decide to walk barefoot, no one is going to give you any odd looks.
Q: St. Barts is known for its diversity of beaches. What is your favorite beach and why?
A: Saline Beach [Anse de Grande Saline] for its wild and untouched side. [Note: For some it may be too wild — it is known as a beach for nude sunbathers.]
Q: What are some of the island’s best-kept secrets?
A: On the southeast coast, hike to reach the natural pools in Grands Fonds: The scenery is rugged, rocky and gorgeous — and chances are that you’ll be alone to enjoy it even more. The caves on Gouverneur Beach are top secret: Everyone brings candles and leaves them for the next visitors, as you really need extra light to see all the beauty of caves and their mineral formations. For the best sunset views, go to the lighthouse at Gustavia; it’s best spot to watch the colors deepen, and you might take a bottle of bubbles to enjoy the show.
Q: What are some restaurants you can recommend?
A: It depends on your mood: If you want a sophisticated “city” experience, try Bonito (Rue Lubin Brin, Gustavia; +59/0590 279 696) for French cuisine with a Latin American accent, or the new popular Japanese fusion restaurant, Orega (Rue Samule Fahlberg, Gustavia; +59/0590 524 531). If you’re more in a casual, “country” mood, there’s Tamarin (Route de Saline, Gustavia; +59/0590 292 774), a very local spot that has a lovely outdoor setting and an easy, international menu.
Q: What are the ultimate party places on the island?
Q: What is the best way to get around the island?
A: Rent a car and just relax and enjoy the drive; locals will be patient if you take your time on the road…. But never honk! At night, always get a taxi so as not to worry about getting around after having a glass of wine.
Q: What is something a visitor might not expect about St. Barts?
A: It’s a very family-friendly place, especially at my hotel, Le Guanahani. Here, children can easily and safely go around on grounds and the beach is well protected by a coral reef, so there are shallow waters and no risk of currents or big waves. On the island, people are very relaxed about kids at restaurants, too.
Q: What makes the perfect day in St. Barts?
A: Waking up to the lapping of the ocean waves and a beautiful blue sky with a few fluffy clouds. Enjoy a petit dejeuner overlooking the sea, then head to the beach. Have lunch with your toes in the sand, followed by a short nap. Then drive on the winding roads to Gustavia for a bit of afternoon shopping, followed by a cocktail while watching the sun set. Head back to your hotel to refresh and then enjoy a lovely, open-air, candlelit dinner under the stars.
photo: Laurent Benoit for St. Barts Tourism