The Magic of St. Barts

There is nothing quite like a vacation in St. Barts and after a long, cold winter, I understand the reason why the super-rich, celebs, socialites, and supermodels flock to this island paradise. Saint Barthélemy, located 20 miles southeast of St. Martin and north of St. Kitts, is an overseas collectivity of France and is a unique mélange of wealth and sophisticated casual Caribbean living.

My husband and I were delighted when our friends Monique and Didier Pignet invited us to stay in one of their luxurious Luxebarts Villas. We had been introduced to the couple by our mutual friend, contemporary artist Jacques Halbert, at a dinner party at their castle in The Loire Valley. The Pignets have a collection of private rentals throughout the French-speaking world, which includes Château de Môh in Candes St. Martin, six chalets in the snowy woods of Quebec and, happily for us, luxury villas on St. Barts. We booked our tickets in a flash and eagerly anticipated our week away.

After flying into St. Martin, we hopped on a tiny airplane for the 15-minute flight to St. Jean Gustaf III Airport. Be prepared – this flight is not for the faint of heart and the descent between two hills and landing onto one of the world’s shortest runways is intense.

Monique, a petite blonde with a vivacious personality and abundance of energy, met us at the airport. After securing our rental car, a Mini Cooper convertible, we dropped the top down and basked in the sunshine. We only had a minute though, as Monique had already exited the parking lot and was almost out of sight. I can honestly say the roads on the Amalfi Coast have nothing on St. Barts and our Mini Cooper handled the curves and hills magnificently.

We arrived at Villa Lama, toured our sumptuous digs, and made plans to meet Monique and Didier at a nearby beach. The couple first came upon St. Barts’ harbor of Gustavia in 1980 and knew immediately that they had landed somewhere very special. Today, they have 15 stunning villas scattered around the island, with five more currently under construction. And we had one of these posh pads all to ourselves!

Villa Lama is a traditional Colonial, enhanced by Monique’s discerning eye which artfully blended chic, contemporary décor that complements the property’s lush landscape. Each of its three floors features a beautiful one-bedroom suite and the structure is framed by a wooden pathway that beckons guests to meander through a fantastic tropical garden. A fully appointed modern kitchen, two dining areas, a variety of indoor and outdoor living spaces, a tempting pool that changes colors at night and a 360-degree backdrop of the sea made the accommodations a haven for relaxation.

We happily swapped our winter wear for lighter clothing, hats and sun block and began our island adventure. After a late afternoon swim, we headed to Gustavia, the biggest town on the island, to gaze at the billionaire-owned yachts and peruse the high-end designer boutiques, including Longchamps and Dolce & Gabbana. With dinner on our minds, we found a little gourmet shop to pick up some basics, and then returned to our villa to dine under the stars, without a coat, in the middle of winter! We learned later that the island does have a variety of well-stocked groceries, liquor stores and divine bakeries, like the Boulangerie Choissy, which opened in 1912. It also happens to be owned by the Pignets.

The next day, we were delighted to accept an invitation from Monique and Didier to go island hopping on Gemini Lady, a gorgeous custom-built yacht. The weather was perfect for a laid-back afternoon, sipping fine French wine, dining al fresco, and taking in the sea views. We stopped first at Isle Fourchue, an uninhabited island that is part of St. Barts’ marine reserve. The Captain then set a course for Colombier Beach, an isolated haven on St. Barts that is accessible only by boat or a rugged path. It is also known as Rockefeller’s Beach as the property surrounding it was owned by David Rockefeller. There we snorkeled in the aqua blue water where a variety of fish and a sea turtle swam into view. We waited to capture the sunset before a smaller boat brought us back to Gustavia, where the evening had just begun.

The next day, Monique, who embraces a healthy lifestyle and is always up for an adventure, took us for a special workout with personal trainer Olivier Toussaint at his Ultimate Center Anse des Lezards. This was not your typical gym and we marveled at the unobstructed views of waves crashing onto a gorgeous rocky beach as we prepared for what was to be an extraordinary cross fit class.

Later that morning, my fitness was again put to the test with a 30-minute hike back to Colombier Beach. While the route was challenging, it was well worth it. We even came across a few adorable turtles, pre-historic looking iguanas, and wild goats hiding high up in the hills. For dinner, we met the Pignets at Bistro Josephine, a local eatery that serves tasty Caribbean fare without any pretentions - or elevated prices. After splitting a dessert and enjoying a nightcap, we bid our hosts goodnight and headed to the villa for good night’s sleep.

In the days that followed, we whipped around the island in our Mini, exploring the bistros, bars, and beaches. Each of the fourteen beaches on St. Barts offers a unique experience, boasting its own immaculate strip of sand and ethereal turquoise waters. Even better, none were crowded and, in fact, many times we had the space all to ourselves.

On our final night, we dined at Jean-Georges’ romantic On the Rocks at Eden Rock*. Arriving at the resort, a valet took our car to a lot filled with Mini convertibles in every color imaginable. We ascended the stairs to the trendy eater, perched high above St. Jean Bay, and were seated at a table by the ledge where we watched an incredible sunset.

After dinner, we explored some of the night life. We passed on going to Le Ti St.-Barth, a nightclub where guests are taken to a secret room and dressed in crazy costumes, and Modjo St. Barth, a lounge-club hybrid that picks up around 1:00 AM. But we did sip cocktails and people-watch at Bagatelle and 1 Oak, the celeb-studded clubs of the season, both of which we knew from New York City. We had a great time at both to close out our week in paradise.

As we prepared to depart, a sad feeling came over us as we donned our warmer clothing, ready to face reality. But we vowed to return. Although the island has become synonymous with celebs, superyachts, and the jet set lifestyle, what makes Bart’s so special is the way it so beautifully exudes a nuanced, casual elegance, that breeds instant converts. With one trip, you’ll find as we did, that you are hooked.

_*Eden Rock was devastated by Hurricane Irma and is now under re-construction. _