Landing in St. Barths is always an experience. My heart steadfastly skips a beat with each steep descent over La Tourmente. The cure comes quickly in the form of stepping out into the warm, humid air and taking a deep breath. We had booked this trip to the island last year for mid-January 2021. The island opened in late June, and we knew several people who had been down recently. Since it is still low season, we decided to go down for an extra week.
We carefully watched the status of the virus on St. Barths as there had been 72 cases since March, with the island requiring a test 72 hours before arrival. (This was an issue as we had to find a lab that was open on the Friday after Thanksgiving.) Aggie, our Westie, had to get a health passport as well. The flight to San Juan on Delta was smooth; the crew and ground staff were friendly and helpful. Middle seats were blocked and the plane was immaculate.
We flew on Tradewind from San Juan to St Barths. Aggie, who could fly unbagged on this leg, loved looking out the window as the Virgin Islands floated below the many puffy clouds. She also loved having full access in the Tradewind lounge in San Juan.
We went through French customs, our test results noted, and they waved Aggie through (of course!) without looking at her paperwork. The French do love dogs. Before going to the villa, we headed to the supermarket to stock up on French groceries, including wine and even Cuban rum. We had decided in the name of Covid that we were going to limit restaurant meals.
Our villa was across the road from Marigot Bay. It had great views and a nice outdoor dining spot by the pool in the garden. The moon was full when we arrived, and the velvety black sky was crammed with stars.
In the morning we walked across the road to Marigot. The bay is a marine preserve and an eco-zone. Pre-Hurricane Irma it was teaming with coral, turtles, fish and even nurse sharks. The turtles are still around, and there are still many fish, but the coral was badly damaged by the storm. It is a very quiet beach. On a busy day four people might come for a swim. It’s the closest thing to having a private beach.
The late French decorator/designer Christian Liaigre had a compound right on the beach.
It includes the main villa on the left and the smaller property on the right. We used to rent the smaller villa when it was called Buddha Bay, and had a huge statue of the Buddha by the rock. The property is now on the market for six millions euros. Inexpensive by island standards for beachfront property.
Later that day we headed up over the hills to visit another of our favorite beaches. There is almost always a wonderful vista to be had on the island. And this is what the weather reports call “partly cloudy.”
We came around a corner and headed down the hill to Gouverneur. The entirety of the land at the bottom of the hill was purchased back in the 1950s by the Goelet family of New York, following David Rockefeller’s lead in buying beachfront property. It is said that they paid around $30,000.00 to the local owners.
The gates to the estate are rarely open and staff is always on the lookout. The Goelets sold the property to a young tech prodigy who wanted to be a rock star. We were invited to several parties on the property before he sold it to Roman Abramovich for $90,000,000.00. Balinese style pavilions are scattered around the property, and a large swimming pool with a large outdoor kitchen is near the beach.
I find it amusing that such a magnificent property has such an unadorned mailbox.
Mr. Abramovich provided some major upgrades around the property. Years ago there was a dusty parking lot, and cars parked up the road. He enlarged the lot, paved it, and manicured the road to the beach. Minis are the car du jour these days, and the parking lot is usually packed.
This is the beach off-season. The wind was coming from the other side of the island so the water was calm, and the swimming delicious. White sand and a warm blue sea. What could be better?
There are many turtles on the island, both sea and land turtles. There are families of them at Gouverneur. And the human families that stay in the shade often feed them, so the turtles are friendly.
St Barths is a wealthy island, and that wealth upgrades the island. There was construction everywhere; roads were being repaired and electricity and lines for high speed internet are currently being installed along the roads.
Sunsets are always special on the island. The sun goes down around 5:30; and that is the best time to shop.
On the way to lunch the next day, we decided to stop at the Villa Creole in Saint Jean. Kiwi, the St. Tropez swim brand, was having a 50% off sale. You can never have too many bathing suits!
Villa Creole is a mini shopping center with a casual restaurant in the garden.
Even the Christmas decor is chic.
The clothing is beach chic and casual, no matter the price point.
Villa Creole, Baie de Saint Jean
The next day, we had lunch with the owners of the Eden Rock hotel. The food at the Sand Bar is delicious; and why wouldn’t it be? Jean-Georges of NYC fame is in charge. Eden Rock was the home of Remy de Haenen, the first person to land a plane on the island. It became a hotel and after many upgrades it was completely wiped out by Irma. David Matthews, the owner, spent several years redesigning it and adding many hurricane proof structural changes. The main building, in the background, was completely refigured. The hotel reopened late in 2019 although they are still putting on some finishing touches.
Aggie was given a signature Eden Rock dog bowl at lunch.
We were offered a peek into two of the best beachside villas on the property. You enter Villa Rockstar right off the beach. The villa is huge, about 16,000 square feet of luxury.
The pool has a shallow end for children to play in as this is a family size villa for up to 12 people.
The villa comprises many different spaces tied together by outdoor gardens; this one has a quiet fountain. The gyms, sauna and steam room, treatment rooms, and even a recording studio are located downstairs.
The bar area adjacent to the living and dining areas features a wall of wines, including Petrus, and other spirits. The villa comes with chef and butler service.
Next door is Villa Nina. It is smaller, but has soaring ceilings and a great view of the beach.
The pool is on the beach with a view of planes landing and taking off from the Remy de Haenen airport.
The master suite opens out onto the pool area, and looks extremely comfortable.
We headed out to a matelas on the beach, near the Sand Bar. One can opt to have a casual lunch here.
Aggie did not mind the sand on her nose. And she did not want to leave.
A walk on Saint Jean is de rigeur. The waves beak on a coral reef at the head of the bay, so the waves lap on the beach. The afternoon sun casts interesting shadows.
Lil’Rock Beach Bar and Restaurant is right on the sand, offering lunch and drinks until 6:30 p.m.
Marie-Claude Dubin, the owner of our other favorite villa invited us to come over and enjoy her signature cocktail. It was a delight to meet her after so many years. Lezard Palace had been designed by her architect husband, with a Mexican flavor. It is a wonderful open house with a view onto the sea. Ms Dubin is a renowned French journalist who covered the wars in the Balkans and in Iraq, and is full of humor and attitude.
Part II coming tomorrow, which includes more stops and shops!
Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn.