St Barths Overview
- French-Caribbean jewel
- Coast Life
- A-list beach lounging
You could call it Paris-on-sea – with all the poise, style and Missoni bikinis that it implies. St Barths is one of the original jet-set destinations, where celebrity meets society in a cosmopolitan crowd.
It’s not just about ladies who lunch on flip-flop leave from their Louboutins; this safe, friendly island has plenty of appeal for the athletic beach bunny and the foodie, as well as party people and celeb-watchers. The French influence makes it a unique Caribbean experience, with brasseries instead of beach shacks, and chanson crooners more popular than soca singers on the radio; the locals are mainly of European descent. It’s OK, though – there’s that gorgeous turquoise ocean and uncrowded beaches to remind you where you are.
Suitably St Barths
Sundowners at Hotel Carl Gustaf, set high over Gustavia and looking out beyond the harbour to St Maarten.
- Expensive and not usually worth the hassle. Hiring a car for a day or more is your best bet. Most hotels will arrange airport transfers.
- Tipping culture
- As in France, service charge is included on restaurant bills, but a small tip is customary and appreciated.
- Siesta and fiesta
- As a rule of thumb, late summer is French, winter American. Christmas and New Year are when you can expect to see P Diddy and Leo DiCaprio (or at least their yacht hands). French-style, shops close on Sundays and at lunchtimes and stay open until around seven.
- Packing tips
- Think St Tropez but with more of a barefoot vibe, so pack your shiniest-logo’d shades, a cute bikini or four, Vilebrequin trunks, and tan-revealing Riviera chic for evening outings.
- Recommended reads
- Greats of West Indian literature include Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua) and St Lucia’s Nobel-winning Derek Walcott. For fun, Murder in St Barts is an island-set crime novel featuring Gendarme Trenet, by JR Ripley.
- More international than local, with lobster soufflé, salade niçoise and sushi all to be had. The grander restaurants base their offerings on French cuisine (minus the cream); you’re also likely to eat Créole and Provençal food, grilled fish and super salads. There’s no agriculture to speak of on the island, so almost everything is imported, from wine and water (no natural sources) to meat and vegetables – hence the steep prices in most restaurants. Fresh seafood is flown in from France on Thursdays.
- The euro is the official currency. US dollars are widely accepted.
- Time zone
- Atlantic Standard Time zone, so GMT -4 hours.
- Dialling codes
- The international dialling code for St Barths is +590. Confusingly, lots of the island’s numbers also start with 590.
- Do go/don't go
- Try visiting at the tail end of high season (December–April), when room rates drop and the beaches really empty out.
Don't go home without...
Spotting a local in a quichenotte, the traditional French-provincial bonnet still worn by older women in a few communities.