St Barts Island, intimate and sensual, the ideal Caribbean destination for enjoying a relaxed, unhurried vacation. The island is adored by many, each with their own
perspective but all seem to agree that it is
that can carry you far from the worries of the everyday world and comfort you in a tropical environment
unlike any other. Below are several trip reports you can also find many updated and new St Barts trip reports in the
St Barts Vacation Report: June
by Island Visitor
AND WARNING: What follows is not so much a Trip Report as a novel. That
is, much of this will not represent new material for those who are familiar
with SBH. Instead, I am giving my impressions of the island and also
shamelessly indulging myself by exercising an atrophied literary urge
at the same time. To this end, what follows is the story of a Newby
falling in love with SBH for the first time. Please, please, please
understand that this novel is EXTREMELY long and probably can’t
be read in one sitting. Indeed, it may take several sittings to wade
through it all – assuming that anyone even wants to do so. For
those of you who want the Cliff Note's version (probably the majority
of you), I have put a short summary and list of impressions at the very
end of the post and perhaps just skipping to that area (thereby getting
an idea of the daunting length of this post) would not be a bad idea
for everyone. For the very small minority of you who want a summer read
and have both the time and patience to tackle this massive tome, may
I suggest the following: Grab a tasty fresh beer (Caribe preferably),
scatter a little sand under your bare feet at your computer and get
into whatever state of (un)dress you prefer on Saint Barth and let's
see if I can take you there…
Chapter One: Getting
I came to my senses
with a start. Not quite asleep, I had drifted into that state of almost
consciousness where sounds and experiences are real yet seem far away.
I could tell that the plane was beginning to descend as the puffy, white
clouds, like small cotton balls, rose to meet us. The cabin of the plane
was filled with all the busy activity that occurs when a long trip is
starting to come to an end. The attendants were collecting trays from
earlier, passengers were making that last trip to the lavatory and the
sound of the engines and wind rushing past had changed. We were getting
I had not seen
the water at all up to this point, having taken off hundreds of miles
inland before climbing several miles above the earth's surface.
But now I could see the brilliant deep blue Caribbean as it began to
peak through the clouds. At first I thought I was imagining the waves.
Surely we weren’t that close yet. But in a few moments I realized
that I was indeed seeing the surface, with its whitecaps and swells
and even the occasional boat and then I knew we were truly beginning
to approach St Martin.
The couple seated
beside me was friendly and we had talked a good bit along the way. They
were going to another island upon landing in St Martin and were very
much looking forward to their trip. Experienced Caribbean travelers,
they were impressed with my choice of St Barths and were certain I would
have a good time. As the three of us peered out the window, we could
begin making out the shapes of islands dotting the brilliant blue sea
below us. What were their names, I wondered. Straining to remember the
maps I had studied, I tried to navigate our course as we continued to
descend. I could see that we were breaking through the clouds. Just
then the captain burst onto the overhead speaker and notified us that
we were beginning our descent into the St Martin area. The local temperature
was 85 degrees with a slight breeze and we should be on the ground in
about 20 minutes.
My heart leapt. We had been delayed in our departure for exactly one
hour and then had been in the air for almost four hours. Yet, in twenty
minutes I would again get to see the love of my life. My wife and I
had never flown separately before but with small children at home we
had decided to buy a little extra insurance by taking different flights.
Because these flights originated from different cities, she had left
home the day before and spent the night with her sister. I was not overly
happy about spending the previous night apart but I had to admit that
her thought of flying away to an exotic location to meet my lover did
have a sexy appeal to it. How romantic. How French! And in a few moments,
I would again be seeing my lover. Tres bien!
We were descending
rapidly by this time. After a lazy turn to the right, the plane settled
back into a level but descending course and I could again spy the ocean
from my left window seat. Like a basket-full of diamonds scattered upon
a thick, deep blue velvet rug, the break of the waves shimmered in the
sunlight and my heart sang. I could see the water easily and began to
see islands in great detail. Was that St Barthelemy just out my window?
It seemed too flat. And then we banked slightly to the right for a few
moments and again leveled out. I could now see another island more toward
the front of us. This one was larger. And mountainous. And verdant with
its green trees and plants rolling up the hillsides, serving as a backdrop
for the many and many-colored villas decorating the landscape. By its
size and development, and taking into account that we were heading straight
for it, I surmised that this island was St Martin. I then realized,
given our approach from the north, that the flat island I was seeing
out of my window was Anguilla and that St Barths, like a young teasing
lover, was tantalizingly out of view to the south. I would have to wait
to see St Barths. I sighed.
We began the slight
zig and zag that a pilot does as he pulls the massive airliner into
perfect alignment with the glide path. The water had changed from a
deep luxurious blue to a mixture of blue and green and aquamarine, like
precious gems, radiant in the brilliant Caribbean sun. I could see the
sand through the crystal clear water. And I could see reefs and shoals
and shallows among the areas of deeper water. I could also see the beaches
approaching. And the buildings and the hotels and the people. The seat
backs and trays were locked in their fully upright positions and I strained
to see out my window. We were on our final approach. Closer and closer
the water came. “Is the plane going to land on water” asked
one of my now nervous cabin-mates. I assured her that we would approach
over water, then beach, then road, then runway as I had seen the pictures
of this landing many times. And with that narration, the events unfolded
exactly as I described and we came to that last almost weightless moment
just before the wheels touch down. With a screech and small bump, the
pilot placed the rear wheels on the runway. Soon the front wheels followed
and the roar of the engines as we decelerated to a stop. As we taxied
toward our parking area, the cabin attendant welcomed us to St Martin.
We were in the Caribbean.
We left the modern
jetliner and descended a set of old-fashioned stairs to the concrete
below in a balmy bright panorama, a veritable feast for the senses.
Accustomed to the mobile “arm-gates” of modern airports
that first thrust me from one big sterile room into a jet and then suck
my out of the jet at the other location, I was quite delighted to actually
descend a set of stairs al fresco, bathed in the warm Caribbean day.
This was the way important arrivals at new locations used to be done,
with all the pomp and anticipation of finally planting one's feet
on hallowed grounds. I thought of the Beatles arriving in New York and
descending the stairs of their airliner. I thought of Presidents strolling
down from Air Force One. I thought of glamorous Hollywood starlettes,
gliding down the ramp as they blew kisses to the adoring crowds below.
And I soaked in all the sights and sounds, the warm Caribbean sunshine,
the balmy breeze, the high pitched whine and roar of jet engines and
the happy chatter of passengers eagerly moving toward the buses that
would take us to the terminal. There is always something very sensual
about arriving at an exotic new destination that invigorates the senses
and makes one feel more alive. And my first views of St Martin included
all of the sights and sounds one never sees walking through the giant
arm-gates of modern airports. And I hoped St Martin would never build
these so-called modern “arm-gates” - such sins against this
moment for this moment of arrival was too special.
I boarded the bus
as it filled with other travelers, excited about finally having made
it this far. We had left the United States four hours earlier and were
now in a foreign country. And in a few short minutes, I would be going
even further, into a world of mysterious and magical pleasures I had
only read and dreamed about. The bus began to roll and took us a very
small distance to the terminal. Holding onto the quaint charm of a bygone
era, this unprepossessing building did not have the technological intimidation
we Americans have come to demand in our “time is money”
lives. A throwback to a time when time wasn’t money but was instead
something to be savored and enjoyed, this building looked like the sort
of place that Bogart would give Bacall one last kiss goodbye. Perhaps
other star-crossed lovers would have a last moment and a last embrace.
This was such a place for that type of thing.
Yet my lover was
inside. And she was waiting for me.
Chapter Two: The
Plane! The Plane!
Her smile sent
shivers through my spine. Having breezed through the Transit gate, I
found myself in the holding area for Winair. Upon seeing me, my wife
had started across the room, glorious and radiant and beaming on having
made it this far and back into my arms. The kiss was short but passion-filled
and I knew this week would be everything I had hoped for and more. I
then greeted our travel companions, close friends of ours who had taken
their kids to her mother's and had flown down on yet another plane.
Three cities, three planes, four smiling people awaiting Winair to take
us those last few miles to another world.
of flights a day to the small islands of the eastern Caribbean with
several stops each day on each island, Winair more resembles a taxi
service than an airline. Routes can change in-flight and departure times
serve as nothing more than rough guides that one tries to beat. And
if one is fortunate enough to beat one's departure time by enough
minutes, as I was both going and coming, one often gets put on a flight
ahead of the scheduled time and gets bumped forward to start even earlier.
This happened to us. Scampering over to the holding area, we had just
enough time to sit and say hello before we were shuttled onto the tarmac
to walk over to our plane. Having flown many a puddle-hopper in my day,
I saw this as fun – a great adventure. My wife gave me a nervous
glance as we proceeded to this soon to be airborne taxicab. I led my
wife quickly through the door and we made our way to the front seats.
When the plane would make its steep descent over La Tormente, we would
be there to see it.
In a few moments
we were airborne and climbing steeply. We made it to our cruising altitude
of 1500 feet in a matter of seconds. From this altitude I could see
it all. Islands, sea, boats, everything. The multicolored water of the
shallows of St Martin gave way to the deep and mysterious blue of the
ocean. What secrets did it hold, I wondered. As I pondered the romance,
the intrigue and the fascination of this area, I could see a smaller
island beginning to come into view. At last, at long last, I was finally
seeing St Barths. My heart skipped a beat. Little did I know, and how
could I, that my heart would skip many beats over the next several days.
But the anticipation was almost reality. And the moment was about to
“As we make
our final approach, we will encounter turbulence. This is normal”
came the reassuring voice of our pilot. My wife gave me another nervous
glance but I was too intent on the moment, the destination and our approach
to feel anything but anticipation. To the right we could see Gustavia
coming into view with its beautiful port and hillside and the industrial
port almost directly below us, just as I had pictured it every day for
the past year. And we were descending. And the hill in front of us was
getting closer and closer. And my wife's grip upon my arm began
to strengthen. And then the promised turbulence hit. And we bounced
around from side to side. I marveled at the thought that we were coming
in at over 100 miles an hour, planning to clear a hill by mere meters
before hitting a tiny runway in a valley and here we were bouncing around
as though we were in some bumpy ride at the fair. Oh well, I thought,
nothing to do now but look out the front of the plane and enjoy the
ride – however it ends. With the bouncing and the angle of our
approach toward the hill in front, it looked to be a split decision
as to whether or not we would clear the hill. Don’t worry, be
But clear the hill
we did. And what a view! As we glided down the hillside, seemingly skimming
the tops of cars, I motioned to my wife to look out of the front window
and see St Jean with me for the first time. And her grip gave way to
a gasp of joy and surprise. Seconds later we were on the ground rolling
to a stop. Exhilarated at the thought, however unrealistic, that we
had cheated Death out of that day's tally, we could now begin
to really focus on what we came for.
We stepped out
of the plane and onto the warm, solid concrete a few feet from the terminal.
Where I had thought that St Martin's terminal was a place that
lovers would have that one last embrace before sailing apart forever,
St Barth's terminal was just the opposite. Tiny and intimate,
it looked every bit the type of place the lovers would rendezvous for
that secret tryst they had so long and passionately planned. This was
not the type of place where lovers said “goodbye”. No. This
was the type of place where they said things such as “Je t’aime”
or “Glad to see you at long last” or “Hello my love”.
This was not the place where lovers came to go their separate ways,
but to be together.
Surrounded by lush
green hills dotted with villas and framed on either end by the hill
we had just traversed and the beautiful shimmering water of St Jean,
the airport itself was the picture of romance. Could the island itself
be any more charming? I would soon find out.
Welcome To St Barths
It was then time
to clear customs, this after all being a foreign country. A few paces
through the balmy breezy day led us through a small door into a small
room, bustling with polite excitement. Behind a window were three uniformed
men, smiling and moving about in an official, if uncoordinated manner.
One asked for my passport while another quipped something in French
that made his compatriots smile and chuckle. My passport was stamped
without hesitation and I moved through security, such as it was, almost
without stopping. Could this place be so safe and so secure that even
security was a breeze?
As we made it to
baggage claim, our bags were already beginning to arrive. In just a
few moments we were on the deck above the street getting our first look
of the area beyond the airport. There was Match. We would go there this
week. And there were shops to the left. All in all, it seemed as though
they had everything we would need. But where was the car to meet us?
Looking over my shoulder, I saw the courtesy phone and I dialed Isle
de France who assured me that the car would be there momentarily.
We savored the
sights, sounds and smells of this strange and wondrous new place for
a few moments before our ride pulled up. A smart looking minivan with
the name of the hotel on the side, this would be one of the larger vehicles
we would see all week. Out popped Pierro, a bundle of smiles, “bonjours”
and energy. Looking like a slightly compressed version of Gerard Depardieu,
except more congenially handsome, he greeted us with a friendly manner
as though we were long-time friends who had returned home again. All
the bags were hoisted into the back and away we sped, literally. Talking
a kilometer a minute, and driving what seemed twice that speed, Pierro
whizzed us up the hill we had just so narrowly cleared a few moments
earlier. At the top, we were buzzed by the next planeload of fortunates
coming to join us in this paradise. Without stopping, we turned to the
right and continued to climb, St Jean laid out below us. Around the
mountain we sped, that nervous grip of my wife's once again clutching
my arm, though tighter and more frantic than in the plane-ride. Having
survived the landing, she could envision us going off the side of the
many hills we zipped around with Pierro driving and talking and motioning
all at the same time. For my part, I doubted we would meet such an abrupt
end to what I anticipated would be a great week, but, if we were to
go in such a quick and tragic fashion, I could certainly not imagine
a better place to do so. Nor a more charming host than Pierro to take
Yet Pierro was
a pro at this. Not just the driving. But also the talking and touring.
And the smiling. Having lived on the island for 24 years, he knew pretty
much every nook and cranny. To the right was Anse de Cayes. And then
came the intersection that one could take to either Columbier or Flamands.
We took the right and began to descend, rapidly with Pierro at the wheel.
More lush and tropical than I had imagined, Flamands struck me as a
veritable garden as we descended into its tropical spender. Immediately
I recognized Le Taiwana, the multicolored sprawling hotel I had seen
in pictures. And in front of us, partially hidden among the palms, was
Isle de France.
One last turn and
we were there, under a canopy of trees and surrounded by fragrant flowers
of multiple colors. More of a large colonial type house than a hotel,
the main building of Isle de France was the epitome of understated elegance.
The front desk was a small room slightly to the right of the stairs
on the beautiful porch in which two smiling young French women welcomed
us and quickly dispensed with the official business. In moments, were
in our room, with Pierro and bags in tow. We would see Pierro many times
that week, coming and going, bringing happy arrivals to the hotel and
taking wistful but satisfied people back toward the airport again and
the reality of the real world. And each time, Pierro was an ebullient
whirlwind of smiles and hellos, always quick with easy conversation
and assistance. Pierro was, in short, the perfect host. So helpful,
so amiable, so French. We loved Pierro.
Our room, a junior
beach suite, was nothing short of gorgeous. Like the public areas of
this charming building, it had a marble floor throughout, including
the bathroom. Decorated in whites with splashes of subtle color for
accent, the room was spacious and tastefully appointed with antiques
and comfy chairs. A bar and minifridge were there. So was an entertainment
center. The bathroom was enormous, with a large whirlpool tub and a
shower with no door or curtain – a very nice touch. Two sinks
were present with plenty of counter-space. The obligatory bidet stood
toward the corner, reminding us that, indeed, we were in France. Two
fluffy terry cloth robes were laid out with fresh-cut flowers everywhere.
Moulton Brown soaps and other oils and potions were there for the using.
the phone rang. It was our travelling companions, staying in a similar
room. “Have you tried out the CD yet?” I confessed that
I, having just entered the room, had not made it that far but that I
would do so. With that, I flicked on the music system and the CD began
to play. First came the soothing sound of ocean waves, then purred a
languid, ethereal sort of song that seemed more mood that music. Oh
dear. Better turn that thing off if we plan on ever making it out of
the room! While discretion does not permit me to elaborate, I can say
that we did indeed play that CD on several occasions during the week.
I don’t know the name of it, but I want it!
So I then opened
the curtains to the front of the room and stepped back in awe. There,
arrayed before me was our glass table with two cozy chairs and a small
loveseat under the overhead cover. Beyond this were two very nice and
padded chaise lounges with our personal umbrella. And beyond this was
the attractive pool and deck with chairs all around, just in front of
the beach. Carrying on the theme of white and other light hues accented
with blue, the entire hotel seemed to have been placed on a canvas with
the experienced eye and deft hand of a master artist. As I walked out,
I could see the restaurant to the right, part covered, part open, all
magic. A small and attractive bar was there and there were plenty of
beach towels for the taking. In a few steps we were on the beach.
And what a beach!
The sand, slightly coarser than found in the US, did not pack as densely
as finer sand usually does and therefore was soft to the point of engulfing
our feet to the ankles. Almost difficult to walk in at first, the sand
literally massaged our feet with each step and made walking, even if
slightly awkward at times, a real treat for the senses. Looking slightly
off-white from a distance, the sand upon closer inspection was a mixture
of colors including white, tan and even black with rare flecks of pink
thrown in. I had read that the spa at Isle de France uses this sand
as part of their massage rituals and I delighted in the feel of its
soft coarseness as it ran through my fingers. We sat on beautiful beach
chairs with umbrellas, upon a hill of sand probably two meters above
the crashing waves in front of us. The water was clear and a light green
except where the waves churned it sandy with each crash. We could easily
see the bottom and even fish from our enviable perch on this tranquil
beach. Just then, a woman who had been lazily swimming in the ocean
in front of us left the water for the edge of the beach a few meters
away. Sitting below the sand hill at the water's edge where the
crashing waves ran a short way up the slope, she picked up handfuls
of sand and slowly rubbed these across her arms and shoulders and chest
and legs. Like some form of aquatic Venus, she gently bathed her body
in this most decadent sensation. And feeling this sand slip through
my fingers, I could then understand why the spa, and this woman, so
used this perfect texture for the skin. I thought to myself that I would
like it here.
Chapter Four: All
This And Dinner Too?
As part of our
package, we had cocktails every evening and a full dinner at Le Case
de Isle on the night of arrival. As much as it pained me to leave the
beach, the time came to get ready for the evening. In nice khaki shorts
and an open collared shirt and sandals I strolled to the bar and ordered
two Hibiscus drinks. Part pina colada, part banana, part mango, this
was the type of drink that let me know in no uncertain terms that I
was definitely in the tropics. My wife and our traveling companions
joined me as the shadows began to grow long and the last rays of sunlight
beamed with an almost iridescent glow upon the hills and Taiwana to
our right. The breeze was cool and soothing and the melodic rhythmic
sound of the crashing waves was hypnotic. As the lights began to come
up on Flamands we realized just how magical this place truly is.
We were escorted
to a table “inside” of Le Case de Isle by a beautiful young
hostess, gliding in her light and colorful gown. With no wall at all
toward the pool deck, with which the restaurant blends, Le Case de Isle
has large, sliding glass windows facing the sea that can be closed when
necessary (rarely) but are usually at least partially open allowing
the gentle breezes to bathe our bodies. As though the designers had
anticipated sensory overload for weary travelers such as us, the restaurant,
like the entire hotel, was a study in understated elegance. Crisp, clean
and beautifully maintained in every detail, it kept with the ambiance
of a gentile respite in the lap of luxury where one need not fuss with
formalities. Starched white linens complemented the light décor
with flowers and a few pictures adding just the right splash of color.
Perfectly balanced, the hotel and its restaurant exude just the right
mix of elegance and casual freedom, where life is grand in an easy and
The waiters, the
hostesses and the bartenders, like everyone with whom we came in contact
at Isle de France, were young and had that “fresh-scrubbed”
look of youthful enthusiasm. Working only a year or so on St Barths,
none of them seemed to have the “burnout” that comes from
living and sleeping and working in Paradise year after year. Their smiles
were infectious and their enthusiasm seemed genuine. They demurred ever
so slightly when I bravely attempted my elementary French and would
smilingly answer me back in easy French terms so that I could pretend
to be minimally fluent. After a few moments of lighthearted banter in
basic conversational French, they would compliment me in English on
how well I spoke French so that my party would be impressed. Excellent
hosts, these young French people!
We dined in fine
fashion that night with sumptuous salads, delicious fish, seafood fritters,
fine wine, exquisite desserts and several surprises thrown in by the
chef. After dinner came the homemade vanilla rhum, warm and soft as
it finished the meal. We would eat and drink like royalty the rest of
the week including several of the finest restaurants on the island,
each of which we would enjoy and each of which held its own special
charms. Even so, we would have no better food that week than the dinner
and two lunches we had at Le Case de Isle. Continuing the hotel's
motif of understated elegance, the food was attractively presented,
deftly and lightly seasoned and cooked to perfection. And the combinations
and thought in preparing the meals were impressive. This was perhaps
the best example of contemporary French-inspired cuisine we would have
and is a can’t miss for any visitor.
After dinner, a
quiet and very romantic stroll along the beach put us in that “pinch
me to see if I am dreaming” state that only overwhelming magic
can produce. This place could not be real, I thought. Except there I
was. If this was a dream, please unplug the alarm clock.
After a quick shower,
we sank into one of the nicest beds I have ever known. Soft and firm
with elegant white sheets and fluffy down pillows, the bed was an opulent
centerpiece of a room and hotel dedicated to simple opulence. We turned
on the CD and the magic continued.
Chapter Five: If
This Is Sunday, This Must Be Saline.
Breakfast was delivered
to our front porch promptly as we had ordered the night before. The
youthfully handsome waiter set our table in starched white linens and
then laid out cereals, croissants, toast, jellies, coffee and fruits.
With a gentle breeze beginning to blow and the morning dew still fresh
in the air, we sat down to this sumptuous banquet still only half-believing
we were actually there. Our only companions were the occasional bird
and a buzzing bee or two. With no cars or horns or telephones, we could
hear the breeze sway through the sea grapes and the ever-present crashing
of the waves upon the shore. Today was Sunday and we were going to Saline.
After a leisurely
breakfast, I walked to the edge of the rail above the pool to check
the wind. Knowing that we faced northwest, with Saint Martin in full
view, and that Saline faced south, the wind conditions would likely
be very different on the two beaches. There was a breeze blowing, not
too stiff, but it was from east to west. Oh well, nothing ventured,
nothing gained. Just then, the morning's first plane came over
the hill to the right. Already gaining altitude, it had taken off over
the bay at Saint Jean and was headed to St Martin. Someone's time
in Paradise was over. I shuttered a moment and then struggled to put
the thought of leaving in six days out of my mind. My wife slipped her
arm around my waist and I came back to the moment.
Our beach bag was
ready and our travel companions were also eager to leave. We hopped
into the car and headed out. At the end of the driveway to the hotel,
we turned left and coaxed and cajoled the car up the steep hill, hoping
that Pierro would not be speeding down the other way. Though there were
four of us in the vehicle, the car seemed to labor more than I would
have expected, particularly with only 3000 kilometers on the odometer.
Did French cars drive with less power perhaps? But this vehicle wasn’t
French. Oh well, onward and upward, even if at a slow pace. Perhaps
for Newbies like us, such a slow pace was safer. It was certainly more
enjoyable. Why rush through Paradise?
We rounded the
various hills and came to the intersection. To the right was Columbier.
To the left were Gustavia, St Jean, Saline, Gouverneur and all the other
places we were so eager to see. As we drove up even more hills Anse
de Cayes unfolded in our windshield. Having been too stunned to take
it all in the afternoon before, we could now actually realize how breathtakingly
beautiful the island was. I had read that the island was sparse and
not particularly attractive and wondered who could have written such
a thing. A blend of man-made and God-made, the island was dotted with
small and colorful villas stacked upon hills covered with various exotic
plants. Certainly the eastern half of the island had a more rugged coast
as we would find out (beautiful in its own right) but the western half
was a tropical paradise.
Then came the Gustavia/St
Jean intersection and a buzzing plane, seemingly intent upon landing
in our car. We headed left and down the hill as though we too were going
to land on the runway, just after the plane that had fortuitously avoided
our roof. After passing the airport, we got our first view of “the
strip” of downtown St Jean where all the action is. Perhaps we
were early. Or perhaps we brought memories of busier and noisier American
beach bustle with us, but this morning's traffic seemed leisurely
and pleasured. No honking horns or speeding or gesticulations to move
over. Even those daredevils on motor scooters wanting to pass did so
in an inimicably French way, with a cool detached insouciance that neither
ignored us nor acknowledged us. As in many things French, they would
just DO and not make a fuss over it. I liked these people, I decided.
And then we made
it most of the way through St Jean and came to crossroads. Frantically
reading the signs, we headed straight on a side road instead of bearing
left on the main road. And up the hills we went. First steep, then steeper.
And finally we came to the top and could see in the distance the object
of our quest. The rumors of this being a small island were true. It
would take us no time to get anywhere. At this stage we could just throw
away the map and follow the road. It led to only one place, Saline.
Down and down we
drove, past hairpin turns, always being overtaken by young French people,
men and women, hardly more than boys and girls, who already knew the
magic of our objective and wanted to get there first. We came upon the
salt flats. Like the Regular I pretended to be, I told everyone how
this area had been processed for salt until the seventies when it became
no longer economical to do so. And then we reached the parking lot.
There were perhaps a dozen cars and of course a few motor bikes. Not
too big a crowd, I thought.
At the end of the
parking lot was a dirt road, surrounded on either side by tall plants
forming almost a canopy as though framing the path for us. I told everyone
of The Dune and the view I had seen hundreds of times in pictures and
had showed to my wife a dozen times. So we began to walk and pretty
soon reached the end of the dirt road. But where was The Dune? All I
could see was a rather long and unimproved hill of rocks and packed
sand. My wife wondered what had happened. Maybe we had taken an alternate
entrance? Oh well, others appeared to have traversed this site and we
even met people coming the other way. I guess all roads lead to Saline
and so we resolved to take this one, even if it was the wrong one.
Up and up we climbed,
expecting to crest the rocks and see the beach. But what we saw instead
was breathtaking. For at the top of the hill, we saw IT. Just as I had
seen in the pictures. Just as I had shown to my wife those many times.
We saw IT. The Dune. More beautiful then even the pictures had made
it out to be, I blurted to our party that this was the world famous
entrance to Saline. World famous, they chuckled. But it was world famous.
Maybe not everyone knows where St Barths is. But those who do, and they
come from all over the world, know and treasure this view. My friends
agreed. This was indeed world famous, among the privileged few who know
We glided down
The Dune, a perfect entryway as though entering some grand place and
were soon on Saline. Long, wide, and composed of soft sand, perhaps
a bit firmer than at Flamands, but softer than most any other beach
I had ever walked, Saline is visually stunning. With stark hills on
either end surrounding this long slightly curved wide strip of sand
and turquoise water crashing upon the shore, Saline was everything I
had pictured. And more.
We glanced both
ways to see if there were empty spots to enjoy. The left seemed to have
drawn more people, stretching all the way to the rocks and beyond to
the other small beach. The right was sparsely populated and we headed
there. Already the day was beginning to get warm as we set up our towels.
Having assured my companions, who had been to Orient Beach on St Martin
before, that this beach was nothing like St Martin, I was pleasantly
relieved to see that even here, especially here, the French penchant
for casual unobtrusive behavior was in evidence. Each group of people
who would arrive quietly and without fuss or fanfare each would stake
out a small area of sand for themselves, politely distant from other
couples, as though everyone was enjoying their own private beach together.
We would find this charming and mannered nonchalance to be a refreshing
break from the busy activity and crowds at many American beaches and
came to realize that if the French prize anything, it is good manners
and a healthy respect for another person's privacy and space.
More than mere tolerance, a politically correct but nonetheless ugly
word connoting disapproval but a lip-biting turning of one's head,
this enlightened French attitude of casual indifference unmistakably
told us that we were in the proper place.
The sun continued
to shine and before long we were hot. And to our surprise, we were coated
with sand, like donuts frosted in a display window. A steady and sometimes
gusty breeze kept bathing us in fine grains of sand. Not enough to be
uncomfortable, but enough to be unusual. So we headed to the water.
The waves were large but mostly swells once the break line was passed
which we did without difficulty. At first, the water seemed almost cool
but when I completely submersed it became a very comfortable sensation
upon my body. And it was more clear than the vanilla rhum I would drink
every evening. I could stay here all day, I thought.
My wife joined
me and we rose and fell rhythmically with each swell as the waves made
their way toward shore. Scanning the beach I realized just how isolated
this place was. No buildings or concessions or amusement parks or hawkers
or crowds. No running or yelling or noise or commotion. Just couples
quietly going about their business of doing nothing but enjoying the
sun and the day. No wonder everyone loves this place so much, I thought.
My wife had drifted
away a short distance. A good but sometimes uncomfortable swimmer, she
had slowly made her way toward more shallow water. I realized too late
that she had settled in the break zone where the waves changed from
long and gentle swells to roaring crashes upon the sand. As though watching
a scene from a surreal movie, I did not immediately comprehend the significance
of her first tumbling, then flipping, the bouncing and then splatting
upon the sand until she came up sputtering and gasping. Coming to my
senses, I got to her in a moment and walked with her to shore. Saline
was not, she concluded, a very good place to swim. Only later would
we find out that a tropical storm was passing the island at that very
moment and on a second trip we would discover the magical stillness
of the water and the wonderful swimming of Saline. But for that day
and that time, swimming at Saline was done. We packed and headed back,
having been there long enough to feel those first tingles of being in
the sun a few minutes too long, I completely satisfied with the day.
Chapter Six: Party.
how do you know these people whose home we are going to visit”
came the inquiry from my friends. I replied that I did not know the
people at all. I had never met them. They wondered aloud how we had
come to receive such an invitation, having been on the island a scant
twenty-four hours. “Over the internet” I replied, nonchalantly
taking another frosty cool sip of my dacquiri. The day was beginning
to cool as the shadows started to lengthen. Having spent the morning
tumbling along Saline before pursuing a more sedate afternoon under
a beach umbrella at Flamands, my wife assured our travel companions
that attending a party I had been invited to over the internet would
be okay, given that the internet is where I first discovered St Barths
We hopped into
the car and headed out. After passing through St Jean we continued toward
Lorient. On the left I pointed out Kfai Massai and told everyone we
planned on dining there tomorrow. How cute, came the almost simultaneous
reply of everyone. I was pleased.
The question then
came as to whether or not I actually knew where I was going. I had hoped
that no one would put me to such details as, frankly, I did not know
where we going. Having communicated with our hosts by email, I had managed
to get all the particulars for the party save one, the address. Oh well,
for this week, we were French. And I, being part French Hugenot and
part Italian, thought to myself that I was in a car with a good friend,
two beautiful women and two bottles of wine. How could the evening go
We explored the
hills above Lorient before coming to Le Ti. Now here was a familiar
place. Realizing that it was too early for people to be dancing on tables
yet, perhaps I could get some directions. I strolled in while my now
nervous companions waited in the car, as though they may have to take
off on some hair-raising high speed chase from banditos intent on doing
mischief. Relax mes amis, we are in France. And we have wine. We’re
was not yet open and instead I found the staff milling about in the
kitchen. I saluted them in French and then tried to ask for directions
in English. No one seemed to comprehend. No matter. Here I was in a
foreign country trying to find a house without directions and speaking
to people who could not understand me. But I was part French. And so
I mustered up some elementary French and was able to explain my predicament.
Ah yes. They understood. And they knew the house and would show me directions.
With a pleasant merci and glad waves all around, we were on the road
Yes, that was the
turn. Go around that corner. And this area fit the description. The
driveway was long and dark. Mustering up my budding Frenchness, I put
on my best bonjour and led my group down.
At the bottom of
the drive we were greeted by our host who assured us that we had found
the right place. The Frenchman inside me smiled. We entered the villa
and were struck by the beauty of the place. Well planned and stunning
in its tasteful decor, the villa was alive with revelers who had the
good sense to know where they were going that night when they set out.
So we were late, but not by too much.
Our host and hostess
greeted us warmly and introduced us to various other people around the
bar. A sumptuous spread was laid out on the table and I would later
taste of it many times. But for now there were people to meet and conversations
to be had.
We met many interesting
people that night and found that we were about the only Newbies at the
party. Most either lived on St Barths at least part of the year or had
been coming back for short respites year after year. And it was an eclectic
group. But it was a group that seemed to share one unmistakable trait,
a love for St Barths.
Through the course
of the evening, our gracious hosts and their guests, many of whom, like
ourselves, had been strangers to the hosts before that night, would
tell us all the ins and outs of the island that only locals can ever
really know. Why one beach was preferred over another. Or which restaurants
really were must do places to dine. And like sponges, we absorbed it
all, the ambiance, the beauty, the friendship and the warm hospitality
of our most gracious hosts. It was a wonderful way to be introduced
to the island, hereafter OUR island, on this our first full day.
As the evening
wore on, we had to say our goodbyes and head back across the island.
It had been a wonderful way to cap a wonderful day and now we could
truly see why the magic of this place and its people, both residents
and visitors, so captured men's souls. Unlike visitors to other
lands, those who come to St Barths “Get it”. That is, they
understand the customs and the courtesies and the culture and they want
to be part of it all. So did we.
Gouverneur Or Bust, Alas.
The next day we
set off toward Gouverneur. Having seen Saline and Flamands, we felt
that Gouverneur would have to be next on the list. Down the hill we
descended through the industrial port and around the corner until Gustavia
lay before us in splendid serenity. This was Monday and a holiday and
the shops would not be open today. There were people beginning to amble
about in that same unhurried stroll that we would see around the island.
There was Le Repair. Oh, and over to the right, that is Le Select. Everyone
knew the Cheeseburger In Paradise story because I had told it to them
many times. And finally we were there to see it. My wife looked at me
and smiled as I sat there beaming, proud to have finally found it.
We turned right
and drove past the Anglican church. I knew we needed to go left up the
hill, but how? After a couple of unproductive circles, we saw the sign
to Carl Gustaf. Yes. Go that way. And so we did. We passed Gustaf and
continued to sputter up the road. First one turn and then another.
And then the sputtering
Maybe the car engine
was flooded, we all hoped, trying to figure out why our car, which had
never seemed to have much power anyway, now had none. It lay there,
dead in the road, like wreckbait waiting for the next Frenchman to come
zipping along and take it out. What should we do? In America, we would
push it to the side of the road or into that driveway nearby. And even
though this was not America, this still seemed a good thought. So we
a man and woman came out of the house, the most hurried people we had
seen on the island. A few halting French sentences let us know that
he must get to the airport quickly but he assured us that he would call
Europcar for us.
This was a holiday.
Everything would be closed. Would Europcar come to our rescue? Should
we walk back to Gustavia and call for Pierro? Should we forge ahead
into the unknown in hopes of running into Gouverneur? American impatience
began to set in. But, being part French, I assured my group that help
was indeed on the way. And it was. In a few moments, a fresh scrubbed
young man, hardly more than a garcon, hopped out of a Europcar van and
tried to start our car. Nope. No luck. So we piled into his van and
trecked back across the island, beyond the Gustavia/St Jean intersection
and back toward Flamands to the parking area for Europcar. A few apologies
and au revoirs later, we were back on the road, this time in the same
make of vehicle we had just abandoned. But this time, with power. Gouverneur,
here we come.
So off we went.
We crested a hill and saw Sante Fe where we took a right turn. And then
down, down and more down until we can to a sharp turn to the left. And
then we saw it. For those fortunate few who have seen this view, no
words are necessary, or even adequate. For those who have yet to experience
this vista, their lives are not yet complete. Stunningly gorgeous in
its burst of colors, Gouverneur from above is beyond description. We
continued down and to a small new parking lot. Out of the car and across
a small strip of sand, we were on Gouverneur in moments.
Being a bit wary
of swimming after our Saline experience, we slowly walked the beach
until we saw the rocks just below the surface at the break-line begin
to trickle out. About mid-beach we found an area where the dunes continued
with the sand and the surf and the ocean beyond seemingly free from
hidden obstacles. We settled here.
Smaller and more
narrow than Saline, Gouverneur was also more colorful. Framed by bookend
verdant hills, this crescent of sand was backed by a small dune overgrown
with sea grapes. The water was sapphire blue and clear and like Flamands
crashed below us as we sat about two meters above the spray. Propped
against the dune to our back, we had natural beach chairs from which
to enjoy this unreal scene. We decided then and there that Gouveneur
was our favorite beach, though as the week progressed both Saline and
Flamands would pull back to an even race. But for now, this was perfect.
And the swimming was exhilarating. Requiring a bit of timing, athleticism
and luck to clear the crashing waves, the swimming itself was like floating
in a giant tub with swells just beyond the beach. Crystal clear and
refreshing, the water was soothing to our now much-soothed and pampered
Gouveneur was more
than just a beach to me. Had we not chosen St Barths for our vacation,
we could have toured the continent. We could have seen Paris and Notre
Dame, or the marvels of Rome or the magnificent cathedrals of St Petersburg,
each offering man-made edifices to honor God. Yet here, in this simple
and remote beach, we saw an edifice that God had made to honor man.
How wonderful was such Grace, I mused.
After a while the
time came to return back to our hotel. With a longing last glance, I
looked over my shoulder at Gouveneur as we headed toward the path. We
would be back. We would definitely be back.
Dining With Friends And Fine Wine
We would eat sumptuously
that week. One night we made the drive to Lorient, now familiar to us
having made the same drive a few nights before. We parked at Kfai Massai
on the first night of their reopening under new management. As we entered,
we were enchanted with the décor of the place. Part indoor, part
outdoor, heavily influenced with African art, this seemed the type of
place that privileged explorers would find in some exotic sub-Saharan
location, if such places existed. We were seated near the bar, half
inside and half outside. The night was beautiful and warm and our table
was perfect. Already the place was alive with activity, easily the most
crowded restaurant we saw all week as the locals were running back to
an old favorite that had finally reopened after an absence. The service
was pure French, casually efficient with no hurry involved. We had reserved
the table and they expected us to be there for the evening. Had we tried
to dash out in the obligatory 45 minutes usually apportioned to the
Grand American Dinner it would have been an insult. Did we not enjoy
their hospitality? So we ordered more wine and ignored our watches.
Dining, REAL dining,
is more than just serving up hot dishes promptly to order. America,
being a young and lusty country still very much in its adolescence,
is more concerned with one's labors than actually enjoying the
fruits of these labors. But not France. And not Frenchmen. They know
that when one goes out for the evening, one goes out for the entire
evening. And so it was at Kfai Massai. Wine and salads and delectable
seafood and desserts would come our way before the evening would end.
And each course was better than the one before. When at long last the
time came to call it an evening, even by acceptable French standards,
we asked for l’addition and were pleasantly surprised at the reasonableness
of the fee. Even in Euros, it did not seem a high amount. Great food,
great ambiance, great wine, great friends, this was a night to remember.
And we do.
On another night,
we chose Fellini's at the Manapany cottages for our meal. Looking
for some Italian food, we drove down the hill into Anse de Cayes and
were charmed by the casual beauty of this place. Appearing perhaps a
bit more dated than some other places, it maintained an old fashioned
beauty and grace that spoke of many a season of fun and merriment. The
restaurant was empty that night and we dined all but alone. The menu
was very limited in its offerings but the food was attractively presented
and well prepared. In an island of standout restaurants, this one did
not stand out though it was quite good and would be easily a favorite
back home. On this island, it struck me as a quiet and beautiful place
where one goes for less exotic fare attractively done for a reasonable
A true favorite
however was sunset at La Mandala. Arriving as the last rays of light
shimmered across Gustavia at our feet, we were seated at the prize table
in the center of the large open view. A couple of meters away was a
small pool that meandered through the restaurant further enhancing its
already considerable appeal. The waiter was friendly and efficient.
Taking ownership in his restaurant, he told us not what the chef could
offer us that night or what the chef could prepare, but what he himself
could offer us. This was his restaurant. And we were his guests.
We started with
the Chef Special sampler for two. At 38 Euros, this platter was enough
to serve as a meal and my wife has assured me that when I take her back,
and I have promised to take her back, that will indeed be her entire
meal. Featuring sesame-seared tuna and other forms of sushi, this platter
was an explosion of exotic yet balanced sensations upon the palate.
This was easily a favorite place and one that we will return to many,
many times in the future. At sunset.
For our last night
in Paradise, we pulled out all the stops. Donning our formal clothes
(a pair of khaki slacks, open collared shirt and closed -toe deck shoes)
we drove the length of the island to Le Gaiac. One look at the grounds
and the reception area told us that we were someplace special. Where
Isle de France maintained a casual elegance and beach type feel, Le
Toiny (home of Le Gaiac) took no efforts to hide its tropical grandeur.
Refined, polished and gleaming in every corner, Le Gaiac and what we
saw of Le Toiny placed themselves in a category slightly different from
anywhere else on the island. Still very much in love with our intimate
corner of Flamands beach to which we plan to return, we could see the
magic of this luxurious oasis and understand why those wanting elegant
solitude sought out this place. It was and is indeed truly special.
Dinner that night
was served by the most efficient and doting staff we met on the island.
The maitre d’hotel himself checked on us often to make sure that
everything was up to standards. The wait staff were knowlegable, prompt
and discrete. Everything was done in “just so” fashion to
satisfy even the most demanding of tastes. Almost taken aback by the
impressively ambitious menu offering a bewildering array of choices,
we decided to let the chef decide and chose the chef's sampler,
a nine course extravaganza that takes one on a gustatory journey beyond
boundaries one normally sets. Presented with one or two dishes that
I normally do not care for, I followed the rule that has served me so
well when dining in such a place. And that is simply this: Try everything.
Because if it can be well done anywhere, it will be well done here.
That way, if I don’t like it here, then I can safely say that
I don’t like it. But what I find is that when I have unusual food
unusually well prepared, I usually like it. This was such a night. I
loved it all.
The dinner with
two bottles of wine would take a bite out of our wallets but we did
not care. We were in Paradise one last night and we had to savor every
moment. And so we did. That evening when we arrived back at the hotel
with bellies full of fine food and wine, we put on the CD and celebrated
our last night.
Chapter Nine: Leaving.
The morning came
too quickly. Like every other morning since we had arrived, this one
broke with brilliant golden sunlight dancing upon the hills around us.
Yet this morning was sad. This Paradise, this beautiful and wondrous
Paradise that had welcomed us and then hypnotized us and then captured
us was now about to let us go. How could this be?
A plane flew into view from past the hill to the right of our hotel.
I sighed as I realized the airport was open and that we could leave,
that we must leave.
With heavy hearts
and few words we packed and readied ourselves. Not having known exactly
how special this place was before our arrival, we also had not realized
how hard it would be to leave when the time came. But that time had
come. And it was harder to leave than we imagined.
A few quick signatures
at the office and the business was taken care of. They hoped that we
would come back soon and we assured them that we would – and we
will. And then Pierro loaded us aboard the sad van that would carry
us away from this all. Popping in a tape playing “Lay Down Sally”
by Clapton, he sped us up and around the hills, too fast this time as
we were leaving our blessed haven, and arrived at the airport right
as the song ended. Could not the song, and the week, last a little longer?
We checked in with
Winair and things were running on time. Soon we were boarding the Twin
Otter that would cruelly fly us away from here. As we walked across
the concrete I looked back at the terminal that I had first seen a week
before. Something was wrong, I thought. This was not the sort of place
that lovers left. This was the sort of place that they came to. No goodbye
kisses here, only bonjours and hellos. Yet we were leaving.
The plane zipped
down the runway and we were airborne. I saw magnificent St Jean stretch
out to the right with Anse de Cayes and Flamands beckoning to the left.
We were leaving. But were we? Had we really said goodbye at that quaint
and intimate terminal a few moments before? Did we really have everything
and were we truly ready to depart?
With one look back
I decided that the answer was definitely “no”. I had my
wife, the love of my life, beside me. I had all the things I had brought
in my bags. I had the purchases we had made and my passports and my
tickets and my money. But I had left something behind. I had left something
very important and precious to me. I had left a piece of my soul on
As the plane closed
in on St Martin I realized that no one ever truly leaves St Barths because
once one has been there one is never truly the same afterwards. A little
piece of us always stays behind like a beacon showing us the way and
always pulling us back.
And that beacon pulls us to come and revisit the part of our soul that
will forever belong to that magical place.
And I shall answer
this beacon. Soon. And often.
Au revoir St Barths.
What follows is
the Cliff's Notes version of our experiences. I shall give our
impression in much abbreviated form in hopes that our thoughts may help
Early in the week
I would have said Gouveneur hands down. By the end of the week we realized
that we loved several beaches, each of which has its own charm. Here
is our breakdown:
wide, walkable and easy swimming (our one day notwithstanding). Probably
the most user friendly beach on the island. We love it and will go back
stunningly attractive than Saline, it is not quite as good for swimming
but the view and the sand are magnificent. Also, seems to draw a small
following of devotees who appreciate its charms. Will return.
beautiful and almost no one on the beach. At the hotel there were nice
chairs, umbrellas and drink service. Need I say more?
St Jean: Fun and
upbeat, always something going on, and lots of places to eat and drink.
Harder sand than the other three listed above but still a nice place
to set up for the day.
hike was actually more impressive than the beach. It is worth a look
but I need not go back.
Le Case de Isle:
One of our absolute favorites. Lightly done food attractively presented
by a cheerful wait staff in drop dead gorgeous surroundings. This is
a must do restaurant for lunch or dinner.
Le Gaiac: Stunning
restaurant and food. The entire grounds oozes opulence almost to the
point of decadence. This restaurant could stand toe to toe with even
the finest places in Europe and the states. If the wallet is feeling
a bit fat, lighten it up here. You wont be sorry.
Attractive environment with a limited menu serving relatively basic
fare. Enjoyable but not a mandatory stop.
Filao: Had lunch
here and thoroughly enjoyed it. The waiter kidded around with us in
that dead-pan face of a mischievous Frenchman all the while bringing
us very good food. We liked the waiter, the food and the place. Yum.
La Mandala: At
sunset. Nothing more needs be said.
Kfai Massai: Funky,
electric and with great food. Plus the drive to Lorient sort of puts
you out of the mainstream and lets you know you have gone somewhere
Le Piment: In St
Jean. We only had lunch but it was very good and also reasonably priced.
Will do this one again.
That is all for
now. Hopefully I shall have more to write after our trip in November.
How many days now until we leave?