By Katie McElveen
Covering just eight square miles in size, St. Barth is one of the Caribbean’s smaller isles. But thanks to its unique combination of stunning natural beauty and French style, the island offers a remarkable array of activities.
In his more than a twenty years on St. Barth, seasoned Le Guanahani head concierge Stéphane Carou has explored and experienced virtually all of those activities. So when we asked him for his list of “must-dos”—the ones that will give guest a peek into the soul of St. Barth—he was happy to help.
1. Taking in Gustavia as the French do—from a café.
Surrounding a yacht-strewn harbor on the west side of the island, historic Gustavia is a walkable village known for sophisticated shopping and dining. But once you’ve toured the town, instead of heading back to Le Guanahani, grab a set at a café and take in the scene. Stéphane recommends Bar de L’Oubli, a small café located in the center of town that opens early and stays open late. “It’s great for people watching,” he says. “Try to sit on the porch.”
2. Finding your perfect beach.
St. Barth is rimmed with beaches—or plages, as the French say—and each has its own personality. For swimming and sunning, Stéphane particularly adores Gouverneur Beach, a secluded cove that offers calm water and views of St. Kitts, Saba, and St. Eustatius, and Grand Saline, which, despite being the second-longest beach on the island, tends to be quiet and uncrowded. “You will need to walk a bit on a trail to reach Grand Saline, but it’s worth it,” notes Stéphane.
Stéphane sends sunset-seekers to Shell Beach, a rocky strand located near Gustavia, or Colombier, a rugged cove tucked into the northwest tip of the island that requires a 30-minute hike to reach. He promises it’s worth every sweaty step and is happy to pack a picnic, complete with champagne.
3. Booking a guided hike.
Hiking trails crisscross the cliffs and dunes of St. Barth’s dramatic landscape, making it easy to find a secluded beach and take in the island’s wondrous views. But if you’d like a story with your hike, or would rather outsource navigational duties, call Elisa White, an American who specializes in small-group (or private) hikes to some of St. Barth’s lesser-known vantage points. Stéphane and the concierge team at Le Guanahani can arrange it for you.
4. Hitting the Road…and the Sea.
Driving the twisty roads that wend their way around St. Barth is even more fun in a Mini Cooper, which you can rent directly from the hotel. “You can tour the entire island in half a day, or plan to stop at a secluded beach and enjoy a swim or snorkel,” says Stéphane.
When you’re ready for a different perspective, Stéphane recommends circumnavigating the island via Jet Ski. Guided tours take about 90 minutes and leave directly from the hotel. “Along the way, you’ll stop at some of the tiny cove beaches that are only accessible by water,” he says. “And the views are beautiful.”
5. Enjoying a meal.
There are literally hundreds of restaurants on St. Barth, and they run the gamut from casual beachfront eateries to elegant special-occasion restaurants that would not seem out of place in Paris or New York. Here are Stéphane’s favorites:
L’Esprit: Savor duck spring rolls, foie gras, and local fish in a lush garden set amid towering palms and tiny white lights.
Eddy’s: Tucked behind a stone wall, Eddy’s is fusion—French, Creole, Caribbean, Asian—at its best.
Maya’s: A beachy island institution known for a menu that changes each day based on what the fishermen bring from the sea.
Le Tamarin: Dine on Thai-inflected French favorites under a 200-year old tamarind tree in a jungly garden filled with colorful birds and tranquil ponds.
L’Isola: Risotto, grilled calamari, and other Italian/Mediterranean dishes served in a hushed romantic setting.
Bonito: Start your meal with one of Bonito’s cocktails—the vessels are as creative as the drinks—before moving on to the Latin-inspired menu.
About the Contributor
Travel and lifestyle writer Katie McElveen discovered the joy of wandering when, as a teenager, she made a wrong turn in rural South Carolina on the way to a family vacation and ended up taking back roads nearly all the way to the beach. Since then, she hasn’t stopped exploring, although she now travels with a map and more than $3.00 in cash. Based in Columbia, South Carolina, Katie has shared her discoveries through her work in magazines such as Real Simple, Business Traveler, Modern Bride, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Town & Country, Southern Living, Spa and Tennis.