The French-Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy – a dot in the middle of the Caribbean’s sparkling cyan waters - has gained a reputation as a glitzy, super yacht-filled playground for the Pippa Middletons and the Abromovichs of the world. 

Yes, it is an A-list destination with a glitterati pedigree dating back to the days of Greta Garbo and David Rockefeller. And yes, come the new year when the island reaches 110 per cent capacity, superyachts line Gustavia’s marina with more floating further out to sea. However, St Barth’s blingy reputation belies an understated island with a bohemian heart; it may be achingly chic, but casually so.  

Indigenous home to Arawak Indians and Caribbeans, ‘discovered’ by Christophor Columbus and once briefly part of Sweden, the sun-drenched and craggy island became a part of France for the second time in the late 1800s and the European nation’s art de vivre has since embedded itself into the fabric of St Barths.

The Resident: St Barths is a dot in the middle of the Caribbean’s sparkling cyan watersSt Barths is a dot in the middle of the Caribbean’s sparkling cyan waters (Image: Zita Whalley)

The muddle of French sensibilities and the island’s raw landscapes is a glorious alchemy of wild beauty and understated stylish comforts, wrapped up in whiffs of St Tropez glamour and island time charm. 

Here, you can watch a turtle cross the road in one moment and sink into a sunlounger with a cocktail in hand the next before cooling off in beckoning blue waters just to discover an entire other world within the tide’s ebb and flow. So sit back and bask in your own splendid life.  

The Resident: Charter a boat for a morning of cliff jumps and snorkelling with turtlesCharter a boat for a morning of cliff jumps and snorkelling with turtles (Image: Zita Whalley)

Things to do

Flanked by the green-tinged Caribbean Sea and the north Atlantic ocean’s brilliant blue, St Barths’ beaches are the stuff beach holiday dreams are made of. Their chameleon-like ability to change colour is mesmerising, and all beaches have public access so take your pick. 

Found on St Barths’ north-west tip, Colombier beach is a calm enclave with topaz waters in which you can snorkel and paddle about with turtles, and if you’re lucky manta rays. 

Reachable only by hiking or boat, a private catamaran will get you there with a mimosa in hand and the breeze in your hair. Boats (try can be chartered from Gustavia marina and you can make a morning out of the journey by stopping off at the nearby Shell Beach and for a cliff jump on the way. 

The Resident: Grand Fonds is a rock pool at the end of a 40 or so minute walkGrand Fonds is a rock pool at the end of a 40 or so minute walk (Image: Zita Whalley)

In the south of the island, Grand Fond is a natural rock pool found at the end of an easy but rocky walk along cliff edge and past wild pygmy goats. Filled with ocean spray and the tide, these craggy cups of water are hard to tear yourself away from. 

As a break from beach hopping, St Barths’ compact capital Gustavia is a tropical outpost of the south of France. While barely more than just several rows of streets, it packs a lot in. 

With the pretty marina the heart of the township, the nearby streets are lined with beachy shops and boutiques for Dior, Bvgari, Ellie Saab and the like. The St Barth Municipal Museum will give you the history of the island while the Théâtre du Paradis hosts an annual theatre festival. Gustavia also hosts a film festival in May and a food festival in November.

Close to the marina, Fish Corner is a casual seafood restaurant that is popular with locals and just one of the many superb dining options on the island. 


The Resident: The Gyp Sea Beach Bar is feet-in-the-sand casual diningThe Gyp Sea Beach Bar is feet-in-the-sand casual dining (Image: Zita Whalley)


Places to eat

Another great dining option is Thai restaurant Black Ginger. Also in Gustavia, its dramatic interiors come with bold orange accents and the kitchen plates up fragrant, zesty dishes, be it an authentic curry or soup or a contemporary riff on Thai flavours such as the ceviche with coconut milk. 

From the team behind Coal Office in King’s Cross, Sella is a swanky Middle Eastern restaurant perched on top of rocks directly overlooking the ocean serving up fresh seafood and smokey and charred flavours. The wide windows running the length of the venue gives Sella an open air feel, and the comfort of the plush, secluded booths invite you to settle in for the night. 

For casual dining with sand in your feet, Gyp Sea Beach Club comes with party vibes and coconut juice so fresh, the nut is cut open in front of you at the table. Come for a fairly civilised lunch, or arrive for dinner and see where the night takes you.


The Resident: Christian Liaigre's design brings the views to youChristian Liaigre's design brings the views to you (Image: Emily Lab)


Where to sleep

St Barths’ laid back charm is fiercely protected, so island accommodation are low rise complexes and villas hugging the coastline or camouflaged amongst the palms. 

Found on the still-watered enclave of Anse de Grand Cul de Sac, Le Sereno is a low-slung open-aired hotel that brings unfussy Mediterranean luxury to the French West Indies.

Sister hotel to Le Sereno in Lake Como (designed by Patricia Urquiola), the Caribbean outpost is every bit as stylish thanks to the design by Christian Liaigre. 

The Resident: The open-air restaurant serves up elegant Italian dishesThe open-air restaurant serves up elegant Italian dishes (Image: Le Sereno)

The French interior designer and architect, whose clients included Karl Lagerfeld, Calvin Klein and Rupert Murdoch, has placed the island’s beauty at the heart of the hotel, working with the landscape to bring the jaw-dropping views to you, not take you away from them. 

Indeed, whether you’re waking up with the morning light, having a cocktail at the restaurant and bar, lounging by the pool or having a massage in the open air spa treatment room, views of St Barths' immense natural beauty are with you at every turn. It even greets you as you walk into the hotel’s reception.  

The spacious suites are minimalistic and elegant, with white walls, natural timber trims and furnished with natural materials, and are true to Liaigre's elegant minimalism stylings. 

The Resident: The hotel lies mere steps away from the oceanThe hotel lies mere steps away from the ocean (Image: Le Sereno)

Mere steps away from the shoreline, Le Sereno sits on a shallow still bay that contains a protected marine reserve with huge coral forests. Easily reached by paddleboard or by swimming, it’s home to turtles and fish and a great spot for snorkelling. 

Guests can also take part in the coral restoration project, led by a team of volunteers who work towards rebuilding the island’s coral reefs. 

Headed up by the Lake Como Head Chef, the resident restaurant and bar Le Sereno Al Mare is a destination in its own right, serving up Italian dishes and sweeping views of the bay from its open air dining room. 

The Resident: Villas come with a private poolVillas come with a private pool (Image: Le Sereno)

Come for a classic pasta, a Milanese steak or freshly caught seafood prepared with Italian flair, or graze on a selection of traditional antipasti plates. The restaurant puts on regular live music nights also.


Getting there 

St Barths is accessible by ferry and plane from St Maarten and Antigua. Charter airline Tradewind operates several routes to St Barths, from the US and from Antigua which is the best route for travellers departing from Britain.