ST BARTS, November 5, 2016 – When Christopher Columbus discovered St. Barts in 1493 it was called Ouanalao, the name given to it by the native Carib Indians. Over the past 500 plus years, St. Barts, also known as St. Barths, re-named Saint-Barthélemy after Columbus’ brother, has been “re-discovered” many times.
Today, St. Barts is the St.-Tropez of the Caribbean, appealing to the rich and famous with its secluded location approximately 22 miles southeast of St. Martin. The island is accessible by boat, which takes slightly more than an hour, or by a 15-minute plane ride.
Travelers arriving by air are always intrigued by the nerve-wracking landing pattern which features barely missing a hilltop highway on one end of the descent or hitting the beach at the other end.
Historically, the French came to St. Barts in the 1600s, followed briefly by the Swedes. In fact, St. Barts was the only Caribbean island that was a Swedish colony for any length of time, but even that lasted less than a century.
Thanks to the earliest influence of its settlers before the Swedes arrived, St. Barts has retained its French ambience, despite its capital city being called Gustavia.
Oddly enough, the tiny island of hills and twisting roads has no casinos or golf courses, yet it continues to attract celebrities from around the world with its elegant yet rustic accommodations, gourmet cuisine, chic boutiques and pristine stretches of white sand beaches.
At just under ten square miles, 9.5 to be exact, St. Barts is easily explored in a few hours. Then again, visitors don’t journey to this little paradise for exploration. Columbus took care of that. No, this is a place be seen and to make the scene.
Though food is expensive on St. Barts, do not be put off by the jet-setting image of the island. It’s easy to get around the topsy-turvy terrain, but you do need a car. St. Barts features dozens of great beaches and more than its share of character. This is a place to relax and savor the quality of life.
The island came into its own in 1945 when Remy de Haenen landed his plane on a goat pasture that eventually became one of St. Barts’ best known attractions: the airport.
Later de Haenen built a home on nearby St.-Jean Bay which is now the famous Eden Rock Hotel. Eden Rock was recently rated the fifth best Caribbean Resort Hotel by “Conde Nast Traveler”.
By the mid-1950s, the ultra-rich discovered this secluded Caribbean treasure, and it has not been the same since.
David Rockefeller bought two plots of land, including one on Gouveneur Beach. Before long the Rothschilds arrived, and to “keep up with the Joneses”, developed an estate in a coconut grove next door to the Rockefellers. Today the Rothschild property has become Hotel Guanahani & Spa.
If the Rockefellers and Rothschilds say a place is worth visiting, ‘nuf said. Soon the president of the American Ballet Theatre opened a four-room hotel on top of Mount Lurin called Les Castelets in 1975, with the dining room becoming the first great restaurant on St. Barts.
The following year, Jimmy Buffet arrived to establish Le Select. The first disco on St. Barts was an institution on the island until it burned in 1991.
Les Castelets quickly attracted the rich and famous from around the world, including the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov.
With the arrival of Hurricane Luis in 1995, Les Castelets was heavily damaged, but both the island and the hotel quickly bounced back.
Also adding to the mystique of St. Barts in 1995 was the appearance of Brad Pitt and then fiancée, Gwyneth Paltrow, who were captured in nude photographs by paparazzi at Hotel le Toiny.
St. Barts posts signs forbidding nudity on the beaches, but keep in mind it is a French island and topless sunbathing is not uncommon. Besides, nobody seems to care or even notice.
In truth, the laissez-faire, nonchalant ambience of St. Barts is as much an attraction for celebrities as the pricey accommodations and meals, because nobody bothers them. That relative anonymity is worth its weight in gold.
A trip to St. Barts is like stepping into Paul Gauguin’s world with room service.
St. Barts is a place to shed the rhythms of hustle and bustle and discover yourself in glorious sunshine, superb dining and eternal beaches.
For a bit less extravagance, but with all the comforts, Le Village is the only 4-star property on the island. Operated by Catherine Charneau and her three brothers, Le Village was the first hotel on St. Barts to offer air conditioning.
To truly enjoy St. Barts, just bring something good to read and some sun tan lotion.
Getting a marguerita and a cheeseburger in this paradise might cost a little more, but you can always hit the beach in your bikini, mono-kini or no-kini and that doesn’t cost a thing.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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