French speaking Saint Barthélemy, more commonly known as St Barth’s or St Bart’s, is famous for its white-sand beaches and designer shops. The kind of place you might well have read of in the gossip columns and a favourite with the seriously rich but not, necessarily, famous.
The capital, Gustavia, encircles a harbour filled with the kind of yachts that give a clue as to who your fellow visitors might be. The town has a selection of high-end restaurants with Asian-fusion eatery Orega regularly garnering five-star reviews. At Public, Maya’s is an institution and very popular with lovers of seafood. Out of town, at Grand Saline, Le Tamarin offers exquisite French, Caribbean and international cuisine. But don’t confine yourself to just the restaurants; like all Caribbean islands, St Barth’s boasts its fair share of street food vendors and fish shacks – though possibly slighter posher than you might expect.
Close to the harbour in Gustavia you’ll find historical attractions like the Wall House, whose exhibits highlight the island’s Swedish colonial era. Perched above town is 17th-century Fort Karl, looking out over popular Shell Beach.
Gustavia is also the main shopping venue, and we’re talking serious shopping. Here you’ll find big name jewellery and designer stores as well as one-off ateliers – make sure to pack your credit card.
A popular way of seeing the island is from the water, either on a rented craft (if you don’t own a yacht) or via a day trip. A marine reserve since 1996, St Barth’s offers more than 22 dive sights with shipwrecks, caves and reefs to be explored. The surrounding seas are abundant in wildlife, so, as well as people watching, it’s great for fish spotting too.
And, sticking with things maritime, there are also some excellent surfing spots. St Jean and Toiny are both great surfing beaches and at Lorient you’ll get waves and the chance to visit the island’s surf hut.
If you’re wondering when to plan your visit, December to March is the dry season, and also the busiest, though the island’s warm, tropical climate ensures beaches are visited year-round. There’s jazz and chamber music in Gustavia and Lorient during the St Barth’s Music Festival in January. Carnival, around February/March is a time for street parades and The Bucket Regatta, in March, is a well-known sailing event. Hurricane season is July to November, which is also, not surprisingly, the wettest time.