My first introduction to St. Barth was a photo of Rudolf Nureyev standing on the deck of his beautiful home built on a rocky, beachfront cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Seeing the world-renowned dancer looking tan and relaxed, many miles from the clamoring crowds of adoring fans, I wondered why he had chosen this island as his natural sanctuary. It wasn’t until recently that I had a chance to visit St. Barth, and to experience personally, just what attracted Nureyev and so many celebrities since him to make this island their home away from home.
To get to St. Barth from New York City, I booked a flight to San Juan with a two-hour layover before boarding Tradewind Aviation (www.tradewindaviation.com) for the onehour hop to St. Barth. This is a great choice as there is no immigration or customs to deal with on San Juan for citizens of the USA. Other options include connecting through Antigua, Guadaloupe, or St. Maarten via Winair, St. Barth Commuter, and Tradewind Aviation. There are also several ferry services operating between St. Barth and St. Maarten, but some people refer to these as the “vomit comet,” so you may prefer to fly.
The small, efficient Gustavia Airport in St. Barth is a pleasure and a wonder. The runway is short and narrow and a 19-seat plane is the largest that can land here. Additionally, all pilots flying to the island must be specially trained. Once inside the airport, a quick flash of your passport and you’re on your way. Outside the terminal, a handsome, smiling driver from Le Guanahani put our bags in the hotel van and whisked us away for the ten-minute drive to the resort. Perfectly situated on a private 18-acre peninsula between Marigot Bay and Grand Cul-de-Sac, Le Guanahani (www.leguanahani.com) is an ideal getaway for both families looking for quality time together and couples wanting to spend a romantic sojourn in a sensual, tropical locale.
Upon entering the open-air lobby, we were greeted with a glass of Champagne by Le Guanahani’s managing director, Martein van Wagenberg, and his team of knowledgeable and passionate people who gave us a quick overview of the resort and all it’s luxurious amenities. Their love of Le Guanahani and St. Barth set the tone for a wonderful holiday.
Having just completed a four-year and $40 million renovation, Le Guanahani is the island’s premier private retreat, offering guests an elegant, casual, relaxed sanctuary in the Caribbean. The accommodations here, which include 30 rooms, 27 suites, and ten unique signature suites, are decorated in a West Indies style that blends seamlessly with the surrounding tropical landscape of hibiscus and coconut trees. All rooms and suites offer private terraces, and many feature private pools.
“Today’s travelers seek a refreshing experience led by simple pleasures, conspicuous leisure, dedication to sustainability, and an authentic, localized experience,” said van Wagenberg. “The evolution of Le Guanahani responds to this need for experiential travel. We want our guests to be transported into Le Guanahani’s colorful, lush, invigorating, and serene setting, from the moment their eyes meet the website to the dinner on the beach with their feet in the sand.”
Each element, from the guest cottages and dining areas to the room keys and letterhead are designed to make one feel at home while embodying the property’s art de vivre ambiance. The reimagined lobby and “explorer style” guest cottages feature an exclusive Le Guanahani customfurniture collection designed by Luis Pons (www.luispons.com) and inspired by the luggage chests used by explorers on their journeys through the colonies. The spirit of the redesign, says Pons, “reflects St. Barth and the experience of Le Guanahani as a lived-in story of simple pleasures, maps of life, and memories of happy times and magical days that drift serenely from one to the next.”
Our accommodations at Le Guanahani are heaven sent, and what else would you expect from the Serenity Suite? The two-bedroom beach cottage is perfectly situated on the hillside overlooking Grand Cul-de-Sac. The moment we entered the front door and saw the breathtaking views of the ocean we wanted to move in permanently! The open-plan layout of the great room features a large living room, dining area, and full kitchen. Floor-toceiling sliding glass doors frame the stunning vista outside and the expansive terrace, sundeck, and private pool.
The master bedroom has a four-poster king bed, a large dressing area, and bathroom with shower and relaxing Balneo tub. On the other side of the suite, off the living room, the second bedroom has high ceilings, a bathroom with shower/hammam, and a view of the ocean that makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning.
But don’t sleep too late. There is a lot to do and enjoy at Le Guanahani. The resort has two white-sand beaches, two tennis courts (artificial clay and grass), and a fitness center with treadmills, stationary bikes, free weights, and more. Classes here include Pilates, yoga, Zumba, and aqua fitness. A personal coach is available most mornings for some one-on-one training.
Water sports enthusiasts also have a plethora of options, including stand-up paddle boards, pedal boating, wind surfing, kayaks, snorkeling, jet boards, and Hobie Cats.
If on the other hand, you want to relax in the sun, enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings, savor exceptional food and wine, and delight in some spa pampering, you have come to the right place.
We began each day beachcombing for shells and swimming in the ocean before heading to Indigo, the hotel’s main restaurant that overlooks the pool and the beach. The full American breakfast of fresh fruits, homemade breads and pastries, as well as eggs, omelets, and other great options is served alfresco and provides a great opportunity to meet your fellow guests.
As this was our first trip to St. Barth, we asked the hotel to arrange for a tour of the island. A car and driver picked us up at Le Guanahani and gave us a personal tour of the beaches, hilltop lookouts, and some of the amazing houses that dot the landscape. Our driver, Laurent (www.taxi36stbarts.com/en), has lived on St. Barth for many years and seeing the island through his eyes was such a pleasure. He introduced us to many hidden gems such as Shell Beach, where I could have spent hours collecting sea glass; Saline Beach, consistently voted one of the best in the world (with nude and gay sections); Steve Martin’s extensive villa; and le piece de résistance, Rudulf Nureyev’s house!
St. Barth is well known as a destination where you can get away from it all and never leave your resort or villa, or you can eat, drink, and be merry in some incredible places.
Providing the best of both worlds is Bartolomeo, Le Guanahani’s culinary gem and a great place to socialize with friends or new acquaintances. Begin your evening at Bar ’to Lounge where the chef du bar will be happy to make your favorite drink or surprise you with one of his special creations.
Located in the heart of the hotel’s beautiful tropical gardens, in the evening Bartolomeo creates an elegant and romantic candle-lit setting where guests enjoy finely prepared dishes infused with Caribbean spices and Mediterranean flavors.
For starters, make sure to try the lobster ceviche with Peruvian marinade, Kaffir lime, fennel, avocado, and popped quinoa. Follow this with their amazing pan-fried sole fillet served with green asparagus and apricot white-butter sauce. The sommelier will recommend some great wines by the glass or bottle to accompany your meal, but make sure to leave room for dessert. My favorite? The chocolate soufflé with pan-fried orange slices and yuzu ice cream.
For those nights when you want to let your hair down (or dance on tables), Le Guanahani will make a reservation for you at one of the local hotspots. They will also arrange for a car and driver, which is essential if you are unfamiliar with the island’s winding roads, or if you prefer to drink rather than drive.
One of our most memorable dining experiences on St. Barth was at Bonito (www.ilovebonito.com) in Gustavia. A friend of ours in New York recommended this place, and we couldn’t have been happier. The moment we walked in we felt at home. A large, comfortable lounge area and bar lead the way to a circular dining terrace with great views of the harbor and the amazing yachts that frequent St. Barth. The atmosphere is just the right blend of casual and chic, with the DJ choosing a great mix of Caribbean, Latin, pop, and lounge music throughout the night.
We started with cosmos and vodka martinis at the bar, then went to our table for an exceptional dinner. They pride themselves on serving some of the best ceviche on the island, and you won’t be disappointed. The menu also features great fish and meat entrées with an emphasis on expertly prepared and seasoned dished. Not to be missed are the braised beef cheek in a red wine sauce with cipollini onions and a decadent mac and cheese; or the grilled tuna tataki with soba pasta, piquillos, ginger, cilantro, shiitake, and bok choy. For dessert, get to know some of the friendly staff and ask them what they are doing after work. There may not be any gay bars on the island, but Bonito is a wonderful place where you will feel right at home.
When it comes to entertainment venues, two of the most talked about on St. Barth are Nikki Beach (www.nikkibeach.com) and Le Ti St. Barth (www.letistbarth.com). At Le Ti, you’ll discover a popular restaurant and nightclub seductively swathed in red velvet that attracts party people from across the island and around the world. Well known for it’s themed nights, full-moon parties, burlesque, and cabaret, people come here to have a good time. It may get loud and crazy, but after a few cocktails you may find yourself dancing on top of a table with total strangers.
If you happen to like having a good time, and you don’t mind the people around you getting a little wild, then head for Sunday brunch at Nikki Beach. The food is good, the music is eclectic and fun, and the beach is right there in case you want to take a quick dip before or after brunch. With magnums of Champagne flowing all around us, an impromptu fashion show, the staff dressed in 1950’s Grease costumes, and customers danced on the tables (what’s is this about dancing on tables in St. Barth?). It was an unexpectedly joyful afternoon.
With an abundance of sunshine and clear blue skies, the next day was all about exploring the property and enjoying ourselves at Le Guanahani. The resort is committed to the conservation of the land and sea, and the onsite nature preserve reveals the environmental consciousness of Le Guanahani. Situated between two protected bay sides, the hotel lends itself to an abundance of wildlife. Guided tours and self-guided nature trails bring the island alive for guests, who can enjoy the beauty of sea turtles in their natural habitats. Several new offerings launched this year, including bi-annual interactive wellness retreats guided by leading experts from the US and France. As part of Managing Director van Wagenberg’s and the island’s affirmation in sustainability, educational activities will also be introduced for children, families, and multi-generational groups to benefit wildlife in the bay.
After spending the afternoon hiking around the property and snorkeling in the bay, I headed for the Spa by Clarins for some rejuvenating bodywork. Hidden among the lush vegetation, the spa provides a serene setting to indulge in some luxurious spa treatments. Throughout the spa, water, teak, mahogany, and lava stone create a healing and relaxing ambiance. Here you’ll find an adults-only swimming pool, steam room, tea pavilion, private outdoor showers, a spa boutique, and the salon by Frédéric Fékkai.
After a long, warm shower I met my massage therapist and was escorted to a large, peaceful treatment room. I choose the Melting Honey Deep Touch Massage, which incorporates deep pressure to relieve tension, eliminate any stiffness, and release negative energy. With the caring touch of an expert, my body was massaged using the ClarinsPRO Honey Massage Gel.
As my muscles relaxed and my mind drifted off into a state of bliss, I thought about my time spent on St. Barth, the wonderful people we met, and the great time we had.
The next time we visit Le Guanahani, I know it will feel like were coming back home—and that is what a world-class resort is all about.