Saint-Barthélemy

Saint-Barthélemy (also known as St-Barth or St-Barts), a piece of France picked up and put down in the tropics, has a well-deserved reputation as a holiday heaven for the rich and famous. Pop stars and film stars have been seen here, but mostly they hide away in their luxury villas or exclusive hotels where management understands the meaning of privacy. Gourmet French restaurants, Créole bistros and chic designer boutiques all enhance the image of expensive indulgence, but in fact prices are no higher than in France, and that includes the wine. It is a beautiful island of only 24 sq km, with rugged volcanic hills and 22 splendid white sandy beaches, most of which are protected by both cliff and reef.

Getting there

St-Barts is only a short hop from St Maarten/St-Martin and there are dozens of daily flights from both the French and Dutch sides from 0700-1700 in small
planes. There are also good links with other neighbouring islands. It is difficult to get there in a day from Europe, although it is possible from Paris via Sint Maarten. From the USA, the b
est connections are via San Juan. You can also get there by boat from St-Martin.

Getting around

Taxi tours are available for a quick tour of the island, but if you are renting a villa you will need car or mini moke hire for visiting different beaches or for shopping.

Gustavia

For most of its colonial history, St-Barts was French, but in 1784-1878 it belonged to
Sweden, traded by France in return for shipping rights in Göteburg. The Swedish influence is still evidenced in the city hall, the belfries, the forts (Karl, Oscar and Gustave), the street names and the trim stone houses which line the harbour. The harbour,
or Carénage, was renamed Gustavia after the 18th-century Swedish king, Gustavus III. Today, however, the atmosphere is thoroughly French. Since the 1980s a huge amount of restoration and rebuilding has taken place to enhance the harbour and make it a tourist attraction. There are branches of several well-known French and other designer shops (such as
Cartier
,
Hermès
,
Armani
and
Louis Vuitton
). The small crowd of town habitués is mostly young, chic and French. The food, wine and aromas are equally Gallic. The town is a free port and the harbour is always full of yachts of all sizes; ferries and cargo ships berthed a little further out. The town is delightful, very pretty and very clean, as is the whole island, thanks to the local government collecting rubbish daily.

In the southeast corner of the harbour by the promenade is a truly massive
anchor
. Probably from a British Royal Navy frigate, and dating from the late 18th century, it weighs 10 tons. Marked “Liverpool...Wood...London”, it came to Gustavia by curious means in 1981. The cable of a tug towing a barge across from St Thomas fouled on something at the entrance of the harbour. A man dived down to have a look and found the anchor. It is thought that the cable dragged it up as the tug left St Thomas and, suspended below water, it got carried across. Opposite the anchor is
St Bartholomew's Anglican Church
, in a prime position overlooking the harbour. It dates from 1855 and is of simple construction with shuttered windows. The walls are of local stone, but the bricks for the steps came from France and the dark lava corner stones came from St Eustatius. Round the corner and up rue Gambetta is a stone
bell tower
of an old Lutheran church destroyed by a hurricane. The bell is named after a Swedish princess, Sofia Madgalena, and was cast in 1799 in Stockholm. It was used for celebrations, to announce the death of local citizens and to ring the curfew (2000) until the 1920s. In 1930 a clock was added to take the place of children, who tolled the bell at sunrise and sunset. The Roman Catholic Church,
Notre Dame de L'Assomption
, was built in 1822 but was destroyed in 1837. Rebuilt in 1842, it is of Hispanic design rather than French or Swedish, which is unusual in the French islands. Its bell tower is higher up the hill to allow the sound to carry further and prevent damage if the bells should fall during a hurricane.

Anse de Grands Galets
, in Gustavia, three or four minutes' walk from the harbour front, is also known as
Shell Beach
. It is a small bay, with cliffs and rocks at either end and patches of pink shells. There is a beach bar here,
Dõ Brazil
, and boulders among which you can settle yourself for the day, but no shade.

St-Barts Municipal Museum
, has a fair cross section of historical material including clothing, household items, fishing tools and Amerindian archaeo- logical finds, as well as old photos and models of traditional houses on the ground floor of the Wall House which is believed to date from the end of the 18th century.

Around St-Barts

The main resort area is
Baie de Saint-Jean
. There are several small and medium-sized hotels here, many restaurants, bars, shopping plazas and other entertainment, strung along the coast. It is also very close to the airport runway and if you walk along the beach you may feel you need to duck when the small planes come over. The large bay is divided by
Eden Rock
, upon which is a luxury hotel (under renovation 2005). The sand extends quite a way out but the beach is protected by a shallow reef and swimming is safe, ideal for families. It is breezy, making it good for windsurfing. Motorized watersports are only allowed 300 m off the beach.

Lorient
is another large and popular bay, although quieter than St-Jean. There are a couple of paths down to the beach in between the villas along the shoreline. The village is pleasant, with a couple of good supermarkets stocked with French cheeses and other delicacies. The name Lorient has nothing to do with the orient. It is a corruption of Quartiers d'Orléans, stemming from the old administrative name for the area.

Corossol
is a typical fishing village and maintains an air of days gone past. There are many old wooden houses here, mostly neatly kept and brightly painted. The
Inter Oceans Museum
, is an absorbing, private collection of 9,000 seashells, corals and stuffed fish from all around the world. The owner, M Ingenu Magras, is enthusiastic about his collection and will introduce you to the 100,000 species distributed around the oceans of the world, of which some 1,600 species are found in the Caribbean.

Colombier
beach is one of the most unspoilt beaches on the island. It cannot be reached by car but is well worth the 20 or 30 minutes' walk for the majestic views of the island. There are two trails going down to the beach. One is a steep one down from Colombier on top of the hill, but a nicer one with spectacular views of all
the little islands offshore starts from La Petite Anse just beyond Anse des Flamands. There is no shade and no facilities. There are also several day tours by boat from Gustavia.
Anse des Flamands
beach is of very clean white sand with three hotels and numerous villas. The bay is not in the marine reserve, so watersports are available. From April to August, female sea turtles come to Colombier, Flamands and Corossol to lay their eggs.

Beaches and activities

Marigot
is a small bay with crystal clear water of many colours, rocky beach with small patches of sand and outcrops of rocks, this is a good beach for snorkelling. It is in the high protection area of the marine reserve, so no fishing, motorized watersports or scuba diving are allowed and it is very quiet. For details on the
Réserve Naturelle
, www.reserve-naturelle-stbarthelemy.com
, contact the office in Gustavia on the harbour front.
 Grand Cul de Sac
bay is so protected from the sea by the peninsula and reef that it is almost like a lagoon, with very tranquil, shallow water in a variety of blues and greens with patches of rocks and weed as well as sand. Windsurfing, kitesurfing and other non-motorized watersports are available at the
St Barth Beach Hotel
and there is a dive shop on the road leading to the beach.

Anse de Toiny
and
Anse du Grand Fond
are on the Atlantic side of the island and unprotected from the currents. Swimming is not advised here, although surfing is popular.
Anse du Grand Saline
is a wide expanse of beach with beautiful white sand. Backed by sand dunes and protected by cliffs and rocks at either end, this is one of the most beautiful beaches in St-Barts, if not the Caribbean. Behind the beach is the salt pond, from which the area gets its name, and here there are three restaurants where you can get lunch and/or dinner.

To get to
Gouverneur
from Gustavia take the road to
Lurin
, a high point on the island marked by a satellite mast. A sign will direct you to the very steep road leading down to the beach, with parking at the end of the road. The bay is very quiet and undeveloped. A legend says that the 17th-century pirate, Montbars the Exterminator, hid his treasures in a cove at Gouverneur and they have never been found.

Diving

There is excellent diving all round St-Barts, especially out round the offshore rocks, like the Groupers, and islands like Île Fourche. Sometimes in May the migrating sperm whales pass close by. Marine life has improved since the marine park was introduced and turtles now nest in greater numbers at Colombier, Fourchue and other beaches around the island.


This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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