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Hanging Out in St. Barts
Useful Tips and Resources
by
Jon Gerloff and Esrin Gozukizil

 
Plane landing at St. Barth’s Airport
Plane landing at St. Barth’s Airport
Its low season on St. Barthelemy right now.  But right now is when we wanted to take a vacation.  All the locals think it’s too hot and so a lot of restaurants close up shop and won’t open back up until November.  The island is empty, and it turns out, that’s just the way we like it. 

St. Barth’s, for anybody living on the west coast, is not an easy place to get to.  But three planes later we were in paradise, French West Indies.  You can only reach St. Barth’s via a ten minute puddle jumper airplane or a ferry that takes a lot longer.  Cruise ships do not, thank god, stop there.  The flight in can be a little hair-raising as they seemed to have put the airport in the worse place imaginable.  To land, pilots must battle high winds while barely clearing the pass of a hill, before dropping like an anchor onto the runway.  Then it’s brake, brake, brake, before sliding into the ocean.  Keep a close eye out, for the runway actually ends right at one of the more popular beaches, and topless bathing is the norm. 

We had a rental car for our stay and this is highly advisable.  The island is dotted with wonderful beaches where the sand is clean, the water crystal clear and colored a beautiful light blue, and the waves are gentle.  The only way to get to them is to drive.  The roads on St. Barth’s are not good, though.  Signage is poor, the roads themselves are narrow, and the locals are impatient.  Driving on St. Barth’s is like driving on interconnected washer boards because the roads are laid in cement blocks with large seams between the blocks, which they further corrugate for water runoff.  But the good news is that the island is so small you never have a long ways to go and the person following so close behind you is bound to turn off before you.

What to do on St. Barth’s is pretty simple: eat, sleep, shop and lay in the sun.  When we were there the trade winds were blowing strong, the sky was cloudy and there was some rain.  But when it cleared you longed for the cloud cover because it was so hot and humid.  You could sweat just drinking a beer, so you better drink it fast.

“St. Jean Beach II”
“St. Jean Beach II”
Our favorite beaches were St. Jean II (the II was our nickname for it because we usually went there after St. Jean I), which is right at the end of the airport runway, and St. Jean I, right in front of the restaurant Nikki Beach (an excellent place for lunch).  Both beaches have therapeutically warm water, a gentle slope, and very little wave activity.  From St. Jean II you can see the planes land and take off, which can be exciting. 

Our third favorite beach was Flamands.  There the beach is wide, the slope a little steeper, and the waves a little stronger.  But the beach is long and wide and perfect for a soft sand run.  Our fourth favorite beach was Saline.  It’s almost exactly like Flamands but you have to walk quite a ways to get there.

Beautiful Flamands Beach
Beautiful Flamands Beach

Our least favorite beaches were Governors, though beautiful, it had too many rocks, except for one opening, making it next to impossible to get into the water, and L’Orient, which had too many kids and too many people all together.  At both Saline and Governors there’s a parking lot for cars.  At the others it’s street parking.  But unlike some other Caribbean islands, you can leave items in your car.  The crime rate is negligible on St. Barths. 

Here’s a little tip, don’t bother packing snorkel gear.  Instead bring along beach chairs.  We schlepped snorkel gear all the way from LA and never broke it out once.  But oh, how I wished I had a beach chair.  Also, beach hop until you find the one suited best for you.  Weather conditions of the day might make one beach preferable over another. 

We had some wonderful meals on St. Barths.  My favorite was Eddy’s.  The menu includes local fish and Creole dishes and the ambiance is relaxed.  The ceiling is high and made of rattan and the art work is African and Arab influenced.  Prices were reasonable and the meal cost $150 for the two of us, which included a before-dinner pastis, appetizers, main course, dessert, a bottle of wine and after-dinner drinks.  I had the Wahoo stirred up with Chinese noodles and lots of cilantro.  The fish was blackened, highly seasoned and very tasty.  My wife had the shrimp sautéed in the curry of the day.  Dessert was also phenomenal, a simple warm chocolate cake with ice cream.

Gustavia Harbor
Gustavia Harbor

Another favorite of ours was the K’fe Massai.  The owner is a young entrepreneur, Michael Proust, who also owns Le Cave, a local wine shop.  He’s been the owner of K’fe Massai for only this past year but he says that business is very good.  The interior of the restaurant is lovely.  It has a very open feeling to it, with tasteful muted lights, dark wood furnishings and African artwork.  The menu is prix-fix and ran us 143 euro, but again that included a before-dinner aperitif, dessert, a bottle of wine and an after-dinner digestive.  The choices change every day, from salads to foie gras for starters, to lamb and lobster for main course.  And dessert was included.  Once a week he offers a special menu that the chef decides upon.

Another place to get an excellent meal was Maya’s, right in Gustavia.  Maya’s was right on the water, very casual, and yet cost us a lot of money.  I checked the bill twice so I know it was right and I’ll justify the cost by saying that I had one of the better pieces of fish I’d ever eaten, a Wahoo glazed with carrots, but $250 for that meal was too high.   

View of St. Jean’s Beach from Nikki Beach
View of St. Jean’s Beach from Nikki Beach

On Thursday nights La Marine in Gustavia imports fresh mussels from France and the place was packed.  They were about the best mussels I’d ever had but the service was so horrible that the meal took three hours.  It’s reasonably priced but besides the bad service there were some additional items on our check that hadn’t been ordered.  Still, it was under 100 euro.

One of the more highly touted restaurants is Le Gaiac, inside the La Toiny Hotel.  Le Gaiac is fancier than the other restaurants; shorts are not acceptable.  It sits high on a mountain overlooking the ocean and the service is exceptional.  Unfortunately, we found the food to be uninspired.  Dinner with all the fixings came to 250 euro. 

We almost always had lunch at Nikki Beach in St. Jean’s. 

It’s a wonderful location, right on the beach (St. Jean I), with the Eden Rock Hotel (under construction for the next year) off to the left.  Nikki Beach’s Thai shrimp salad with noodles is so good you can eat it every day and not get tired of it.  And if your server really likes you, they’ll bring some local vanilla rum over for an after dinner palate cleanser.

View from breakfast at Guanahani
View from breakfast at Guanahani

A lot of people that stay on St. Barth’s rent villas instead of staying in hotels.  Since this was our first time we decided to stay in a hotel.  We were booked at the Guanahani Hotel and had a very nice room with a balcony overlooking the beach.  The beach itself is fairly windy but there are lots of chaise lounges and palm frond umbrellas from where you can put your feet up, lay that good book you brought along face down on your stomach, and watch all the wind- and kite-surfers streaking back and forth.  Breakfast at the Guanahani is not to be missed either. 

Your choice of continental buffet or made to order American breakfast was included in the price of the room.  Rooms aren’t cheap, neither is food, and with the falling dollar St. Barth’s is not a bargain.  But it sure was nice.

 

 

Even without a lot to do on the island, the day fills up.  You start to get into an island rhythm.  I can’t wait to go back, but next time I want to stay even longer.              

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Jon Gerloff and Esrin Gozukizil are a husband and wife team specializing in world travel and fine dining. Jon is a writer currently working on his second novel. Esrin works in television development for a major production company.

You can reach the authors at: JonGerloff@aol.com (Jon Gerloff and Esrin Gozukizil)

 

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