Everyone who’s ever been to St. Barts has a collection of very strong opinions about St. Barts. It comes with the territory. This is the place you must stay at. This is the bar you have to go to for sunset cocktails. The only beach you need to know is the one I go to, and the best time to go there is when I happen to go there myself. These types of unsolicited tips and quasi-factoids are typically bewildering and occasionally contradictory. The truth is that getting St. Barts right is easy. The island is all about unabashedly living your best life, regardless of when you visit or where your favorite beach is or which designer logo is on the beach bag you bring there.
One of the newest entrants onto the scene is the Hôtel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf Saint-Barth, which made a quiet opening splash amid the first pandemic high-season in October 2020. It’s a bite-sized boutique property with 21 rooms, including private bungalows and a multi-bedroom villa. As opposed to the party-centric Eden Rock or the see-and-be-seen large resorts scattered across the island, Le Carl Gustaf takes an understated, low-key approach to the luxe life. It’s more about private indulgence in paradise than it is making an impression on your fellow vacationers.
Planning Your St. Barts Trip
Unless you have your own private plane or yacht, the most common route for reaching Saint Barthélemy — believe me when I tell you I couldn’t care less how you choose to shorten and stylize that name, but other people most definitely do — is to connect through Sint Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM), and then take a 10-minute jump of a flight on Winair or another local hopper airline. There’s also a ferry between the islands as an alternate option. The most convenient choice for U.S. travelers, though, may be connecting through San Juan, which eliminates the hassle of going through international customs during your connection. From there, Tradewind offers one-hour flights.
However you plan your route, if you’re coming by air you’ll enjoy one of the world’s great landings, popping up and over a rocky outcropping and down into a dramatically sloped and recessed airstrip, hidden away as if the folks on St. Barts don’t really want the rest of the world to figure out they can get there. (The tiny island is home to only 10,000-or-so year-round residents, a figure that’s dwarfed by the number of visitors mucking up the place during the busy months.)
Prime season, for what it’s worth, is about November through February, followed by a calendar dotted with regattas in March and April. But you’re an adult and can go whenever you’d like or whenever you score the best deal. Getting this right should be easy.
The Boutique Barrière Experience
Le Carl Gustaf is a member of the Hotels Barrière group, a swanky French brand which now has a total of 18 properties. Barrière is best known for Le Majestic in Cannes, and has locations throughout France, in addition to offshoots in Marrakech and New York City.
In St. Barts, the brand brings its signature chic French vibes to the forefront. It’s sexy from the moment you walk in the door, entering via a seemingly nondescript driveway only for the lobby to immediately open up into a sensational panorama view of sloping hills covered in palm trees and a yacht-filled marina below. The mood is buoyed by the white Panama hat proffered to you alongside a glass of welcome Champagne as you soak up those views during check-in.
Standalone rooms are scattered down the hillside of the property, connected by wooden decks and stairs back up to the hotel’s main hub. Each is named for a famous spot on the island, and includes standout features such as ample terraces with private plunge pools, lounge chairs and sweeping ocean views. Bathrooms are bedecked in white marble, and decor includes white-washed wooden plank walls and natural fibers offset by tropical green patterns, with yellow and white stripes serving as the hotel’s beach color scheme. These are the things you start noticing on St. Barts.
The iconic Fouquet’s restaurant is located right within that stunner of a lobby, occupying an indoor-outdoor space that serves as the beating heart of the property. It’s the spot to gather for a perfect French omelette at breakfast, to enjoy a cocktail with one stunning nightly sunset after another, to indulge in caviar service during dinner, and then maybe to relish a nightcap or two before bed. Choose wisely on a go-big-or-go-home-style wine and Champagne list, or opt for a quaff from a cocktail menu highlighted by perfume concoctions which receive a liberal spritzing of aromatic tinctures made from garden ingredients.
Le Carl Gustaf’s positioning is one of the factors which sets it apart from the other five-stars on St. Barts. It’s perched atop “downtown” Gustavia, the main thoroughfare of the island filled with trendy shops, galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes. That provides a unique vantage point, and allows guests to capitalize on off-property attractions without much literal or figurative legwork.
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That doesn’t mean that you’re surrendering beach access when you stay at the property, though. Shell Beach is a two-minute stroll from the hotel, and the Le Carl Gustaf offers serviced, reservable lounge chairs on the sand in front of its popular Shellona beach club. The appropriately named stretch is a small oceanfront crescent pinned between rocky cliffs on both sides, and covered with tiny seashells as opposed to soft sand. The beach is more of a quiet, locals destination for a quick dip, but that doesn’t stop the bottles of rosé from flowing at the club all the same, with its lounge music starting to bump by 11 in the morning.
Over the course of a long weekend, there’s little need to take a step farther than down to the beach and back up to your suite. For those that feel like exploring the island a bit more, renting a car is always recommended on St. Barts. You just must get a Mini Cooper or a Land Rover. Or not. The hotel also offers complimentary e-bikes that you can cruise around with for nearby ventures. Other activities on offer include catamaran cruises and beach picnics, or you can sign up for a yoga session with your terrace serving as the site of a private tutorial. Your room even has a handy aquabike on standby that the team can drop into your plunge pool for some low impact exercise with a view.
The property’s Spa Diane is in-demand for both guests and day-pass visitors alike, and offers a range of intensive skincare and cosmetic services in addition to a more typical assortment of massage treatments. It’s attached to a well-equipped fitness center, so however you’d like to feel your best in between rounds of rosé and bites of crunchy baguette slathered in butter, you should be set.However you would feel your best, and whichever way you would like to approach your time on St. Barts — that’s what it’s all about. So forget the hoity-toity recommendations and mandates and rules. It’s pretty hard to screw this up.
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