I recently returned from an amazing holiday in St Barts, which is somewhere I've always wanted to go, so it was great to finally visit with my girlfriend in May 2016.
During the planning of this trip I noticed a distinct lack of guides and information about holidaying on the island, aside from the usual glossy publications and travel journalist articles. So, now that I'm back in London, I thought I'd document my holiday which hopefully is useful to someone else considering a trip to this little tropical paradise!
Getting to St Barts from London isn't exactly what you would call easy or cheap! The only airport on the island has a famously short runway with a ridiculously steep approach (flying in to which is somewhere on a scale from scary to fun, depending on how much you love flying!)
We flew from London Gatwick (LGW) to Antigua (ANU) with British Airways and then chartered a small 8-seater Tradewind turboprop on to St Barts (SBH) directly, which only took around 40 minutes and was a fun - and quick - way to arrive on the island, with us landing just in time for sunset cocktails!
As an aviation fan, the approach into St Barts made this one of the best flights I've ever been on! The little plane bumps around all over the place from turbulence as it is forced to fly low over the rugged terrain, hugging the contours of the land, in order to touch down early enough on the short runway. This surely makes it one of the most thrilling airport approaches in the world!
On the way home, we got the ferry from Gustavia to Oyster Pond, St Maarten, which was surprisingly choppy, and took around 1 hr 30 mins. Then a Liat flight from Princess Princess Juliana Airpot (SXM) to Antigua (ANU) and home to London Gatwick (LGW) from there, again via British Airways.
St Barts is full of amazing hotels and villas, which makes choosing a bit of a minefield. But after much research we opted for a 7-night stay at the wonderful Hotel Christopher, and it didn't disappoint.
Nestled into the hillside and hidden from view from the road, this oceanside hideaway was the perfect base for our Caribbean adventure.
The gardens were beautifully landscaped and echoed the island's own natural lush vegetation.
There was even an house iguana named Oscar, who would sometimes join us for breakfast or hang out by the pool!
St Barts is home to 14 beaches, all of which are absolutely stunning and diverse enough to justify visiting them all! We didn't have time for that, but we did see as many as we could, including some of the more remote beaches and coves. We visited in mid-May when the island is transitioning out of high season and you could count the number of people at the beach on both hands!
This is the first beach we went to and after a short but intense walk lugging our parasol over the sand dunes, we setup camp at the far left of the beach, which is the only place we could find any shade from the searing midday heat, given that it was too windy for the parasol!
The waves here are sufficiently lively to be enjoyable and there were several bodyboarders making the most of it.
Only accessible by either boat, or via a trail, we opted for the hike (more on that below) and the effort was truly worth it. The beach itself is very secluded, and at one end there are steps leading up to the old Rockefeller Mansion, which is off-limits to the public, but it certainly looks like an example of Mid-century modern architecture at its finest. This only adds further to the wonder of this private and idyllic cove.
Colombier Beach was extremely windy towards the southern end (turning left). However, if you turn right, and head towards the outcrop of land at the northern end you are more sheltered from the wind and it's practically a different beach altogether. So we went from having our picnic and ourselves sandblasted, to a calm spot safely tucked between two rocks, where we bedded ourselves in and spent the best part of the day sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling.
The calm, shallow and crystal clear waters are perfect for snorkelling and we saw many different species of tropical fish amongst the rocks at the northern end of the bay.
Somewhat out of the way, and a little tricky to find, Gouverneur beach is small and secluded. You can find shade under the palm trees at the entrance or at the foot of the steep rock faces at either end.
There was quite a swell, which rendered snorkelling pretty much fruitless, but it was fun lying back and floating with the ebb and flow of the waves.
We spotted this tiny cove from the observation point at the Colombier Beach trail head, and decided it would be a perfect spot from which to launch my drone (that I had lugged in my hand luggage all the way from London)!
This might be the most sparsely populated beach we encountered. There was one person there - and he was swimming! So the beach itself was empty, but there was quite a lot of seaweed washed up, so maybe this is why.
Of all the beaches we visited, the contrast between the lush green island vegetation and turquoise blue waters was perhaps most prominent here.
Gustavia is the island's capital and serves as its culinary, retail and cultural hub as well as a marina and port.
We dined at the legendary Eddy's, which has been around for over 20 years and serves delicious grilled seafood, salads and other French-Caribbean cuisine. The atmosphere is great and I love the setting, which comprised of an open-air garden, leading to the restaurant through a fairly unremarkable entrance from the street.
The distinctive low, red roofs of the local architectural style is quite striking and this alone is worth visiting Gustavia for. I read somewhere that some ancient law requires that no building be taller than a palm tree. Whether that's true or not, there is clearly something limiting the height of buildings because all of them are very low with a maximum of 2 or 3 stories.
Before I started researching St Barts, I didn't associate hiking with the island, but having been, I can confirm there are indeed some epic hikes if you are so inclined. We did two: the trail to Colombier Beach and the coastal path to the Grand Fond Rock Pools.
To Colombier Beach
After you've parked and enjoyed the view from the observation point, the hike starts along what appears to be a residential driveway. However, it quickly turns into a small, dirt path that follows the ridge of the terrain as it winds down to Colombier Beach.
Despite the heat and rugged terrain, which was exhausting - especially if you were carrying a picnic and a drone in the midday sun - there are stunning views at pretty much every point to distract you.
We had heard about tortoises being native to St Barts and, after having promised my girlfriend that we would see some, we were both delighted to see dozens of these little fellas on the hike back up to the road!
After watching them for a while, I couldn't help but admire how methodical and determined they are. "The Tortoise and the Hare" springs to mind - slow and steady wins the race!
To Grand Fond Rock pools
Having heard about these naturally forming rock pools, we were determined to find them. The starting point wasn't exactly obvious, so I've provided directions below.
Drive along the coastal road from Toiny towards Grand Fond, and when the road turns inland away from the coast, park in the small car park on the left.
Easy to miss, and a few metres back from the car park, take the path on the left hand side of the road, which leads to the beach.
Once you've reached the beach, admire the views, and turn right. You need to head for the headland. From here it doesn't look like there is a path, but there is!
Approach the end of the beach and make your way up the rocks. You will start to see a path emerge and keep following this along the coastline. You will need proper footwear, not sandals!
Looking back towards the beach where you emerged from the path. This is just the beginning of many striking views!
At places, the path seems to disappear but keep going, it will reappear again. Continue along the headland past the second outcrop in the distance.
As you make your way along the path, if you look inland, towards the craggy peak, you might see mountain goats camouflaged against the arid terrain. Keep going until you reach the rock pools - you will know when you get there, because the path fizzles out, and you can see the rock pools below.
Waves crash against the rocks causing the spray to form these spectacular rock pools.
Shopping & FOOD
Personally, I didn't go to St Barts for the shops. Sure, there is an impressive collection of high-end boutiques and it's quite something to see the likes of Bulgari, Chanel, Cartier et al. housed in colonial-style architecture and lining the quaint streets of this tiny Caribbean town.
But, because this wasn't a shopping trip, and because I'm more APC than Hermes, the only thing I purchased, other than food, was a bottle of rather nice rum!
The food on St Barts is incredible and lives up to its reputation. Everywhere caters to extremely high standard, which means you are pretty much guaranteed to eat well, but at a cost. The prices are, as expected, very high, even by my London standards!
When we weren't eating at the hotel, we went to Eddy's and the Le Select Snack Bar in Gustavia for an evening meal. Both were wonderful, and the snack bar served awesome burgers and fries, in an outdoor setting right in the centre of town. Also, here I discovered my new favourite beer, Carib!
We also had a couple of picnics with amazing food from the supermarket opposite the airport terminal and salad from Kiki-é Mo, opposite St Jean beach, where also served a great iced coffee!
I read somewhere before the trip that having a car is a must-have on the island, so we hired this awesome little Mini Cooper Cabriolet, which was perfect for zipping around the windy roads in style with the wind in our hair.
Now having driven on St Barts I can confirm that you would be seriously missing out without a car of your own. Not only does it afford you a great sense of freedom, but from pretty much every road, around every corner there is a stunning view.
The speed limit on the island is 45km/h (28mph), which most people don't seem to stick to, despite the tight corners, bumpy road surfaces and steep inclines!
Sign posts are kept to a minimum, so turns are easy to miss, but fortunately, navigating is surprisingly easy and intuitive because of the island's small size.
It's a lot of fun driving on St Barts and you can't really get lost because of how small the island is!
I will return to St Barts in the future! Next time I would probably rent a villa, partly for comparison having stayed in a hotel this time, but also being able to self-cater would be really great, especially for day trips to the beach, when you want to pack a picnic, or for an impromptu BBQ around the pool!