The larger Grand Cul-de-Sac is a tourist enclave of million-dollar villas. To find the last threads of traditional life, visit the fishing village of Corossol on the southwestern coast, where old St. Bartian women still weave Panama hats and other handicrafts from latanier palms. (There are no street numbers on the island; instead, road signs point to a particular district).
Most of the hotels are small and atmospheric, and among the most expensive in the Caribbean. Many people return to the same inn or villa year after year. That’s why reservations for the most desirable properties should be made a year in advance. Some favorites include the 40-room Christopher Hotel with high-quality furnishings, the island’s largest swimming pool, and a full-service fitness center; overlooking Gustavia harbor, the Hotel Carl Gustaf’s red-tiled, gleaming suites have huge decks, plunge pools, TVs, faxes, stereos, and kitchens. The poolside bar is a must at sunset, and the elegant open-air restaurant is one of the most spectacular on the island.
Set on a remote hillside, Le Toiny’s dozen cottages, each with small pool, colonial-style mahogany furniture including four-poster beds, modern kitchen, and TV/VCR is a favorite jet-set haunt; there’s a French restaurant and a large communal pool as well. Located on St. Jean, one of the island’s better beaches, Filao Beach Hotel boasts 30 air-conditioned bungalows, perfumed gardens, large pool, windsurfing and snorkeling.
Nearby, Eden Rock sits on a craggy rock jutting into the sea, a tropical country house highlighted by eighteenth-century furniture and presided over by a parrot whose party piece is a wolf whistle. Formerly only six rooms, the exclusive Eden Rock now boasts 32 exquisite accommodations. You just might spot Cameron Diaz enjoying tapas or meandering along the beach. Even if you don’t stay in any of its five rooms, book a table for a dinner of avocado-and-tuna mousse, Veuve Clicquot, fish in ginger sauce, marbled chocolate cake, and cognac.
Rather than stay in a hotel, most vacationeers rent a villa from hundreds available, ranging from one-bedroom beach cottages to lavish six-bedroom clifftop estates, many with private swimming pools, for up to $18,000 a week in season. Sibarth, a real-estate agency in St. Barts, handles more than 200 villas as well as most of the island’s hotels. Expert at matching visitors with appropriate accommodations, Sibarth’s staff also arranges sailing, snorkeling, diving, horseback riding, and restaurant reservations. WIMCO (800–449-1553) is the agency’s representative in the United States. Whether you stay in a villa or a hotel, you will want to rent a car, so be sure to figure this as part of your budget.