There’s a reason why celebrities, models, socialites, and It girls (like Bella Hadid, Jessica Alba, and Chrissy Teigen) meet like clockwork every year on the tropical paradise of St. Barth’s for the holidays.
The island, an overseas collectivity of France, blends the sophistication of St.-Tropez with the laissez-faire Caribbean lifestyle—which means it’s exclusive yet totally unpretentious.
Walk into any beach-front restaurant, for instance, and you’ll see well-dressed women with Birkins eating lunch beside sandy, barefoot beach goers; walk into a club wearing jean cutoffs and no one will raise an eyebrow. It’s a specific brand of laid-back luxury that breeds instant converts. Make one trip, and you’ll find yourself immediately hooked. Still, St. Barth’s can be an intimidating place to navigate if you’ve never been especially during the holidays. Here’s everything you need to know before planning a trip.
Getting There There are no direct flights to St. Barth’s... Unless you charter your own plane. If a PJ isn’t a possibility, the next best option is flying to Princess Juliana International Airport on the Dutch side of St. Maarten, where, upon landing, you choose your own adventure for the final leg: a 15-minute flight or a 45-minute ferry crossing.
Flying will get you to paradise quickly, but the flight itself—a roughly dozen-seat puddle-jumper—is not for the faint of heart. The runway in St. Barth’s happens to be one of the shortest in commercial aviation, making for white-knuckled landings. Book your flights in advance as only two commercial airlines provide shuttle flights to and from the island. Or there’s the ferry: an incredibly unglamorous but efficient option for nervous flyers. Buy your tickets in advance to secure your seat.
Where to Stay Cushy accommodations aren’t hard to come by in St. Barth’s, however, they sell out early. For complete seclusion, the freshly renovated Hôtel Le Toiny St. Barth is a no-brainer. The hotel’s neutral color palette and understated decor will make you feel like you’re living in the pages of an interior design magazine. Le Toiny has just 14 individual villas spread out over 42 acres—which means you may never see another guest the entire time you’re there. It’s quite the opposite at Eden Rock St. Barth’s, a splashy island mainstay where people go to see and be seen. The property even has a rock star–themed villa that’s equipped with a professional recording studio (Kenny Chesney has recorded tracks there), as well as a staff that prides itself on immaculate attention to detail.
The Christian Liaigre–designed Le Sereno is perfect for people who want something hip and trendy yet private at the same time. Couples often tend toward the elegantly romantic Cheval Blanc; adults traveling with children flock to the family-friendly Le Guanahani. Unlike many other properties, Hotel Christopher isn’t on the beach, but its infinity pool—arguably the island’s best—is so spectacular you won’t even miss the sand. If you like having the comforts of home while on holiday, rent a villa. The island is known for its palatial pads, which range from one-bedroom guest houses to eight-bedroom estates. Companies take care of all the arrangements—from airport transfers and dinner reservations to booking babysitters and organizing a masseuse.
The Beaches One thing St. Barth’s regulars love about the island is the diversity of its beaches. There are 16 of them, each with its own distinct personality. At Saline Beach you’ll find topless women frolicking in the translucent azure water and stretches of soft, white sand that feel like powdered sugar between your toes. However, Saline, like most other beaches on St. Barth’s, is rather bare bones—no bars, no shops, no restaurants—so pack your own snacks and water. If you prefer a more vibrant scene, head to St. Jean, where hot spots like Eden Rock and Nikki Beach provide ample people-watching. During the day, you’ll find the surfers at beaches like Toiny or Lorient and the snorkelers at Gouverneur or Petite Anse, but for sunset, everyone descends upon Shell Beach. It’s covered in millions of thumbnail-size shells and home to the famed Do Brazil.
By Day Contrary to its über-chic image, the island is surprisingly casual in the afternoon, so don’t break out your heels before dusk. Unless, of course, you spend a Sunday carousing at Nikki Beach. Once a week, the posh beach club turns into a table-dancing day party complete with bottle service, model-esque waiters, and oversize sushi boats. Looking for something low-key? Head to Do Brazil, a no-frills joint on Shell Beach where you grab a table in the sand, order a mojito, and go for a swim while the bartender is muddling your mint. There are plenty of bikini-friendly spots, too: Maya’s To Go and Kiki-é Mo have fresh salads and sandwiches; Tom’s Juice Bar in Gustavia is known for tangy house-made juices, acai bowls, and smoothies. If you’re renting a villa and prefer to cook for yourself, Marché U, just across from the airport—is flush with amazing produce.
By Night When the sun goes down, the island starts living up to its glamorous reputation. The swankiest spot for dinner is Bonito Saint Barth, a Latin-French restaurant that has a South Beach–meets–St. Barth’s vibe and no shortage of beautiful patrons. Traveling as a couple? Go to Jean-Georges’s romantic On the Rocks at Eden Rock and prepare to fall in love all over again. The restaurant is perched high above St. Jean Bay with views to die for. Request a table by the ledge. French-Japanese fusion eatery Orega, located in the heart of Gustavia, is unanimously considered one of the best new additions to the local dining scene.
After-Hours If you go to St. Barth’s and don’t experience Le Ti St-Barth, you’re doing it wrong. The raucous, kitschy nightclub is a rite of passage for first-timers. Waiters whisk you into a secret back room, dress you up like you’re going to Burning Man, and send you off onto the strobe light–soaked dance floor. (Hot pink mullets, matador capes, and feather boas are standard attire.) Bagatelle, an offshoot of the original in New York, gets similarly rowdy, minus the costumes. Another New York transplant, 1 Oak, opened its first St. Barth’s outpost over Christmas and quickly became the celeb-studded club of the season. Should you be in the mood for a late-night bender, look no further than Modjo St Barts. The lounge-club hybrid usually doesn’t get going until after 1a.m.