Gustavia, St. Barthélemy

Photo: Hotel Carl Gustaf
Photo: Hotel Carl Gustaf

The storms are over. That’s right, the Atlantic hurricane season has finally ended. Or at least, it’s just about to. After a relatively quiet summer and fall, the Caribbean is reawakening. Island hotels are reopening, adding fresh coats of paint, refilling the pools, and stocking the bars. By late December, all of the rooms will be full of people celebrating Christmas or getting ready to ring in the New Year. Which means you have a few weeks to enjoy the beginning of the season before the holiday crowds descend.

St. Barthélemy–usually shortened to St. Bart’s–is one of the islands you won’t be able to get near around the holidays. The small, L-shaped island is only about half the size of Manhattan. It doesn’t have a port for large cruise ships. And it’s short airstrip only accommodates puddle jumpers. So unless you booked years ago, have won an Academy Award, or your album sits atop the pop charts, your dream of getting a little taste of the French Riviera in the Caribbean at the end of the year is practically impossible.

But if you go now, the island named after Christopher Columbus’ brother, Bartolomeo, will be quiet and peaceful. The hills are green after the summer rain. The beaches–remote Colombier, calm Grand Cul de Sac, and popular St. Jean–are clean and empty, except for a few ghost crabs. And Gustavia, the tiny, red-roofed capital, will feel quaint and unhurried. Spend the morning exploring the remains of the three 17th century forts: Oscar, Karl, and Gustav. Visit the harbor-facing Anglican Episcopal Church. Browse the crafts at Le Ti-Marché, an open-air market, and then buy perfume at the duty-free shops before they close for lunch.

Photo: Dõ Brazil Restaurant
Photo: Dõ Brazil Restaurant

For your own lunch, pick up a Nico sandwich with goat cheese and prosciutto at Maya’s To Go, and head to Shell Beach. The cozy cove, on the edge of the city, is where you can spend the afternoon snorkeling and picking up shells and sea glass. Later in the afternoon, when you start to hear reggae farther down the beach, follow it to Dõ Brazil for live music, Saravah cocktails, and the ceviche of the day.

Spend your first evening on the island at your hillside hotel, the Carl Gustaf. Your junior suite has a living room, a plunge pool, and a view of the yacht-filled harbor. Sit in the steam room or take an essential oils shower at the spa. Eat yellowfin tuna tartare and Caribbean fish bouillabaisse at Victoria’s Restaurant overlooking all of Gustavia. A bottle of your favorite rosé Champagne has been chilling in the wine cellar. Move to the lounge for a glass of eau de vie–colorless fruit brandy–when you finish your meal.

In the morning, buttery croissants and freshly squeezed juice will be delivered to your terrace, so you can enjoy breakfast in the morning sun while you decide which beach to fall in love with for the day. Whichever one you select, the hotel will deliver a picnic lunch, complete with linens, crystal, and silver. You may not have an Oscar, but you’ll still be treated like royalty on St. Bart’s. At least until the real stars arrive.

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