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Whether you call it St. Barts, St. Bart's, St. Barths or St. Barthelemy, there is no disputing that this tiny island in the French Antilles is one of the ritziest and most luxurious cruise destinations in all the world. You won't find a land rich in architecture, bargain shopping, and enormous hotels and resorts. Instead, you'll find an island that is popular with high-end travelers due to the tranquil beaches, world-class dining, and unrivaled relaxation and comfort.
St. Barts was discovered in 1493 by the explorer Christopher Columbus. It has a population of about 9,000 people, and most of its inhabitants are a mix of French and Swedish descent. The "native" St. Barths make up about 30% of the population and have a distinct culture and manner of speech that distinguishes them from the more recent Metropolitan French arrivals.
St. Barts gained its popularity as an elite tourist destination partly in response to the modern nobles of the 20th century who made this land their winter getaway. You can visit the home of David Rockefeller, who inhabited the northwest corner of the island. Edmond de Rothschild and other members of his famed family used to come here frequently as well. Today, stars such as Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and the late John F. Kennedy Jr. have come here to vacation.
St. Barts's only town is the tiny capital of Gustavia. Here, you will feel as if you are strolling through a miniature fantasyland, with tiny European homes and businesses dotting the city's landscape. Gustavia has several delicious restaurants serving a variety of world cuisines, as well as ritzy shopping venues to satisfy your desire for exotic clothes, jewelry and much more.
Yet above all, the main draw of St. Barts is still its glorious beaches. Enjoy your day on this island by relaxing on one of 14 public beaches (all the beaches in St. Barts are public). Clothing is optional, and the scenery is spectacular.
As previously noted, the main draw of St. Barts is its stunning beaches. The island's 14 beaches are most crowded during the winter months, but you can always find a lovely spot to lay out and enjoy the sun's rays. If you are looking for a beach with some tourist facilities, head to the popular beaches of St. Jean and Grand Cul-de-Sac. At both of these spots, you will find restaurants, water-sports activities and more.
If you are looking for a more pristine stretch of coastline, head to Gouverneur Beach on the southern coast of the island. Here you will find no shops, no sleeping quarters and no restaurants, but plenty of beautiful scenery and sunshine. The most popular nude beach on the island of St. Barts is Grande Saline, located east ofGouverneur Beach.
Year-round, there is always plenty of fishing action surrounding the coastline of St. Barts, making the island a popular spot for anglers. Big game fisherman should contact Marine Service to arrange for a full-day charter to catch the fish of your dreams, including bonita, dorado and barracuda.
In addition, St. Barts is well known among scuba divers, snorkelers and windsurfers. Once again, the folks at Marine Service can help you with your adventure. If you are an experienced deep-sea diver, they can arrange to take you on a diving tour of the shipwreck of Kayali. Otherwise, you can take an introductory diving course or embark on several different dive tours. If snorkeling is your forte, head to any of the local beaches with your gear and explore the beautiful coastline. Or arrange for a guided seven-hour tour from Marine Services that includes lunch and equipment.
If you're looking for bargains in St. Barts, you can find them on such items as liquor and perfume because there are no duty taxes on these goods on the island. If you are looking for that perfect gemstone for your significant other, head to Diamond Genesis at 12 Rue du Général-de-Gaulle in Gustavia. Here, you will find exotic jewelry and gemstones from all over the world. Make sure to bring a loaded wallet, as many items are pricey.
If you would like to shop for some clothing while in St. Barts, head to one of several lovely boutiques and shops. Laurent Eiffel on Rue du Général-de-Gaulle sells designer knock-offs of such popular brands as Prada, Gucci and Chanel. Sud, Sud (590-27-98-75) on Galeria du Commerce specializes in swimwear as well as elegant evening wear.
La Terrazza (590-27-20-67) features delicious pasta dishes as well as tempting beef, fish, chicken and pizza. The restaurant is a favorite of the rich and famous, but fear not, for you can eat here comfortably and affordably as well. L'Iguane (590-27-66-60) offers a myriad of choices to dine on such as sushi, sandwiches, salads and more (it's closed in September and October).
L'Espirit Saline (590-52-46-10) features a south-of-France menu on a wooden deck near the water. Other top choices include Le Grain de Sel (590-52-46-05), La Gloriette (590-29-85-71) and Dõ Brazil.
There aren't many opportunities to party once the sun sets on this tiny island, but there are a couple bars to wet you whistle if you so desire. La Cantina (590-27-55-66) on Rue du Bord-de-Mer features an attractive bar as well as affordable food. The Bar de l'Oubli (590-27-70-06) is located in the Centreville area and features live American rock music in a festive atmosphere.
Cruise ships primarily dock at the island of St. Martin, located 15 miles from St. Barts. From there, ferries will tender you to the island. Once on St. Barts, finding your way around is simple and efficient. Some smaller ships will anchor in the bay and tender passengers to the island.
Taxis are located at the ferry dock when you arrive, and because the island is so small geographically, rates should not exceed $15. Private tours of the island can be arranged through your cab driver as well. Negotiate rates with him/her for a one-hour tour that will include many of the popular sites and vistas.
If you would like to navigate the roads of St. Barts on your own, you can either rent a car in Gustavia or opt to rent a motorbike or scooter. Contact Rent Some Fun (590-27-70-59) for rental information.
Language: French is the official language of St. Barts. Many residents, especially those involved in the tourism industry, also speak English. Creole is widely spoken on the windward side of the island, and a variety of Patois across the leeward side.
Currency: The Euro is the official currency, although U.S. dollars are widely accepted.
How about you? Have you been to St. Barts, or planning to go? We'd love to hear about your experience.
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“With its peaceful seclusion and sandy ocean bottom, Anse de Grande Saline is just about everyone's favorite beach and is great for swimming, too. ... In spite of the prohibition, young and old alike go nude. The beach is a 10-minute walk up a rocky dune trail, so be sure to wear sneakers or water shoes.”
“St. Jean Beach is where you go to see and be seen. If you want a quieter setting with nothing but sun, coral sun, and turquoise water, go to Grand Saline, Anse du Gouverneur, or Colombier.”
“We tender in St. Barts, and the crew packs for a champagne picnic on Grand Salina beach. The old me would have found three things to do by 9 a.m. Instead, I spend the day bobbing in the surf, buzzed on bubbly and sunshine.”
“La Gloriette: a laid-back Caribbean oasis right on the water at Grand Cul de Sac, with tables shaded by sea grape trees. Ideal for a Sunday lunch with a calamari steak, a piña colada, and your feet in the sand.”
“The prestigious St. Barths bucket Regatta is held every March and brings the world's biggest super-yachts into Gustavia's iconic picture-perfect harbor...”