Let’s be perfectly honest—Saint Barthélemy is not what the average traveler imagines when booking a Caribbean getaway. It’s easily the most intimidating destination in this region, at least in terms of reputation. After all, not long before I recently landed at Gustaf III Airport, some guy named Jeff Bezos pulled anchor on his megayacht after spending the holidays here, leaving the magnificently blue waters because they were a little too crowded with other floating palaces.
There are, of course, myriad reasons that St. Barth has long been a stomping ground for A-listers. Howard Hughes probably chose it for the privacy, just as the Kardashians have in recent years. The world’s biggest supermodels, like Chrissy Teigen and Miranda Kerr, undoubtedly dig it for the serenity, with the stunning natural beauty serving as a better backdrop than any Sports Illustrated or Victoria’s Secret photo shoot. Countless couples, from Beyoncé and Jay Z to Leonardo DiCaprio and whomever he’s dating this month, know that few places are as romantic. And Paulina Gretzky most recently proved that the island also knows how to party.
Factor in the armada of 9-figure floating mansions surrounding this 9-square-mile island, and it’s easy to see why John Q. Everyman might not think this is the right destination for his family. Yes, St. Barth is expensive, but that hardly means it is exclusive. And since this is supposedly the era of “Go Big, Spend Big,” there’s no reason this shouldn’t be the island people choose.
The decision on where to stay then boils down to where your family will most feel at home, and the answer is very simple: Hôtel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf.
Fall in Love with Diane
When it comes to visiting properties throughout the Caribbean, I always focus on the first impression. However, at this hotel, I’m beginning with the aspect that left the biggest impression: Villa Diane. There isn’t a bad accommodation at Le Carl; there isn’t even anything that checks in at less than astounding. But if I am planning the most unforgettable gathering in the entire history of my family tree, it will take place in Villa Diane.
Step out of the hotel’s lobby, glance across the street, and you’ll notice a rather unassuming structure of white walls and a red roof, like most buildings in the harborside town. Inside, however, it is unlike anything else on St. Barth. In fact, few places in the Caribbean will rival this three-story mansion. From the glamorous infinity pool to the subtle tropical wallpaper that frames the magnificent woodwork of the raised ceilings, there’s hardly a detail within the three suites that won’t elicit impressed and even jealous gasps.
But it was in the spacious, open-floor dining and living area, with its impeccable staging, that I imagined my own family raising toasts to my niece’s high school graduation or in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary. The kids splashing in the pool while the adults sip the resort’s signature cocktails on the sprawling deck, after we were all spoiled by a custom meal from a Le Carl chef, made entirely in Villa Diane’s private kitchen. If there’s a textbook definition of “the good life,” it will undoubtedly be rewritten after a week or two in this livable masterpiece.
The Outside Looking In
Planning for this visit, I secretly worried that I wouldn’t be accepted on St. Barth. That my casual style of Seavees and Linksoul would be scoffed at and even pooh-poohed by the regulars. That the two gentlemen smoking hand-rolled cigars and watching airplanes land as if they were vetting passengers would tell me, “Au revoir, monsieur, return from whence you came!” That even my pilot’s monocle would shatter as he turned us around to deliver me back to Princess Juliana International Airport on St. Maarten.
A bigger fool I could not be.
There’s an authentic friendliness to St. Barth that I can only describe as automatic. From the customs agent to the drivers waving pedestrians across the street from their Land Rover Defenders, there wasn’t a scowl, frown, or mildly pouty lip anywhere on the island. But even Hercule Poirot wouldn’t need more than a chapter to deduce that it’s because everyone here realizes how lucky he or she is to be living in such a small, idyllic paradise.
The best example is the impossibly happy Miguel Danet, a local who operates St. Barth Sailor, which offers full- or half-day trips, as well as a sunset catamaran tour that might as well be required by law. His smile was infectious and almost as bright as the sun’s glare off the calm waters we cruised through en route to snapping a few photos of Colombier Beach. Why so happy? Why not! It’s like an island-wide mantra, or maybe even a mandate.
And that’s also evident as soon as you walk through the doors at Le Carl, where you’re greeted by a seemingly endless chain of people who are genuinely concerned with each guest’s happiness and satisfaction. Engage in conversation and you’re bound to hear a life story, or at least the tale of how that person ended up on St. Barth. (Who wouldn’t brag a little?) The feeling will be mutual, too, because the primary goal is to make it seem like each guest is the only guest.
A more difficult task is tough to imagine, but there’s a very good reason why this hotel’s staff makes it seem effortless.
The Hardest Job in St. Barth
After watching Hôtel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf’s general manager Andrei Mocanu move from table to table in the phenomenal on-site restaurant Fouquet’s, greeting guests by name and catching up as if he’s an old friend, I asked if his job is as difficult as it seems. He laughed and instead suggested that he’s the luckiest person on St. Barth. Captain Obvious? Maybe. But his humble nature is matched only by his desire to deliver even more to those guests.
In a restaurant where cocktails are topped off with edible perfumes—a grapefruit fragrance pushes a simple paloma to new heights—and the chef’s seared seabass with coconut foam almost makes me forget about the previous night’s mouth-watering wagyu, I wondered aloud, “What could possibly be next?” Mocanu tells me he’d like to make the spa a little bigger, which elicits a chuckle from me, because only two hours earlier I felt like I’d melted in Spa Diane Barrière.
The very idea of more at Le Carl should send shivers across the island. Gustavia’s best shops are already within walking distance, but electric bikes or even a Mini Cooper is available for those who want to explore in style. And on an island that doesn’t have many beaches, this hotel offers guests access to the tiny yet spectacular Shell Beach, just a short jaunt down the hill. If Fouquet’s hasn’t spoiled them enough, visitors will grab lunch—surf, turf, and some special treats—and afternoon cocktails at Shellona, which overlooks the water and (probably) several yachts that have anchored for the afternoon.
Whatever is next at this resort will undoubtedly exceed our wildest expectations, and that’s exactly what St. Barth’s best properties should do. Hôtel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf has seen a steady stream of guests checking in since opening its doors, and that’s impressive given the circumstances. Now that the island is back in full swing, it’s only a matter of time before it’s impossible for even Derek Jeter to book a room.
But no matter the guests, where they come from, or how they got there, this staff will be standing by to make every person feel at home. Not because they have to, but because they know just how special it is to be there.