is St. Tropez in the tropics. It's where Brigitte Bardot would
have partied had the island been a jet-setter's haven in the sixties. But it didn't get 'hot' until a few
decades later and nowadays it's Hollywood hotshots and Brazilian supermodels that can be spotted on its
pretty white beaches and in its Riviera-style restaurants, most of them coming here to escape rather than
to be seen.
Indeed, despite its ultra-glamorous reputation St. Barth is a down-to-earth and back-to-nature place -
with the added refinement of gourmet cuisine, vintage wines and designer sunglasses, of course! Its
European-ness is inescapable and there's absolutely no trace of the laid-back West Indian culture found
on islands that were former British colonies, for example.
In fact, St. Barth was considered too small, too dry and too rocky to sustain any kind of sugar industry,
so it escaped the introduction of slave labour from Africa and its main settlers were French mariners from
Normandy and Brittany. Since 1763 to the present day, these immigrants and their descendents (not to mention
some relative newcomers from regions such as Provence) have transformed this insignificant little dot in the
Caribbean Sea into one of the world's most exclusive islands, with a thriving hotel, restaurant and shopping
The main town is Gustavia, its picturesque harbour dotted with white yachts and lined with enticing
eateries and fashionable boutiques - think Cartier, Hermes and Ralph Lauren. The hills that form its
backdrop are stippled with the red-roofed bungalows that typify the island's distinctive architecture.
Trade a few hours here with a few hours on the beach and you'll not only be rewarded with designer goods
at duty-free prices, but also unique T-shirts, hand-crafted jewelry and bikinis straight from the South
of France. And if you can't find what you want there, head straight for St. Jean, the island's second
largest town and a good choice for those seeking the latest in Boho-Chic.
Venture a little further afield and you'll also discover St. Barth's fourteen different beaches, all
of which are blessed with gleaming white sands and impossibly blue waters. They range from the serenity
of Gouveneur to the wildness of Toiny, with St. Jean, Flamands and Grande Cul de Sac particularly popular
as they offer anything from water sports to cafés. Marigot, Lorient and Petite Cul de Sac are quieter
and more secluded.
This is probably as good a time as any to mention St. Barth's roads, which are generally in excellent
condition, but which obviously follow the island's hilly contours and feature hairpin bends and vertiginous
slopes. Getting used to them takes a little patience and fortitude, but the pay-off is beautiful scenery
and, of course, you do have a better chance of making more headway with the island's hundred or so different
Indeed, to sample the wonderful cuisine is one of the main reasons visitors choose the French Caribbean
and whilst, at first, it may seem a little strange to be tucking into Chateaubriand or French mussels on
the edge of a palm-fringed beach, it's a feeling that is ridiculously easy to get used to. Especially after
a few glasses of fine vintage wine!