By Alexis Lipsitz Flippin
St. Barts: Two words synonymous with glitz, glamour, and gorgeous beaches. A taste of the French Riviera in the Caribbean, St. Barts is eternally chic. Visitors come for pampering without pomp, inimitable French flair, world-class beaches, and the promise of eternal sun and blue skies (it rarely rains). In spite of its tony reputation, the island diligently maintains its quaintness, warmth and an almost old-fashioned storybook quality.
St. Barts has some 21 white-sand beaches, and while all are public and free, few are crowded, even in high season. The best known is St-Jean Beach, a sun-splashed crescent divided by the Eden Rock promontory. The uncrowded strand at Gouverneur Beach, on the southern coast, is gorgeous, ringed by steep cliffs overlooking St. Kitts, Saba, and Statia (St. Eustatius). Equally fine is Grande Saline Beach, to the east; lack of shade doesn't deter the nude sunbathers.
Things to Do
You can snorkel in the shallow areas right off beaches such as secluded Colombier or in the protected bay at Petite Anse, which teems with colorful aquatic life. Kite-surfing is fast becoming one of the most popular sports here -- study with former champions to get the hang of it on Grand Cul-de-Sac. Corossol Beach offers a typical glimpse of French life with a calm, protected beach and a charming little seashell museum.
Duty-free St. Barts offers liquor and French perfumes at some of the lowest prices in the Caribbean -- often cheaper than in France itself. You'll find bargains in haute couture, crystal, porcelain, watches, and other luxuries from international design brands like Bulgari, Cartier, Dior and Hermès, especially at Gustavia's Quai de la République -- nicknamed "rue du Couturier." For island crafts, look for intricately woven straw goods (baskets, bags, bonnets) and striking art naïf including models of Creole cazes and fishing boats.
Eating and Drinking
Hot young chefs who keep ratcheting up the excellence quotient guarantee that St. Barts' dining scene is superb. It's also expensive. The budget-bound can eat very well by ordering an affordable and filling lunchtime plat du jour special at the many casual beachfront, hilltop and harbor-side restaurants. Alternatively, do takeout, St. Barts style, from one of the handful of excellent epicurean takeout delis, or traiteurs, where takeout plats du jour from pâtés to pissaladière (onion tart) are sold by the gram.