St. Bart's Strong
Beautiful Saline Beach in Saint Barts
If you follow us on social media, you may have seen me posting photos from beautiful St. Barts. I have had several people reach out to ask me how the island is doing post Irma. This is my second trip since the hurricane, we also went for Thanksgiving week just weeks after the storm, and it is amazing to see what has been accomplished in such a short time. The island is up and running and here is my view of the progress.
St. Barts isn't easy to get to, which of course is part of it's charm and allure. The two main points of entry are either flying to San Juan, and taking Trade Winds Airline or via St. Martin and taking a local carrier or charter. You can take a ferry instead of flying but we have never done that. After last year's Hurricane Irma, the newly renovated airport in St. Martin sadly -- was damaged severly, and they now have a temporary arrival and departures area for passengers to go in and out. San Juan Airport was spared damage, and is easy to fly in and out of. Trade Winds which is a local company flying also in the Northeast, is well run and the staff is very pleasant. Flying these small planes to St. Barts is exciting and a bit scary, but the flights are short and it is a thrill when you land. For the short term, I recommend going thru San Juan until St. Martin is further along.
Where To Stay
The hotels are working hard to reopen but for now, there is very little available. As far as I could tell, aside from some very small 'hotels' that are more like motels, the only properties open are Hotel Mananapy (hotelmanapany-stbarth.com) which has a spa and restaurant, and the Tom Beach in St. Jean (small but with a beachside restaurant). The Hotel Christopher was set to open earlier this year and incredibly, had a fire at their restaurant two days before opening. Talk about bad luck. All other properties are working very hard to open in the late fall of 2018 or spring of 2019 including Eden Roc which has an incredible amount of construction going on.
With three teenage boys, we never stay in hotels and prefer to rent villas. Inventory is low but there are great places available. There are several great rental companies -- Luxury Retreats, Ici & La, and St. Barth Properties. When renting a villa in St. Barts, it is important to note that many bedrooms are not connecting under one roof -- they each have their own door. If you have a young family and want to ensure you are all under one roof, make sure you specify. When the hurricane hit, there were numerous mini funnels that took off roofs or walls on one house, and completely missed another. Make sure there isn't major construction going on next to you when booking. Ask rental companies about concierge services etc.. they are typically excellent and can do everything a hotel does. Finally, location is key but in St. Barts they think nothing of putting you at a very steep incline on a cliff. If driving straight up or worrying about your kids looking over an edge is at all a concern, sacrifice a view for something closer to land.
Activities, Shopping & Restaurants
Almost all of the restaurants and stores in St. Jean & Gustavia are open. Nikki Beach, Bonito's, Tamarin (our fav), the Creperie (great food, great for families), Bagatelle are all open for business. Shellona on Shell Beach is open and lovely, located where Do Brazil used to sit and a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. There are also a couple of great new restaurants that have opened in town. Your concierge will have a complete list of what is open. Beach-side restaurants of course, were hit the worst -- places like La Gloriette may never reopen. Almost all of the luxury stores are back and reopened. My favorite local designer -- Lolita Jaca has a beautiful new store, stop in and tell them we sent you.
All of the beaches have been cleared and are open. Our favorites are Saline and St. Jean but every beach is beautiful in St. Barts. There are boats in the harbor and regatta's have returned, you can rent a catamaran or power boat for the day or half day, wind surf or jet ski. We rent from Saint Barth Sailor for a great half day boating trip. There are two public tennis facilities on St. Barts, they rent racquets and courts, and they are both great. Saint Barths Tennis Club is centrally located and a great facility. Form Fitness -- a full service gym in the hills above Gustavia has a few boarded up windows still but has everything you need for a great work out.
Grocery stores are up and running, the best is right across from the airport. If you like fresh baked quiche, baguettes or croissants, hit up the local bakeries early in the a.m. they sell out early.
Despite all of these incredible updates, St. Barts has been hit hard by the storm, and many locals had to leave the island for work back in France. By all accounts, due to it's size and the financial support of the luxury goods businesses, work has been steady, but there is still a long way to go. Life in the Caribbean is simple with tiny roads and a slow moving pace. All of the challenges has been a throw back in some regards to a time before technology. Most of the visitors when we were there were French and it felt local. Jimmy Buffet gave an impromptu concert for the sailors visiting during the regatta, maybe 100 people were there. We love St. Barts not for the glamour but for the food, the people and peaceful vibe. If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to visit this amazing little piece of France.
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