Grand Cul-de-Sac, St. Barts

One of many islands in the Caribbean Sea, St. Barts stands out with its pleasant blend of French chic and island relaxation.
By: Jennifer Plum Auvil

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One of many islands in the Caribbean Sea, St. Bart's stands out with its pleasant blend of French chic and island relaxation. Combining beautiful secluded beaches, fine French cuisine and charming hotels, this tropical playground is a favorite among the beautiful and wealthy. The island is only 8 miles long, but is surrounded by nearly 20 beaches and dotted by many small coves, all of which welcome swimmers and sunbathers with sparkling water and white sand. Windsurfing is the sport of choice, and many of the hotels offer snorkeling trips around the island.

At night, the island's numerous trendy restaurants fill up with folks settling in for a delectable meal and an evening of people watching. During the day, the town of Gustavia bustles with window-shoppers and those hoping to take a peek at the lines of glamorous yachts. This island is also a great place for romance. Spend an afternoon dining on a true French picnic of crusty French bread, aged cheese and a bottle of wine after hiking to Colombier Beach, once a favorite spot of the Rockefellers. However you choose to spend your stay, don't be surprised to find the days slipping away - this island retreat is almost too good to be true.

Getting There
Nearest Major International Airport: Most international flights fly into nearby St. Maarten's Juliana Airport where passengers can either continue via commuter plane to St. Bart's Aeroport de St-Jean or by boat.

Ground Transportation
Many hotels offer free shuttles to and from the airport. For those that don't, taxis are readily available. Visitors planning to travel around the island during their stay may consider renting a motorbike or scooter, or the more popular form of transportation the minimoke, which is a small open-air car.

The busy season in the Caribbean is from December through April when the weather in the United States and Europe is generally at its worst. Hotel prices are highest during this time, but do drop after April. To dodge the crowds, it's best to visit from late August through early November.

Hotel rooms are notoriously expensive on the beaches of St. Bart's, but some offer all-inclusive packages that may save you a few bucks. The largest all-inclusive resort is the Guanahani  noted for its brightly colored cottages that are scattered along paths edged with tropical flora. Slightly less expensive are the El Sereno Beach Hotel, popular with a younger crowd, and the St. Bart's Beach Hotel. Both are located on the beach at Grand Cul-de-Sac. All of the hotels offer private beach access, a variety of activities from snorkeling to windsurfing, as well as fine dining. For those concerned about high prices, there are an abundance of houses and villas available for rent further away from the beach. A real steal are the rustic bungalows tucked away near Lorient Beach at the Le Manoir de St-Barthilemy.

Dining is a culinary event at any of St. Bart's restaurants, whether it be a chic French meal served in an elegant restaurant or a plate of cod fritters and a cup of refreshing gazpacho at a beachfront lunch spot. Fish is a staple on the island - especially tuna, mahi-mahi and spiny lobster -- and most meals display a wide range of ethnic influences including French, Creole, Thai and Italian. Near Grand Cul-de-Sac beach, lunch is the main event at the expensive Le Lafayette Club where the beautiful people munch on lobster and salads and take in the scene. Other restaurants in the area include Boubou's at the Sereno Beach Hotel and Le Rivage at the St. Bart's Beach Hotel. For travelers on a budget, many restaurants offer a prix-fixe menu.

Travel Tips
Planning to bring cash? Don't bother packing those leftover French francs from that Parisian rendezvous. As of January 2002, St. Bart's joined the rest of Europe in using the Euro for financial transactions.

While you are there
There's no need to sit back and watch enviously as windsurfers glide by on the calm waters of Grand Cul-de-Sac! Take advantage of the day training programs offered by Wind Wave Power and windsurf into the sunset along the calm, sheltered waters of Grand Cul-de-Sac.

To fake that you've been there
Brag to your friends about having bared it all at Grande Saline beach. Even though nudism is forbidden, there is always a crowd at this secluded beach sunbathing au naturel.

Then, blend up some fruity drinks, fire up the grill, and lounge on a lawn chair while listening to Jimmy Buffet's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and impress your friends by telling them how he wrote this song about Le Select, a famous bar located in St. Bart's.

Linking for a better vacation
Visit The Municipal Office of Tourism's web site for more information.


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