The French Caribbean islands are unlike anywhere else in the West Indies. With a predominantly French local population, chic eateries and buzzing clubs it literally feels like you’re in France – but at a Caribbean pace.
In 1950, the island of Saint Barthélemy was just a tiny, forgotten outcrop in the French West Indies. But in this arid, uninhabited island the London-born French entrepreneur, Remy de Haenen saw paradise. He bought a stretch of its coastline for a few hundred dollars and in 1953 opened St Barths’ first boutique hotel, the infamous Eden Rock. People soon flocked to the island, and it soon became the winter hideout for Jacques Cousteau, Greta Garbo and Howard Hughes.
With year-round blue skies, clear blue waters, coral reefs and otherworldly beaches, it’s no surprise its appeal endures half a century on. Known for its jet set clientele from London to New York, the hotels, restaurants and bars stay packed from Christmas until after Easter. But like St. Tropez, the other French playground sur-la-mer, off-season St. Barths runs at a cooler and calmer pace.
While St. Barths is firmly the party island of the archipelago, Le Guanahani is one of the few places where you can really escape. On the northeast side of St. Barths, the hotel is an 18-acre hideaway on a private peninsula, Grand Cul-de-Sac. The enclave has one of the most unspoilt reefs on the island, two golden beaches, two restaurants, two swimming pools and the only full service spa on the island. The hotel sits on a lush tropical hillside – a secret hideaway peppered with bold and brightly coloured cottages.
Set apart from the restaurants and nightlife in Gustavia, the atmosphere and the crowd are different from Eden Rock or Nikki Beach, where champagne-fuelled nights are a must – but so much nicer when you have a hillside haven to retreat back to. If St. Barths’ coastline were Pampelonne, then Le Guanahani would be Club 55. (The more low-key spot a few doors down from Nikki Beach, which started life as the canteen for Roger Vadim’s And God Created Women before becoming Brigitte Bardot’s favourite hideout in St. Tropez.)
This year marks Le Guanahani’s 30th Anniversary. Bringing it into the 21st century with a $40 million makeover, the hotel now has a seven-days-a-week wellness program with pilates and yoga classes, aqua-fitness, tennis, volley ball and dance classes. In addition to the serene Clarins Spa and frizz-taming specialists at Frédéric Fekkai, aromatherapists are on hand to mix up personalised oils treatments.
Le Guanahani is a restorative sanctuary where it’s easy to forget the rest of the island exists. The food alone would take ten days to fully experience. Handmade pasta, fresh salads and a ceviche bar are all part of Italian-born chef, Nicola De Marchi’s repertoire. For lunch, try the Peruvian-style tiradito (a cross between ceviche and sashimi made with local fish) and the homemade burrata at Indigo. Try the King Crab risotto at the more formal Bartolomeo for dinner – it’s amazing.
The rooms are a mix of cottages overlooking the ocean, some come with pools, others with terraces and gardens. All dotted around the tropical gardens, each room feels like it’s your own Caribbean holiday-home complete with Luis Pons furniture (no two pieces are the same at the hotel) and your own Le Guanahani beach bag for your stay. With friendly staff on hand 24-hours a day, there’s never really a reason to leave your room. Oh, except for the beaches, pools, incredible food, sports and spa waiting outside…
Room start at €600 per night. Based on two sharing an Ocean Bay Room including breakfast at Indigo, round trip transfers and wifi. To book visit leguanahani.com.
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Photos taken using a Leica T System. uk.leica-camera.com