St Barths is the type of place where if you’ve been, you’ve made sure to make it part of your annual travel repertoire. And if you haven’t, you’re intrigued. Shrouded in mystique, it has always been known as a destination for the discerning. But how did this tiny island earn its status and reputation?
St Barths first came to prominence in the 1950s, soon after the now legendary Eden Rock Hotel was built. Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes and members of the Rothschild and Rockefeller families were regular visitors in those early days. They set the scene for the stylish set of travellers that followed, who enjoyed escaping to the island year after year.
And its unspoilt beauty also became a favourite backdrop for editorial shoots, the island attracting high profile names from the fashion industry such as Gia Carangi and Kim Alexis, seen here with photographer Francesco Scavullo in 1980.
It wasn’t until the early noughties, following the economic boom, that St Barths became best known as a party paradise rather than as an exclusive bolt-hole. But despite popular opinion, it wasn’t long before this period of glitz and glamour waned, and apart from two weeks in December, when party season is in full swing, it’s the calm, laid-back living and unique atmosphere – a little bit of Europe in the Caribbean - that visitors seek today.
Perhaps most importantly, privacy and anonymity are almost guaranteed on St Barths. There are no direct flights to the island, which has added to its enduring appeal, and the clutch of exclusive hotels is complemented by a wealth of private villas.
Beautiful white sandy beaches, there are 17 of them, and stunning scenery are all just a short drive away, given that the island is only eight miles square, and the restaurants are defined by elevated Caribbean cuisine.
It almost goes without saying that St Barths has all the luxury boutiques you’ll need, in case you need to pick up another pair of Bottega sandals, but nestled among them are a handful of local independent stores such as Calypso and Poupette, which are perfect for picking up that essential kaftan or hessian clutch.
The island is unique in that its residents have succeeded in preserving the natural beauty of the place. It is unpretentious, and retains the sought-after element of understated luxury. It could very well be that St Barths is the Bottega Veneta of islands.
Read Carmen's review of favorite island restaurant Maya's here.