The insider advice on this page is from one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for St. Barts: Peg Walsh of St. Barth Properties.
A vacation on the chic and stunningly beautiful Caribbean island of St. Barts is like a vacation in a sunny, tropical version of France (you get to practice your French, dine on French cuisine, shop for French clothing, pay in euros…). Peg, who lives on St. Barts much of the year, is friends with every hotelier, every restaurant owner, every boutique manager, every excursion operator—in short, everyone who’s anyone. And it’s those local French connections that will make all the difference to your trip. So will Peg’s knowledge of every square inch of every beach and cove, as well as every nook and cranny of the 245 private villas she represents, ranging from beachy-casual bungalows to stylish hillside homes and Architectural Digest-worthy estates. Each villa comes with Peg’s itinerary-planning services, airport pick-up, concierge support, and access to the beach at a five-star hotel. Peg knows the managers of all the top hotels, of course—which is how she can also arrange hotel vacations with VIP perks—but, before you assume a hotel room will be less expensive, be sure to calculate the daily cost per person of a multi-bedroom rental villa. It will surprise you, especially in low season.
Where to Rent
Best locations for a taste of village life
Gustavia is St. Barts’ bustling little capital, with the island’s trademark red roofs spilling down to the yacht-filled harbor; the town’s high-end boutiques and sidewalk cafés (great for people-watching) make it feel like a slice of Europe in the middle of the Caribbean. The village of St. Jean is both sophisticated and charming, and a bit more hip; it’s often compared to France’s Côte d’Azur. Corossol is a traditional fishing village, where you can step back in time to see island life unspool as it has for generations.
Best locations for a big group
The Domaine du Levant is a gated community in Petit Cul de Sac where the villas sit close together; groups can rent several neighboring properties and have use of the community’s small beach. With its 13 bedrooms, the luxurious Palmier Royal Estate is perfectly suited for an extended family’s vacation. Three luxurious four-bedroom villas in Gouverneur are walking distance from each other and close to beautiful unspoiled Gouverneur Beach.
If you’re planning a destination wedding, Peg has designated staff who can help plan everything from a simple barefoot ceremony on the beach to an uber glamorous affair. They handle all the details—the venue, catering, flowers, pre- and post-parties, accommodations for all the wedding guests—and walk you through the legalities and paperwork, due 30 days before the “I dos.”
Best location for home cooks
Villas throughout the island have large kitchens outfitted with high-end appliances and every culinary amenity. Many also have BBQ areas with wet bars and food prep areas. There is an early-morning fish market in Gustavia where local fishermen offer their wares, and an open-air farmers’ market there on the first Sunday of every month. You’ll also find authentic boulangeries for baguettes and French pastries—St. Barth is, after all, an overseas territory of France; cheeses, specialty items, and wines are flown in from the mainland as well.
What to Know
Amenities usually included
Daily maid service is included, except on Sundays and island holidays. Linens, including beach towels, are always provided. The villas also have Wi-Fi, but the connection can be iffy and cut out at any time. Peg’s office on the harbor in Gustavia has a strong signal, and her guests are welcome to stop in and check their email or print boarding passes.
Amenities not usually included
Many of the island’s villas do not have U.S. satellite TV service, but more and more are offering Apple TV.
Amenity worth splurging on
An in-villa massage. A number of villas have rooms or nooks designated specifically for spa treatments. In the late afternoon, getting a rubdown in a shady poolside cabana is the ultimate indulgence.
Amenity not worth splurging on
Hiring a private chef for your entire vacation. St. Barth has the best restaurants in the Caribbean. If you’re on a romantic getaway or celebrating a milestone, consider booking a private chef to prepare just one in-villa dinner.
High season runs from mid-December to mid-April—simply because that’s when cold weather sends American travelers to the Caribbean. The rest of the year, prices are slashed by up to 40 percent, but the weather is much the same. And during this “value season,” the island is quieter and less crowded. Shoppers come for the annual sales, which run from May into early June, when there are bargains galore at the island’s boutiques. Everything re-opens in November after hurricane season, so things are fresh and new.
Over Christmas and New Year’s, villas triple in price, and most properties require a two-week minimum stay. It is the see-and-be-seen season for celebrities and pop stars, and the harbor is filled with millionaires’ yachts—but traffic, parking, and restaurant reservations are all difficult and can offset the glam factor. From early September to mid-October, the island goes on hiatus, with many shops and restaurants closing.
Depending on availability, rentals may begin on any day of the week and you can rent for any length of time, but there is a seven-night minimum in high season.
Many first-time visitors think that they need to rent a villa on the beach. Actually, most of St. Barth’s villas are located in its hills and leverage the views and trade winds—not to mention the greater privacy. Each beach has its own personality, so it’s fun to visit several over the course of a trip—and some of the most beautiful ones are undeveloped, so you couldn’t stay there anyway.
Not packing a bathing suit, cover-up, and change of clothes in your carry-on. If your luggage doesn’t make it onto the puddle-jumper in time (there are flights to St. Barth from St. Maarten and San Juan), you’ll still be ready for your first dip in the pool or ocean and dinner out that evening.
Since the island is so small—just nine square miles—visitors should focus on the villa itself and its amenities, as opposed to a specific location. Air-conditioning is a major consideration—especially if you’re prone to mosquito bites: All bedrooms have AC, but many of the living areas are open-air, which is fine when the trade winds are blowing. If you have small children, make sure the bedrooms are close together; in some villas, they are housed in separate pavilions.
You’ll need a rental car to explore the island and its beaches. If you opt for a Suzuki Jimney 4×4 (the best choice for the island), Peg can usually get a seventh-day-free discount, so weekly rentals come out to about 300 to 450 euros (though they are higher over the Christmas holidays). After a long day of travel, it’s also nice to arrive at a villa with a fully stocked fridge (she sends her travelers a grocery list before they travel). Have any other special requests? Birthday parties, in-villa massages, sunset cocktails with a mixologist, snorkeling trips, lunch and dinner reservations—just ask!
A member of Peg’s team meets each traveler at the airport, assists with luggage and rental car pick-up, then guides them to their villa and shows them around the property. Her island staff is on-call for emergencies 24/7, and the concierge is on duty during regular business hours.
Adapters and convertors for your electronic devices: St Barts has 220 voltage, and the outlets only accept plugs with two round prongs.
Unlike some other Caribbean islands, St. Barts is exceedingly welcoming to gay travelers. In fact, now that same-sex marriages are legal in France, the island is a popular wedding spot for gay couples.