A French-Caribbean Dream Destination
The perfect spot to laze away a long weekend, St. Barths’ Hotel Carl Gustaf is looking pretty amazing these days after a recent revamp…
After a week of meetings in St. Maarten, I kindly asked a friend with a private plane to make the eight-minute flight over to that jewel of the French West Indies: the small, volcanic isle of St. Barths for a weekend of soul-searching in style.
It had been a while since my last foray into this little slice of refined French-Caribbean paradise, and this time I chose to rest my work-weary self at the small luxury property, Hotel Carl Gustaf.
The luxuriously decked-out hotel is named after the current King of Sweden, who kindly gave his permission in honor of the small number of Swedes who are fortunate enough to call the pristine island—once a colony of the Scandinavian nation—home.
Arriving exhausted and in need of something refreshing, it was lovely to be treated to a tall, cool glass of strawberry and kiwi smoothie paired with a buttery croissant as I checked in my carry-on.
I spent the afternoon lazing on the outdoor terrace of my fabulous junior suite and dipping in and out of the plunge pool.
With an entire Sunday all to myself I tucked into my king-size bed and dreamt of spending a few hours the following day at the hotel’s boutique spa: first, an essential oil-infused shower, a reflexology pebble walk, and a dip in an outdoor hot tub, then a long, luxurious facial by the luxe Swiss skincare house, Valmont.
Designed and laboriously built on a steep slope by the late Jacques Laurent, a French captain and competitive yachtsman, the Hotel Carl Gustaf opened in 1991 but underwent a serious spruce-up last October. It still remains in the Laurent family, with daughter Emmanuelle Bourgueil holding the management reins for several years now.
Enveloped in leafy, tropical vegetation, this wonderful five-star property features a selection of 12 newly renovated one- and two-bedroom suites, a junior spa suite ideal for two, a new four-bedroom royal suite, and the seven-bedroom Villa Golden Reef.
All guestrooms are situated in enchanting cottages, each of which offers panoramic views of the yacht-filled harbor and distant islands, providing the kind of privacy one needs when it’s time to simply kick back and forget about the serious things in life.
The rooms, which feature hand-carved furniture, new color schemes, and a fresh vibe, have deluxe mattresses, mini bars, iPod systems, DVD libraries, ample private outdoor space, secluded patios, individual plunge pools, and kitchenettes.
French designer Isabelle Blachere masterminded the renovations, using Elitis fabrics and Paola Navone-designed furniture, as well as carpets and accessories from Designers Guild.
Now there is also a boutique on the property, which carries island-inspired clothing, jewelry, and home goods from international designers. I picked up several gauzy caftans from Brooklyn-based designer Vanessa Russo. From beach to apertif, they were the perfect find.
Within walking distance is Gustavia, a duty-free port and enchanting town of crimson-roofed buildings, designer boutiques, bars, and upscale dining options. At the same time, the lifestyle is so laid back that its many celebrity visitors—among them Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Uma Thurman—feel comfortable totally letting their hair down.
Popular among couples, families, and groups of close friends and colleagues, the hotel is just a two-minute stroll away from the island’s stunning Shell Beach, where comfy beach loungers await.
Make sure you also visit the hilly isle’s other gorgeous beaches, including Lorient for its astounding natural environment (you might spot a sea turtle), Anse de Flamands for its graceful curve of white sand, Saline for its warm, turquoise waters, and the bay of Saint-Jean for its serenity or a spot of windsurfing.
Hotel Carl Gustaf hosts Victoria’s Restaurant, the more casual Carl Gustaf Lounge—a favorite among locals for a sunset cocktail—and in-room dining. It also offers an extensive range of great amenities and services, with staff on hand to tailor-make itineraries that might range from deep-sea fishing and sailing around the island to beach picnicking and shopping.
Continental Airlines, American Airlines, US Airways, and JetBlue fly to St. Maarten, with inter-island connecting flights operated by local companies. Or, you could just highjack a private flight like I did—always more interesting!