When my husband Nick & I dreamt of our third wedding anniversary, we wanted it to be relaxing yet adventurous, somewhere we could put our toes in the sand, yet stamp our passport.
St. Barths (Saint Barthélemy) always carried a sentiment of intrigue to me. For years, I always thought of the references in the movie 13 Going on 30 – a fancy place where Upper East Siders spend Christmas, while also spending a lot of cash on villas, shopping & dining. As a young married couple, I felt this destination was beyond reach, even for dreamers. My husband, the great researcher, discovered a few ways to make St. Barths our perfect summer getaway!
After researching the best flight into St. Barths, a Vogue article caught my attention which advised flying into St. Maarten, then taking a commuter flight into St. Barths. This small decision in our itinerary saved us so much! Small planes don’t excite me, but we were up for the adventure! Our little plane that sat maybe 12, cruised through the clouds until we began to see crystal clear turquoise water surrounding a recognizable island… we are here!
As a film photographer, capturing our adventure on 35mm film was so important to me. Leading up to the trip, I purchased the Canon 1v 35mm film camera (on eBay). This was my first time using it! 35mm film is perfect for personal trips, as you get 36 exposures – much more than the 16 exposures 120mm offers. Something about memories on film is so romantic & sentimental. We have tons of iPhone memories too, but they just don’t capture it in the same way for me. I am a film lover through & through! We also created a video which is posted at the end of the blog - In my opinion, it is so far from classic film photography, but also allowed us to capture moments like scuba diving, evening dinners, and other scenarios that film isn’t ideal for.
We booked our villa through Happy Villa St. Barth, a great resource for finding an alternative to hotel stays. Even though a villa sounds fancier than a hotel, we found a great rate with Happy Villa. We selected a villa that overlooked Marigot Bay. It featured a spacious outdoor deck, private pool, stylish dining set & bedroom that overlooked the water. Happy Villa greeted us & made our welcome so easy. We popped the champagne & slipped into our suits for Day 1 on the beach… but which beach?!
Going in, we were intrigued by so many of the beaches. They all looked like mini escapes. We honed in & set our sights on 3 favorites:
1. St. Jean – This beach is the place to see & be seen. It is the home to Nikki Beach & shares sand with Eden Rock, the most elite resort on the island. It is centrally located, so getting there at any part of the day is effortless, and you don’t have to hike or drive through island elevations to get here. It is stylish, perfect for swimming & sipping a piña colada! Our favorite swim here was in the evening just before the sun set.
2. Colombier – This beach was our favorite. It is remote and does require a little hike to get there, but it is so worth it! It is a popular spot for yachts to arrive, so that visual added to the aesthetic & romance of vacationing in the Caribbean – even without having one of our own. The water was pure & landscapes were interesting. We loved swimming here with goggles (so nerdy looking) and seeing colorful schools of fish.
3. Gouverneur – This beach was also more remote. We loved the views & over-looks on our way here. It has a greenery space & stone ledge that was pretty for photos. We didn’t swim here as there was some seaweed washed up at the time – but I’m sure it would be great for swimming when that isn’t an issue.
A major part of our vacation experiences is always dining. When we were dating, we would enjoy 4 hour dinners tucked away in LA restaurants or even at home on the patio. St. Barths offers a fantastic dining scene, so we knew dinner reservations were a priority! Here are the restaurants we enjoyed (in the order we tried them):
1. Black Ginger – This Thai restaurant is in the heart of Gustavia. The décor is pretty sexy & the oversized light fixtures and outdoor scene is intoxicating. We ordered across the menu & it was the perfect welcome to the island.
2. Eddy’s – This night, we didn’t have a plan, but had heard the buzz about Eddy’s. We are always drawn to restaurants that have a hidden tropical garden ambiance, especially with hints of French cuisine. Delicious food & an atmosphere you feel you & your dinner date can get lost in. This one is also tucked away in Gustavia.
3. Bonito – I knew the ambiance of Bonito would strike a chord with my heart. Located in Gustavia, the white on white, mixed with French blues was simply gorgeous. The interior design of this hotspot is definitely right on point with the St. Barths reputation. Elegant, relaxed with great views. The menu is a fusion of South American & French tastes. Super delightful!
4. Tamarin – Oh my! If you only have one spot to go… this might be my vote. Tamarin is secretly located of Route de Saline. It is an unexpected secret tropical garden in elaborate ways. There are soaring palm trees, little creeks, candle light, and lounges. Beyond being a “must taste” it is also a “must see” which for me, makes it the ultimate dining experience.
5. Our two other evenings were more relaxed; we brought sushi home one night to enjoy under the stars, and the other night found a local & relaxed pizza spot before checking out Le Ti – a popular bar/”going out” scene. Not typically something we go for, but just kinda had to!
On our vacation, we knew we wanted to dive into our first scuba experience. Neither of us had a scuba experience before, but we both love the underwater world & find it so fascinating. We booked with Emmanuel & Isabelle of Serial Divers. After a safety/intro lesson, we were so ready to explore! Emmanuel was so helpful & made us feel very safe in a new environment. We saw a variety of fish, big & small, and even sleeper sharks.. It was life changing! We ended up booking a second dive a few days later since we loved it so much.
Halfway through our trip, our villa overlooking Marigot Bay actually lost water. Parts of the island were still very much recovering from when Hurricane Irma hit in November 2017.
Happy Villa was amazing & re-booked us in a villa on Le Toiny. The vibe was totally different which was an unexpected joy halfway through. Our second spot felt like a Hampton’s style bungalow with a lovely deck & private pool overlooking the water. The change-up allowed us to enjoy the island from two vantage points. The island is small enough that you can drive really anywhere from where you are staying & see it all.
Traveling to St. Barths on their “off-season” is truly what made this excursion possible for us. Please don’t read this & think we had a large budget – we did not! Our June trip was still within the “best times to visit” (Nov – June) but not among the high winter season (December), which kept our villa rates & flight fare very reasonable. We checked what our villa would have costed in high-season, & I think the rate multiplied by 5..!
It is an absolute must to rent a car while staying here. Although some parts are walkable (Gustavia, St. Jean Beach area..) having a car was crucial. It allowed us to see the island at our leisure & explore to our hearts’ desire. We didn’t Uber here at all, so I am not sure if that is an option.
We often think back to our St. Barths adventure week & wish we could return. We joke that all vacations for the rest of our life will switch off between France & St. Barths. I’m sure that won’t be the case – but I do know we will feel quite at home when we return one day…