Spirited St. Barths

Get swept away by island indulgences at this hard-to-resist Caribbean hot spot

Lovers setting their compass to Saint Barthélemy tend to not be seeking adventure, but they get a brief, exhilarating dose anyway. Most visitors arrive at this small, craggy speck in the ocean, part of the French West Indies, as I do: via a puddle jumper from neighboring island St. Martin. We chart a scenic course between the two islands before descending steeply onto a sliver of runway between a rocky headland and a beach, buffeted by opposing winds. As the plane lurches to a stop beside a glittering blue stretch of ocean, I glance at the couple beside me. Their affectionate embrace is distinctly white-knuckled. The thrills from here on out, though, are purely of the sybaritic kind this island is famous for: sun, sand, shopping and… supping. The Caribbean meets the French Riviera.

The newly revamped Hôtel Le Toiny is a perfect example of such idle pleasures. Set at the southeastern point of the island above a windswept beach frequented by surfers, this intimate 15-villa property invites a kick-off-your-shoes attitude while providing every creature comfort. My ultraprivate pastel-hued cottage with its own pool is one of several strung along a gentle ridgeline among tropical foliage. The style is breezily Caribbean with a nod to Provence, thanks to hand-painted tiles, toile de Jouy curtains and gaily striped cushions.

At first I regret not renting a car, which is what most visitors to the island do. But after one meal at the hotel's famed restaurant, Le Gaïac—widely considered one of the island's best—I'm glad to have an excuse to stay on the property. Helmed by Chef Stéphane Mazieres, the kitchen delivers Paris-worthy dining, with the added attraction of warm trade winds and a lofty perch next to the infinity pool, where I watch the sunset reflected in a flamboyant swath of pink across a velvety sky. My meal starts with light-as-air pumpkin fritters and continues on to pasta flambéed tableside with vodka and truffles. Neighboring diners select a live lobster, solemnly brought to their table for inspection with legs waving menacingly. In spite of the distinctly Gallic attention to detail—from the pats of pale French butter to six types of bread and a wine list rife with Châteauneuf-du-Pape—a refreshingly informal vibe reigns.

If Le Toiny is the classic hideaway, then Hôtel Guanahani & Spa is where you go to be seen. Overlooking Marigot Bay, this resort is larger—with 68 candy-colored cottages—and flashier. Here, guests make concessions for life in the tropics by dressing down in Roberto Cavalli and bringing their second-best Louis Vuitton luggage. My room, the Marigot Suite, has been recently added: It contains not only twin bedrooms and bathrooms but a swimming pool large enough to perform several lazy laps. A vast rocky garden ends in a cliff overlooking a freshly raked beach. My suite has private access to the spa through an adjoining gate: I feel like a VIP as I tread teak boardwalks flanked by koi-filled lily ponds and recline on a huge purple cushion in a pavilion with billowing white curtains.

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