Tips for Making the Most of Your Trip to St. Barts—From a Local

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The first question on the mind of many newcomers to this tiny Caribbean island is what to call it. St. Barth’s? St. Barts? Saint Barthélemy? Short answer: Stop stressing, and sip some rosé. “ ‘Sain Barts’ is how we pronounce it,” says Samy Ghachem, managing director of Le Sereno, which recently reopened on the northwestern edge of the island, newly sleekened and expanded following 2017’s Hurricane Irma. “But at this point, there isn’t a right or a wrong.”

A French territory, St. Barts attracts both bankers and bohemians as well as a slew of celebrity regulars (Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Cindy Crawford, Leonardo DiCaprio). While the natural splendor of the island makes it hard to have a bad time—white-sand beaches; luminescent, bath-warm water in shades of blue so brilliant it’s as if an Instagram filter has been applied—Ghachem’s insider tips can be the difference between a good vacation and a spectacular one.

PAS1019.- St Barts Le-Sereno-02A packed harbor during the St. Barts annual Bucket Regatta.

STUDIO BORLENGHI/ALEA/GETTY IMAGES

Best time to go

Of course we get a lot of guests during the late fall and winter months, when it’s cold and snowing in the States. But March through July can also be quite nice, with fewer crowds and better room rates than you’ll find during peak season. September, October, and early November tend to be the rainy months.

Best way to get there

Unless you’re flying private, you’ll have a layover, either in San Juan, Puerto Rico; or St. Martin. I think the better option is San Juan. It’s a one-hour flight from San Juan to St. Barts, and you’re in a Pilatus aircraft, which has a pressurized cabin, with drinks on board. It’s slightly more comfortable than the alternative: From St. Martin, it’s a 15-minute flight on a propeller plane. Plus, if you go through San Juan on the way back, you clear customs there, so that when you arrive in New York or wherever, you can just claim your bag and go.

New and revamped restaurants

In downtown Gustavia, there’s a place called the Fish Corner. It’s got maybe eight to 10 tables max. It’s lunch only, and it’s run by local fishermen. The menu changes every day depending on what they’ve caught; it’s a hidden gem. Of course, I have to mention that Le Sereno offers one of the very few options to actually eat on the beach, with your seat in the sand—a seat that was designed by Patricia Urquiola, so you’ll be enjoying your pasta in style. Nearby, there’s Tamarin, which was historically a beautiful restaurant that was better known for its garden and 200-year-old tamarind tree than its food. But they’ve stepped it up, and the food is as good as the garden now.

Locals’ secrets

Go out on Monday night. That’s the night many of us do, since places on Friday and Saturday tend to be packed with visitors. Also, while some of the island’s best restaurants and day clubs are on prime beaches, you don’t have to have a fancy meal to take advantage of them. The Nikki Beach restaurant and beach club is spectacular, but the beach it’s on, St. Jean, is open to the public as well, so you could bring a picnic, spread out a blanket, and enjoy a similar experience.

PAS1019.- St Barts Le-Sereno-03Le Sereno’s beachfront grand suite starts at $1,435 a night.

Courtesy of Le Sereno

Thing to avoid

Renting a luxury car. Since we don’t have public transit and taxis can get costly, it’s ideal to have a vehicle to drive around the island, and sometimes visitors think they should go for the grandest, biggest option. This is a small island. Roads are quite narrow. The turns and curves can be intimidating, and you’re always coming up against oncoming traffic. Smaller is better. Every now and then, you’ll get someone who took the five-door Jeep Wrangler, and then they come back a day later, saying, “It’s all scratched. Can you give me something smaller?” The car that many people enjoy is the Mini Cooper convertible, but you can drive a Kia, and nobody will care. Locals really don’t pay attention to that kind of thing.

Worth the splurge

—A table at Nikki Beach for New Year’s Eve (starting at $10,000).
—A watch from Richard Mille in downtown Gustavia ($60,000 to $200,000).
—A private boat charter to follow the Bucket Regatta, St. Barts’s annual parade of superyachts (starting at $10,000).

A version of this article appears in the October 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Relax, S’il Vous Plaît.”

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