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Classic St. Bart's Hotels

The good news is that Guanahani is in the midst of a refurbishment; the bad news is that the general manager is making all the design decisions—never a good idea. Accommodations come in a variety of flavors, including Antillean Formal (mahogany four-posters, caned plantation chairs) and Decorator Castaway (turquoise vanities in glazed volcanic stone, crayon-colored knotty paneling). Unfortunately, the redo will take at least another year, and in the meantime many rooms have a patchy, transitional feel. Be sure to get one that's finished.

THE LOOK In flux
THE SCENE Readers of Michael Crichton from Fairfield County
SECRET WEAPON Reliable, unofficious service
DIRTY SECRET No window screens
BEST ROOMS No. 6, for a preview of the new Guanahani

HOTEL ST.-BARTH ISLE DE FRANCE Baie des Flamands, 800/810-4691 or 590-590/275-666; doubles from $487; www.isle-de-france.com. You have to tip your hat to the Hôtel St.-Barth Isle de France. A full redesign completed in 2002 turned the rather squeezed quality that had always dogged the hotel into a sexy asset. Behind the change are new proprietors, an English couple who patronized and loved the Isle de France for years before finally deciding they had to own it. Under their stewardship, the hotel's physical tightness has given rise to a fizzy nonstop cocktail-party atmosphere that makes better friends of people who already know each other, and fast friends of utter strangers. Whatever the opposite of a social animal is, that's me. I hardly recognized myself high-fiving and clinking glasses with fellow guests I'd met barely 10 minutes before.

The 33-room hotel is also the kind of place where guests seem to run into people they haven't seen in ages. As an absorbed bystander, I attended the giddy reunion of two soccer moms who'd gone to high school together in Dallas. They squealed, they hugged—then disappeared into the gift shop to buy identical bead-fringed pareus.

The chance to pose and preen shoulder-to-shoulder under an azure sky isn't the only reason fans of the Isle de France lock in their reservations a year in advance. The beach is arguably the best (at least when the wind's not blowing) of any hotel on the island, offering nice if short walks (no one goes to St. Bart's expecting Montauk), plus room to spread out the trophy beach towel you paid way too much for at Hermès in town.

Guests also like the look, which is as crisp as a bowl of iced crudités. Thick stalks of bamboo dipped in matte white paint and posed self-consciously in white, wide-mouthed, crackle-glazed pots tell you everything you need to know about where the Isle de France is coming from, looks-wise. Nothing to scare the horses. And while most people probably couldn't put it into words, it's clear they like the novel in-between way the property has positioned itself, as something more than a hotel but not quite a full-blown resort. Very clever.

So is the layout. The Isle de France is sliced in two by a narrow, rustic public road that ends in a nearby cul-de-sac. The main building, brilliantly whitewashed and trimmed in the blue of an old French pushcart, incorporates a small swimming pool, a snug little bar, a glamorous breezeway framing heart-catching snapshots of the sea, and a restaurant with a fondness for gloppy pasta dishes served in tall, silly, trapezoidal glass bowls. While anyone in a ground-level room should be prepared for that cocktail party to spill onto his or her terrace, second-floor accommodations provide a lordly perch for observing the action at a near remove. Those with privacy issues are strongly advised to reserve an unattached cottage on the other side of the road amid the luxuriant palm and banana trees.

Service can be scattered, and that's being kind. Most things you have to ask for two, three, four times—and even then it might not happen.

At these prices?

THE LOOK Beachy-elegant, with French and Asian touches
THE SCENE Old home week for arrivistes
SECRET WEAPON The most exhaustive spa on the island, branded Molton Brown
DIRTY SECRET A spitfire, in-your-face manager
BEST ROOMS Beach suites, for the surf- and people-watching

LE TOINY Anse de Toiny, 800/932-3222 or 590-590/278-888; doubles from $1,626; www.letoiny.com. From now on, every December when I read in the New York Times Sunday Styles section about movie moguls and heat-packing hip-hop impresarios spending New Year's on St. Bart's, I'll always picture them at Le Toiny. Built into a gently sloping hillside, the resort has just 14 one-bedroom and one three-bedroom independent villas, all with wide-open water views, kitchens, and 10-by-20-foot private pools. If every unit came with its own bodyguard, no one would find that surprising.

You know what I'm saying?

In high season the smaller accommodations, which are just under 1,100 square feet, go for a breathtaking $1,626 a night, and that's not a typo. How easy is it to imagine putting on your bootylicious chamois-leather bikini, accessorized with a couple of diamond pendants, and jumping into one of those pools with a magnum of Cristal?Very. I'm seeing Trina...Mya...

Considering the rates, you'd have every right to assume Le Toiny has a sensational beach, but your assumption would be wrong. Ask any of the hotel's pretty young French staff-ers, their hair swept up and pinned into magnificent chignons, which footpath leads down to the sea, and her face will turn from sunshine to rain. It's not that the beach is bad; it's just wild, with no provision made for those who might want to simply watch the sun rise. The thinking is: Why would someone like Harvey Weinstein schmooze with Gwyneth Paltrow on the beach, with the potential annoyances of wind and sand, when he can do it in the comfort and seclusion of his own villa?


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