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Classic St. Bart's Hotels

Why indeed. Decorated in a safe but pleasant idiom, the 14 villas almost have it all—luxuriously bare oak floors, limed tray ceilings, Chippendale-style mirrors, sofas that invite flopping down with a good book, walk-in closets, fax machines (which some guests apparently prefer for making their needs known to the front desk), plus—in many rooms—giant wall-mounted plasma television screens. Only the toile fabrics hit the wrong note: Too bright, too busy. And while personally I'm not a big fan of white marble, it would be hard not to be impressed by the scale of the bathrooms. Twin vanities face each other across an expanse wider than many Manhattan apartments.

As for the kitchens, I was just about to describe them as "full," when I remembered that mine had not a single pot or pan. This may have something to do with Toiny's restaurant, Le Gaiac. It's a winner, despite the dated dots and dribbles of spices and oils, and an ambience that can be deadly even in the thick of February. Le Gaiac is an Event Restaurant, one that does a stunning job with that quintessential Event Dessert, crèpes Suzette prepared tableside. Practically everything else on the fashionable menu seconds St. Bart's love of high-pitched Asian-inflected French food.

So who cares if the kitchens in the villas at Le Toiny are almost pure window dressing?Who comes to St. Bart's to cook?Probably not Ashanti.

THE LOOK Tradewinds traditional
SECRET WEAPON The Suzuki Samurai jeep included in the Awaken in the Dream package
DIRTY SECRET Personnel who ignore the red flag outside your villa, which is supposed to signal "do not disturb"
BEST ROOMS No. 6, for maximum paparazzi protection.


La Banane
BEST VALUE Hidden in a dense tuft of luscious vegetation, La Banane wouldn't be considered a value option anywhere but on sticker-shocker St. Bart's. Depending on how you experience space, you'll find the coolly contemporary nine-room hotel marvelously intimate—or too close for comfort. Best feature: the alfresco showers.
DOUBLES FROM $455. BAIE DE LORIENT; 590-590/520-300; www.labanane.com

François Plantation
This discreet St. Bart's mountaintop classic has transformed its formal restaurant into a nautically themed wine bar, with more than 40 wines by the glass and a more freewheeling, global menu.
DOUBLES FROM $310. COLOMBIER; 590-590/298-022; www.francois-plantation.com

Sereno Beach Hotel
Hotelier Andre Balazs (New York's Mercer, L.A.'s Standard) is betting he'll reprise Christian Liaigre's success at Club Med Bora Bora by hiringthe designer to reinvent this dowdy resort with great bones. The Sereno is closed for renovation, but a relaunch is set for fall '04.
GRAND-CUL-DE-SAC; 590-590/276-480; www.serenobeach.com


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