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St. Barths

Overview

This small rugged French island lies a few miles southeast of St. Martin in the Leeward island group. In 1493, Christopher Columbus found the island named it after his brother Bartolemo. The island was originally discovered by Arawak Indians.

After wiping out resistance from Indians, a French colony was established in 1660. The original French settlers were from Brittany and Normandy. In 1784, St. Barth was given to Sweden by Louis XVI. Swedish settlers soon arrived. Gustavia, the capital and port was named after a Swedish king.

It remained a Swedish colony until the late 19th century when it was sold to France. As part of the Treaty with Sweden, St Barth citizens (currently) pay no taxes.

St. Barth was a French commune and part of an overseas department of France. In February 2007, Saint-Barthélemy and its neighbor, the French side of St. Martin, became a French Overseas Collectivity and are part of the European Union.

The local population estimated at 9000 is mostly of European ancestry. About 30% are descended from early French colonists and have their own distinct culture and patois.

Today, St. Barth is an upscale get-a-ways for Europeans and American holidays. The island is heavily dependent on tourism and is considered a posh retreat for discriminating travelers.

Activities

There are 21 beaches of varying size. Some are quiet and pristine coves while others have restaurants and hotels. Several are good for surfing and snorkeling. Cul-de-Sac is excellent for sailing, kite and wind surfing.
Restaurants on St Barth are very important. There are notable restaurants offering gourmet dining. Sidewalk cafes and bistros offer lighter fare.

St. Barth is duty free and offers excellent shopping. With 200 shops and boutiques, it is a shopping destination, one of the best in the Caribbean. Many are walking distance from the harbor in Gustavia. They offer designer goods and elegant fashions from France and Italy. There are also made-in-St. Barth handcrafts and clothing.

Annual holidays and celebrations include New Years, Carnival in February, The Bucket in late March (a sailing event featuring the largest sailing yachts in the world), and Bastille Day in July.

Accommodations

You can choose from 400 rental villas of all sizes. These properties are mostly on breezy hillsides with ocean views, gardens and private swimming pools. A few are featured on our website; nearly all of the residences are available from Villa Journeys. There are also seaside apartments, cottages and other properties.

There are approximately 25 hotels, most of them with 15 rooms or fewer. The largest has 58 rooms. Hotels are classified as 3 Star, 4 Star and 4 Star Luxury. There are no high rise hotels in St. Barth. An old French law does not permit buildings taller than a palm tree. Most hotels are expensive or mid range.

Entry requirements

US citizens must bring a valid passport. Passports and visas are required for some countries.

Language

French is the main language. English is a 2nd language and is heard increasingly in hotels and tourist spots.

Currency/Banking

St. Barth is part of the European Union and the Euro is the currency. The US dollar is widely accepted. ATMS are available.

Ground Transportation and Driving

Because of the terrain, Jeeps and other rental cars with 4 wheel drive are recommended. They should be reserved in advance if you are staying in private accommodations.

Taxis can be found in the harbor of Gustavia. They are used mostly for transfers and sight seeing.

Climate

Weather in St. Barth is tropical. While sunshine prevails most of the time, some off season months in spring and fall have more rain. Ocean temperatures vary little from summer to winter and are always comfortable for swimming. Summer weather is a little warmer and more humid. September is the peak month for hurricanes in the Caribbean Sea.

Getting There

The airport has a short runway suitable for small aircraft, usually 20 passengers or less. It is served by charters and regional carriers such as Winair and St. Barth commuter. There are frequent short flights from St. Martin’s Juliana airport. St. Martin has service from major internationals airlines. It is also accessible from larger airports in Antigua, Guadeloupe and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The island can also be reached by ferry boat from St. Martin. It is popular with day trippers from St. Martin who arrive on excursion vessels. Crossing the St. Barth channel by sea can be rough at times.