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Gustavia, St. Barthelemy
Hilly St. Barthélemy, popularly known as St. Barth (or St. Barts) is just 8 square miles (21 square km), but the island has at least 20 good beaches. What draws visitors is its sophisticated but unstudied approach to relaxation: the finest food, excellent wine, high-end shopping, and lack of large-scale commercial development. A favorite among upscale cruise-ship passengers, who also appreciate the shopping opportunities and fine dining, St. Barth isn't really equipped for mega-ship visits, which is why most ships calling here are from smaller premium lines. This is one place where you don't need to take the ship's shore excursions to have a good time. Just hail a cab or rent a car and go to one of the many wonderful beaches, where you will find some of the best lunchtime restaurants, or wander around Gustavia, shopping and eating. It's the best way to relax on this most relaxing of islands.
Even medium-size ships must anchor in Gustavia Harbor and bring passengers ashore on tenders. The tiny harbor area is right in Gustavia, which is easily explored on foot. Taxis, which meet all cruise ships, can be expensive. St. Barth is one port where it's really worth it to arrange a car rental for a full-day exploration of the island, including the island's out-of-the-way beaches. But be aware that during high season there is often a three-day minimum, so this may not be possible except through your ship. Most car-rental firms operate at the airport. With a little practice, negotiating St. Barth's narrow, steep roads soon becomes fun. Free maps are everywhere, roads are well marked, and painted signs will point you where you want to be. Take along a towel, sandals, and a bottle of water, and you will surely find a beach upon which to linger.
You can easily explore all of Gustavia during a two-hour stroll. Some shops close from noon to 3 or 4, so you may want to make lunch plans during those hours, but stores stay open past 7 in the evening.
Tourist Office. A good spot to park your car is rue de la République, alongside the catamarans, yachts, and sailboats. The tourist office on the pier can provide maps and a wealth of information. During busier holiday periods, the office may be open all day. Rue de la République.
Le Musée Territorial de Saint Barthélemy. On the far side of the harbor known as La Pointe is the charming Municipal Museum, where you can find watercolors, portraits, photographs, and historic documents detailing the island's history, as well as displays of the island's flowers, plants, and marine life. La Pointe. Admission charged.
Elsewhere on St. Barth
Corossol. Traces of the island's French provincial origins are evident in this two-street fishing village with a little rocky beach. Corossol.
Lorient. Site of the first French settlement, Lorient is one of the island's two parishes; a restored church, a school, and a post office mark the spot. Note the gaily decorated graves in the cemetery. Lorient.
St-Jean. There is a monument at the crest of the hill that divides St-Jean from Gustavia. Called The Arawak, it symbolizes the soul of St. Barth. A warrior, one of the earliest inhabitants of the area (AD 800-1,800), holds a lance in his right hand and stands on a rock shaped like the island; in his left hand he holds a conch shell, which sounds the cry of nature; perched beside him are a pelican (which symbolizes the air and survival by fishing) and an iguana (which represents the earth). The half-mile-long crescent of sand at St-Jean is the island's most popular beach. A popular activity is watching and photographing the hair-raising airplane landings (though you should note that it is extremely dangerous to stand in the area at the beach end of the runway). You'll also find some of the best shopping on the island here, as well as several restaurants. St-Jean.
St. Barth is a duty-free port, and with its sophisticated crowd of visitors, shopping in the island's 200-plus boutiques is a definite delight. In Gustavia boutiques line the three major shopping streets. Quai de la République, which is right on the harbor, rivals New York's Madison Avenue or Paris's avenue Montaigne for high-end designer retail, including shops for Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Cartier, Chopard, and Hermès. These shops often carry items that are not available in the United States. The Carré d'Or plaza is great fun to explore. Shops are also clustered in La Savane Commercial Center (across from the airport), La Villa Créole (in St-Jean), and Espace Neptune (on the road to Lorient). It's worth working your way from one end to the other at these shopping complexes-just to see or, perhaps, be seen. Boutiques in all three areas carry the latest in French and Italian sportswear and some haute couture. Bargains may be tough to come by, but you might be able to snag that pochette that is sold out stateside, and in any case, you'll have a lot of fun hunting around.
Boating and Sailing. St. Barth is a popular yachting and sailing center, thanks to its location midway between Antigua and St. Thomas. Gustavia's harbor, 13 to 16 feet deep, has mooring and docking facilities for 40 yachts. There are also good anchorages available at Public, Corossol, and Colombier. You can charter sailing and motorboats in Gustavia Harbor for as little as a half day. Stop at the tourist office in Gustavia for an up-to-the minute list of recommended charter companies.
Diving and Snorkeling. Several dive shops arrange scuba excursions to local sites. Depending on weather conditions, you may dive at Pain de Sucre, Coco Island, or toward nearby Saba. There's also an underwater shipwreck to explore, plus sharks, rays, sea tortoises, coral, and the usual varieties of colorful fish. The waters on the island's leeward side are the calmest. For the uncertified who still want to see what the island's waters hold, there's an accessible shallow reef right off the beach at Anse de Cayes that you can explore if you have your own mask and fins.
There are many anses (coves) and nearly 20 plages (beaches) scattered around the island, each with a distinctive personality and each open to the general public. Even in season you can find a nearly empty beach. Topless sunbathing is common, but nudism is forbidden-although both Grande Saline and Gouverneur are de facto nude beaches.
Anse de Grand Cul de Sac. The shallow, reef-protected beach is nice for small children, fly-fishermen, kayakers, and windsurfers-and for the amusing pelicanlike frigate birds that dive-bomb the water fishing for their lunch. There is a good dive shop. You needn't do your own fishing; you can have a wonderful lunch at one of the excellent restaurants, and use their lounge chairs for the afternoon. Amenities: food and drink; parking (no fee); toilets; water sports. Best for: swimming; walking. Grand Cul de Sac.
Anse de Grande Saline. With its peaceful seclusion and sandy ocean bottom, this is just about everyone's favorite beach and is great for swimming, too. Without any major development (although there is some talk of developing a resort here), it's an ideal Caribbean strand, though there can be a bit of wind at times. In spite of the prohibition, young and old alike go nude. The beach is a 10-minute walk up a rocky dune trail, so be sure to wear sneakers or water shoes, and bring a blanket, umbrella, and beach towels. Although there are several good restaurants for lunch near the parking area, once you get here, the beach is just sand, sea, and sky. The big salt ponds here are no longer in use, and the place looks a little desolate when you approach, but don't despair. Amenities: parking (no fee). Best for: nudists; swimming; walking. Grande Saline.
Anse du Gouverneur. Because it's so secluded, this beach is a popular place for nude sunbathing. It is truly beautiful, with blissful swimming and views of St. Kitts, Saba, and St. Eustatius. Venture here at the end of the day and watch the sun set behind the hills. The road here from Gustavia also offers spectacular vistas. Legend has it that pirates' treasure is buried in the vicinity. There are no restaurants, toilets, or other services here, so plan accordingly. Amenities: parking (no fee). Best for: nudists; sunset; swimming; walking. Anse du Gouverneur, Gouverneur.
Baie de St-Jean. Like a mini-Côte d'Azur-beachside bistros, terrific shopping, bungalow hotels, bronzed bodies, windsurfing, and day-trippers who tend to arrive on BIG yachts-the reef-protected strip is divided by Eden Rock promontory. Except when the hotels are filled to capacity you can rent chaises and umbrellas at La Plage restaurant or at Eden Rock. Amenities: food and drink; toilets. Best for: partiers, walking. Baie de St-Jean, St-Jean, St-Jean.
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