There's no doubt that the French Caribbean island of St. Barthélemy is in vogue with the moneyed set and oftentimes out-of-reach for the middle class. But it's far from snooty – if the sight of those free-roaming iguanas is any proof – and it's also more accessible than you might think. Careful and early planning will ensure that your getaway here is priced on par with other Caribbean isles. And fortunately, St. Barts' (or St. Barth's) 14 beaches are all open to the public. The island is ideal for those seeking a Euro-themed utopia with plenty of shoreline for ultimate relaxation. Those looking for an island with exciting nightlife and off-shore activities should check out Barts' cousins Martinique or St. Martin for more diversions.
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The best time to visit St. Barts is from April to June. These three months fall in a more affordable sweet spot just after the über-expensive winter and before the storm-prone fall. Temperatures don't vary much – they're usually somewhere between the low 70s and low 90s all year – but there is considerably more rain in September, October and November. Showers are infrequent in winter and early spring, but you'll pay handsomely for the privilege of visiting at this time. Since the Saint Barthélemy Airport (SBH) has an extremely short runway, most visitors opt to fly into the Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) in neighboring St. Maarten and then take a shuttle flight or ferry to the island.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
First discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, St. Barts has been under both Swedish and English rule, but was primarily a French colony. In 1946, St. Barts was given the equivalent of statehood from France. Cultural and architectural influences from these periods can be found throughout the island. Fast forward to the last two decades: the population doubled and the island is now known as a getaway for the wealthy.
Many visitors to St. Barts don’t leave their luxurious resorts, but there are many villages for curious foreigners to explore. Since the island is still a French territory, the euro is the most widely accepted form of payment. To view the most up-to-date exchange rate, check here before you go. French is the official language of the island, but most residents speak English, too. Most local restaurants will include a 15 percent service charge to your check, but it’s still common to leave an additional 10 percent tip for attentive service. To do so, leave the tip on the table and not as an extra charge on your credit card.
Some of the best restaurants on the island are found on the site of one of the upscale hotels or resorts, where the brand of Caribbean cuisine combines Creole flavors, exotic local fruits, fresh seafood and traditional French cooking techniques. Venture to different resorts along the coast, from On the Rocks at Eden Rock (the No.1 Best Hotel in St. Barts) to Restaurant Le Gaiac at Hotel Le Toiny, for a luxurious dining experience in an open-air setting. For a more local, but no less lavish, meal, try Maya’s in Gustavia or Le Tamarin (built around a more than 100-year-old tamarind tree) near Grand Saline Beach. If you're in search of some bargain eats, seek out Le Select in Gustavia or Chez Rolande (Wishing Well) in Flamands.
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