It’s a somewhat hair-raising introduction to St Barts. With a steep descent over a mountain and a sudden drop onto an alarmingly mini 650m runway (most average 5,500m), your arrival into Gustaf III leaves you just short of one of the island’s blissful beaches and very much short of breath.
Considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is part of the reason why the French Caribbean island of St Barts – or ‘St Tropez in the Tropics’ – remains so exclusive. You’d be wrong. This is as dangerous as it gets. For not only is this one of the safest islands in the Caribbean with practically zero crime, St Barts (or ‘St Barthélemy’, if you are being picky) also has a knack of developing exclusive little hideaways, chi chi restaurants and cool boutiques.
All set to an idyllic backdrop of turquoise seas, it’s the perfect combination to beckon the world’s high rollers and glitzy A-listers. It’s not for nothing that St Barts’ reputation was founded after both the Rockefeller and Rothschild families discovered the charm of the island’s British-Swedish-French colonial heritage back in the 1950s, and bought properties here – cementing its glamourous name forever.
The capital Gustavia offers a dazzling entrée into the world of the jetsetters who holiday on the island. Designer boutiques, such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton, nestle next to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s On The Rocks restaurant. There’s a swish Cheval Blanc outpost, complete with Guerlain Spa, and super-yachts a-plenty in the harbour. It’s a see-and-be-seen kind of scene.
For something more laid-back, however, those in the know are spreading their wings further to La Côte Sauvage – on the south-eastern shores of the island. Known as the ‘Wild Coast’, until recently, this was a remote spot, which mainly attracted surfers, due to the bay’s natural break and high waves. But, for the past few years, hoteliers Reverend Charles and Mandie Vere Nicoll have been working away revamping an existing hotel – Le Toiny – and transforming the forgotten landscape.
Not new to the hotel business, the English well-heeled duo are well-known in St Barts, having owned the iconic resort Isle de France for many years on the island (it was sold to LVMH in 2013) and boasting a little black book of contacts that would make Elton John jealous.
“Le Toiny is a different kind of hotel,” says Mandie. “It’s quiet, it’s private. It’s a retreat. There’s nothing like it on the island.”
Now a Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel, it reopened last year after a full-scale renovation and has just completed its second phase. While the surfers are riding the waves in the ocean, this is making waves with another kind of visitor attracted by its all-villa-suites, ‘coastal chic’ interiors and gastronomic restaurant. Le Toiny is a resort that whispers rather than shouts its credentials.
While it aims to be understated and ‘under the radar’, that’s not to say that style has been forgotten. Design maven Lady Bee Osborn has added plenty of pretty touches with her signature layering of textures, textiles and unique finds to lift it into ‘impossibly chic’ territory. Your entry into the sparkling lobby – with oversized lanterns, pots of white orchids and giant clam shells – gives you the first wow moment. If you want to hide away, there’s also a small library and lounge, with art books, Belgian-linen sofas and artsy black and white photos of the coast.
Outside, the lobby seamlessly merges with the white-on-white restaurant – lifted with pops of colour from azure drinking glasses on each table, and the seascape of the twinkling Caribbean Sea beyond. Champagne – and rum punch, of course, – is on tap at the shimmering mother-of-pearl and shell-encrusted bar. Hop on to one of the hot-pink stools, cocktail in hand, for an Insta-moment that your followers will be envious of.
Food here is laid-back, healthy and with a nod to Italian traditions. There are sharing plates of ‘Lobster Tacos’ or ‘Vitello Tonnato’ or appetisers of ‘Grilled Calamari’ and ‘Ceviche of Mahi Mahi’. Light and moorish. Follow up with the signature ‘Black Truffle Pasta and Parmesan’ or ‘Seabass with a Salt Crust’ and finish off with a tropical fruit sorbet. This being France, you’ll also find a stellar wine list (300 bottles sourced from around the world), exceptional service with a touch of insouciance that would match any Parisian fine eaterie.
The latest stage of the revamp has welcomed eight new villa suites (adding to the 14 existing) and is a triumph. Beautifully elegant, all the villas boast their own private terraces with infinity pools and swoon-worthy ocean views. Perfect for breakfast-time – you are served with freshly-baked croissants, locally-made jam and eggs benedict cooked to perfection.
Bee Osborn’s talent lies in keeping things unfussy yet interesting so, inside, it’s bleached floors, a creamy-white palette and resin-filled tree-stump tables. Clear glass lamps are filled with shells, a wall is lined with limed-porthole mirrors and grey armoires double up as your mini bar. In the bathrooms, roll-top baths and rainfall showers are set against rough-hewn granite walls, towels are thick and there’s a seemingly unlimited supply of Bamford goodies.
Adding further interest is the new Le Toiny Beach Club – early risers can take a walk through the casuarina and hibiscus trees to find it (if it’s hot, then hitch a ride in one of the hotel’s Safari Land Rovers). Here, you can curl up in one of the hammocks, order lobster off a chalkboard menu and eat with your toes tucked into the sand. There are deep sunbeds under straw-hut paillottes and an eclectic soundtrack played while you soak up the sun. As well as a coconut grove, pineapple orchard and open-air amphitheatre, there’s also a cute boutique carved out of an 18th century cottage (one of the oldest buildings on the island) and filled with 21st century delights – straw hats by Tracy Watts and espadrilles by Mint & Rose.
Back at the hotel, Elemis treatments – try the warm shell massage – can be had in the Serenity Spa Cottage, while listening to the waves break on the shore. Future plans include expanding the offering to a fully-fledged Bamford Spa and holistic therapies. There are also plans afoot to make the most of Le Toiny’s position with a surfer’s competition on the beach. It’s the sort of place that just keeps on giving.
Carrier (0161 492 1354, carrier.co.uk) offers seven nights from £4,195 per person based on two adults sharing a Junior Suite with private pool, including complimentary continental breakfast, return flights from London Gatwick and return transfers. For more information, visit www.carrier.co.uk.
You can reach St Barts with Tradewind flights from Puerto Rico, from $395 plus tax each way.
From London, Tradewind partners with British Airways for a seamless connection to St Barths, with single ticket convenience and baggage transfer.
For more information on Le Toiny Hotel, including details of villa suites, the Beach Club and leisure activities, visit www.letoiny.com.