Paradise Found: St. Barth’s


As our cover star Nicole Hanley Mellon and I drive up the winding road with Hanley CEO Frederick Anderson and photographer Cristina Macaya in tow, we eventually reach our final destination, Villa La Pointe. And what a destination it is! If Paradise was lost, perhaps now it has been found. Awestruck, we all walk up the steps through an idyllic garden to a grand wrap-around porch, encircling a breathtaking nine-bedroom villa. Each bedroom—en-suite and WiFi equipped—offers sweeping views of Gustavia Harbor, the port that was once the refuge of pirates, and today hosts a variety of spirited regattas. Rare among villas, La Pointe’s tiered garden provides numerous sunny lounge areas and al fresco dining spots, as well as an expansive infinity pool. La Pointe’s lower terrace features sheltered lounge areas for cocktails or morning coffee, and the breakfast bar permits al fresco dining at any hour. If you’re lucky, you may catch a friendly turtle in the garden, peaking its head out from behind a bush in the hope of finding a leafy “yellow-bell” flower to devour.

While privacy and exclusivity are key features of Villa La Pointe, the villa itself is located just steps away from all of the action. The charming capital of Gustavia, with its ginger bread–trimmed houses, gourmet dining, and designer shops, surrounds a yacht-filled harbor. For the traveler set on taking advantage of everything St. Barth’s has to offer—22 white-sand beaches, high-end shopping, first-rate dining—concierge service WIMCO, St. Barth’s vacation-planning specialists since 1983, is the way to go. With an office situated across the street from the airport, WIMCO’s team is equipped to handle everything from last-minute reservation requests and boat and plane charters, to in-villa spa, yoga, and massage services. WIMCO will help find the ideal villa, hotel, or restaurant, and then assist in setting up anything desired—“whatever you want, just ask,” they boast.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered what is presently known as the island of Saint Barthélemy. Originally called Ouanalao, which meant “pelican” to the native Carib Indians that inhabited the island, Columbus named his discovery after his brother, Bartholomew. Saint Barthélemy quietly and quickly became a haven for pirates looking to sell their services to squabbling Europeans. “Montbars the Exterminator,” a famous French buccaneer, reputedly based his headquarters on St. Barth’s, and some believe that his treasure is still hidden among the coves of Anse du Gouverneur or buried in the sands of Saline.

Rémy de Haenen, in 1945, was the first pilot to successfully land a plane in St. Barth. He first flew over a rocky field to frighten away the goats, making way for a landing strip, and then met with a gathering of flabbergasted natives as he stepped out, slightly disheveled, from his tiny plane. De Haenen settled in St. Barth and was quite instrumental in the development of the island. He built and developed its very first hotel, the Eden Rock, which, even then, catered to the particularly wealthy looking for a special hideaway.

HANLEY -221While some may argue that the high-season between Christmas and New Year’s is what makes St. Barth’s special—when huge boats clog the harbor, Sean “Diddy” Combs cruises in on his celeb-studded yacht, and Roman Abramovich takes over Maya’s restaurant—I would argue it’s the year-round residents that truly make the island. As of January 2009, St. Barth’s is no longer a département—the equivalent of an American state—attached to Guadeloupe; it is now a collective, reporting directly to the Ministry of Overseas France. The collective is debt-free, so its 9,000 or so residents pay few taxes. The island never developed into a slave-based economy, due to its poor soil and harsh climate; the stain of slavery is something still sensed on other Caribbean islands but not on St. Barth’s. And there is little class structure. Even though most islanders are descended from the original families who arrived in the 17th century, there is no prestige attached to who arrived first. In fact, aside from the aforementioned two weeks of la plus haute saison, St. Barth’s is a surprisingly laid-back place where you can linger in cafés and stroll along white-sand beaches, the scent of fresh croissants and hibiscus drifting in the air.

One day, we walked down to the pier beneath Villa La Pointe to see the lovely sloop Sukania owned by Villa La Pointe’s noble proprietor, David Ray. Someone began to play a guitar, as local children sang and danced about. Nearby, their parents discussed who would host dinner that evening, and laughter rang throughout the pier as a massive sun set on the vast sea before us.

On the flight home, I was reminded of a quote from one of Coleridge’s unpublished notebooks: “If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awake—Aye! and what then?”

Photography by Cristina Macaya