In the wake of last September’s devastating Hurricane Irma, much of St. Barth’s was bruised and battered, uprooted and sheared. Many of the island’s 28 hotels, resorts, restaurants and watering holes—from the restrained Cheval Blanc to the opulent Eden Roc and the perennial jet-set favorite Nikki Beach—suffered massive damages, and were forced to temporarily shutter (as were more than half of St. Barth’s 800 or so villas), while the island’s vaunted rough-hewn beauty became a little more rough, a little less beautiful. But a bit more than a year later, as we kick into holiday season, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of hotels, resorts, and restaurants are—after multitudes of multi-million-dollar renovations—back in action. (And yes, that includes the usual hair-raising descent as your plane navigates toward the impossibly small runway, seemingly endangering not only the beachgoers close enough to see your tense facial expression as you grip your armrests, but the goats next door to the beach wondering yet again what kind of nonsense they’re witnessing.)
There’s one place, though, that—through a combination of luck, foresight, and smart planning and execution—barely went away to begin with. Villa Marie, a five-star luxury resort tucked away in the hills of Colombier above Flamands Bay, was just hitting its early stride when Irma hit, and while it suffered along with everybody else—an enormous tree shorn of its branches stands at the property’s center as a kind of testament and totem of remembrance—it suffered less. Beyond that stroke of good fortune, Nico Sibuet—the son of Jocelyne Sibuet of Maison & Hotels Sibuet—managed to be on the property before, during, and after the hurricane. And he made himself useful—not only in preparing for and weathering the storm, but in planning for repair and reconstruction needs before Irma even hit—and thus finding Villa Marie first in line when both materiel and labor were eventually ready to roll.
The atmosphere on a recent visit, then, was less scrambling-to-get-going-again, more business-as-usual. The staff—as you’d expect if you’ve stayed at any of the dozen or so Sibuet hotels in Megève, Val Thorens, Avoriaz, Lyon, Provence, or Saint Tropez—is attentive, informed, and impeccably trained. The interiors—like those at any of the Sibuet properties—are spectacular, singular, and seemingly effortlessly achieved. They’re also the result of Jocelyne Sibuet’s tireless world travels—for Villa Marie’s interiors, she and her daughter Marie made stops in India, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, and Tunisia to source wooden chests of drawers with mother-of-pearl inlays, silk rugs, seashell macramé chandeliers, and a palette that’s cheerful, sensual, and subtle. There are 21 bungalows and three villas, each of them different—from grand aeries with their own private pools and outdoor claw-foot bathtubs and four-poster beds to private, cozy tuck-aways—each of them somehow inviting, elegant, and breathtaking.
There are a couple of things that Villa Marie has, though, that most other properties on the island—no matter where they stand in regard to their renovations and reconstruction—don’t. One is a legendary restaurant, Francois Plantation, which predates Villa Marie and serves a freshly caught-centric French menu with Caribbean touches in the sort of haute style that—if you’ve spent the day, say, chasing children around beaches on the wilder side of the island—comes as both something of a surprise and a very welcome relief, with a wine list that’s arguably the finest on the island. (There’s also a shockingly good rum bar, which sources perhaps the finest zombie cocktail on the face of the earth, and dessert options that include an ecstatic coconut blancmange.)
The other is the sort of elegant-yet-unfussy charm that’s really emblematic of the island as a whole. Would you rather dine—any time, really—poolside casual, whether you’re dripping wet or dressed to hit the town later? Done. Need an impromptu massage or facial? There’s a Pure Altitude Spa on-premises, along with a chic boutique that sells caftans, swimwear, and jewelry. You’re a 20-minute walk away from Colombier beach, a five-minute drive from the main town, Gustavia, and just a mile from the airport. (Getting to the island itself, honestly, is probably the only tricky part. Aside from chartering something, your best bet is to fly to San Juan and connect there to a Tradewind Shuttle, which is essentially a scheduled charter at a fraction of the price.)Beyond all that, the great thing about both St. Barth’s and Villa Marie is that you just generally do what you want to do, when you want to do it. Refer to our beginner's guide for starters and basic orientation, but with a couple of quick additions: First, if you have young children who—theoretically, of course—view the concept of formal French dining with about as much gusto as they do, say, long car trips, do everyone a favor and hit Papa's Pizza for some takeaway; eat it on a picnic bench at the nearby playground, and everyone’s happy. Secondly, if you play, St Barth Tennis Club is your home away from home. Talk to their head pro, Yves Lacoste, about a lesson or a matchup with a local player.
Finally: Villa Marie has turtles. Big ones. Good news: They’re slow—and they’re friendly. By the end of our stay, my children—aged four and five and, sadly, far too city-slick in their upbringing so far—seemed to think of them as part of our family, greeting them poolside each morning, checking on them in between swims and lunches and naps, and picking them up and pointing them back toward their garden hideaways when they strayed too far. I almost thought I’d have to take a couple of them home with us, but then I remembered: 1) That’s probably both illegal and unethical, and 2) They’d have heart palpitations if they experienced a plane landing on the runway here when we came back for visits.
Months later, my kids still ask about Villa Marie and the turtles almost weekly (less-so the French dining). My wife and I, meanwhile, think about our next visit to St. Barth’s almost daily.Read the article