St Barts draws the elegance of St. Tropez into the laissez faire of the Caribbean mode de vie, culminating in a renown for both chic sensibility and carefree charm all at once. Above all, though, it triumphs in providing visitors respite from the complexities of the outside world with its paradise of natural riches and delicate refinement. While maintaining a seemingly effortless beauty, St Barts is a land of golden apples in which only the crème de la crème stands exceptional.
Named for the current king of Sweden (in reverence to St Barts’s prior ownership), the Hotel Carl Gustaf sits on a steppe-like throne carved into the bluffs of southeast Gustavia. You wouldn’t readily notice it from below, as the carefully landscaped foliage all but camouflages it within the hillside. Yet just beyond the lobby the hidden conceit unfolds: a breathtaking panorama of the capital and encircling cliffs, scintillating waters dotted with boats and pink roofs reveling below in the tropical sun. This view greets guests every morning beyond French doors to a balcony. Breakfast is served en suite and should always be followed by a morning dip in the balcony private pool.
The hotel offers a selection of 14 suites along with a boutique spa and some of the finest French cuisine on the island. A dozen one- and two-bedroom suites are hidden among the walkways on the hillside, each a five minute stroll from the harbor or Shell Beach, and each within its own colonial-style cottage complete with a private terrace, plunge pool, kitchenette, spacious living room and king size bedroom. Continental breakfast arrives every morning at whatever time you request. Afterward, relax on the terrace for a spell and expect a visitor or two—it’s not uncommon for the local iguanas to join you.
The Royal Suite, in turn, has a more modern aesthetic. Designed by French yacht builder Franck Reynaud and completed in 2009, the suite is actually four smaller separate suites in one, constructed at the highest point on the hotel grounds and overlooking Gustavia, nearby beaches and miles of ocean. Its expansive terraces, infinity pool and Jacuzzi are perfect for parties, lounging or stargazing, while a separate entrance ensures total privacy.
Victoria’s, the hotel’s world-class French restaurant, offers some of the best cuisine on the island. For the first course, try a refreshing crabmeat salad with grapefruit over a gazpacho aspic, delightful in its own right while whetting the palate for the main course of Dover sole with mussels, shrimp and mushrooms. Dinner is delicious, but the dessert of Valrhona chocolate crisp and hot chocolate emulsion is transcendental.
As the only westward facing resort on the island, the Hotel Carl Gustaf has access to unparalleled sunset and harbor views from vistas in almost all of the rooms as well as its lounge and restaurant. Head up before dinner, and watch the veil of violet twilight descend on the milling crowds and harbor street lamps below. Wake up the next day and—blissfully—do it all over again.