The hypersophisticated island of St. Barts has its share of swanky hotels (many with high-season rates hovering near $700), but if privacy takes priority over turndown service, a villa is an attractive alternative. More than 300 villas can be rented through nine agencies, with some overlap in properties, particularly among the poshest places. Most villas are in the hills rather than on the beach, and are available for weekly rental. Extra services, such as a cook or a housekeeper, can be arranged by the agency.
The calling code for St. Barts is 590-590. Prices quoted are per week, for the high season, which is December through mid-April. The nearest U.S. consular agency is on Antigua, at Bluff House, Pigeon Point, English Harbour (268-463-6531).
Started in the mid-1970s by American-born Brook Lacour and her French husband, Roger, the oldest and largest agency, Sibarth Real Estate, has an American partner, the Caribbean rental giant Wimco. Its current roster of 200-plus villas is managed by a local staff of 35. Renters praise the 24-hour maintenance line and the handling of special requests, such as stocking the larder with your choice of food and drink, arranging for babysitters, and nabbing chefs like Bruno Benedetti, who prepared our exquisite multicourse meals. The list changes, but rentals can range from a one-bedroom on St-Jean Beach for $2,280 to cliffside estates for up to $26,000. Agents visit each property once or twice a year to ensure upkeep and to stay familiar. The minimalist Villa Coco, used in "Hot Pursuit" (Condé Nast Traveler, February 2004, page 132), has spectacular water views from atop St. Barts's craggy and mountainous terrain. Actually three separate villas, each with a spacious bedroom, they are connected by stone pathways and share a 500-square-foot deck that doubles as a living room, a shell-shaped infinity pool, and a fully equipped open-air kitchen. It rents for $15,000 (Wimco, 800-932-3222; for Villa Coco info, enter code SIB REP at www.wimco.com).
For an island where fish is one of the few natural resources—there is no freshwater source and no local agriculture (even tomatoes are imported)—St. Barts serves up more foie gras than fruits de mer. In short, dining is an extravagant affair. To profit from the gastronomic imports, including duck, prosciutto, caviar, and black truffles, get a table at the new Zanzibarth in St-Jean. It's sleek and spare, with the atmosphere of a black-lit photo studio amid the palm fronds (27-53-00; entrées, $23-$37).
Like the quirky, chic hotel to which it is attached, the Eden Rock Tapas Bar at St-Jean Beach has cachet. It's open only for dinner, and the menu is highly varied. The homemade terrine de foie gras sprinkled with fleur de sel is a recipe for bliss (29-79-99; tapas, $10-$15). For lunch, the hotel's Sand Bar is equally divine (29-79-99; entrées, $34-$47).
Make reservations a good week in advance at Maya's, on Anse du Public. Chef-owner Maya Gurley's creole creations may have lost some of their dazzle in recent years, but the place still draws an insider crowd—Joan Didion is a regular (27-75-73; entrées, $35-$42). In Flamands, La Langouste, at the Hôtel Baie des Anges, does hold the torch for local Caribbean cuisine. The tank of enormous spiny lobsters yields a not-to-be-missed dish. Try the cod fritters too (27-63-61; entrées, $20-$37). The dishes at Le Sapotillier in Gustavia are très French (27-60-28; entrées, $30-$45). The choice of 20 wines at the new Francois Plantation in Colombier makes it worth a stop (29-80-22; entrées, $17-$34).
But the see-and-be-seen joint is Le Select. In the heart of Gustavia, it has been popular for more than 50 years. Best dressed here means a white T-shirt, chinos, and dark glasses—the better to spy celebs in their shades huddled over a burger. You get bonus points for spotting David Letterman, who has a house on-island (27-86-87; entrées, $3-$14).
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