History of St Barts Hotels and Resorts
The history of hotels and resorts on St Barts can be traced back to 1946 when Remy de Haenen, an eccentric Dutch aviator living in St Martin, landed his airplane on the savanna (a flat meadow used to graze sheep) just above Saint Jean Beach. A crude dirt strip was cleared in La Savanne in the 1950's and functioned as a runway for the next 30 years. Passengers "checked in" at a simple bungalow alongside the runway. In 1984, the Gustav III Airport terminal was built in St Jean and the runway was paved.
In the early 1950's, de Haenen built a home in St Barts on a peninsula jutting out into St. Jean Bay and then added rooms to rent by the night there, becoming the first hotelier and also the island's mayor. Remy named it Eden Rock Hotel after the rocky peninsula it was built on. There, he hosted the era's luminaries, including Howard Hughes and Greta Garbo. The island received electricity in 1961, ushering in the modern era of tourism in St Barts, and the development of additional hotels followed.
Musician Jimmy Buffett reported that he wrote dozens of songs while staying at the hotel over the years, and even recorded parts of a recent album in its basement studio. In 1995, de Haenen sold Eden Rock hotel to David and Jane Matthews. Along with their children Nina, James, Michael and Spencer, they undertook the job of restoring the original buildings, and then expanding the hotel with the purchase of the Hotel Filao Beach, in 2001, which was located next door.
In 1957, David Rockefeller, the founder of the Rock Resort hotel collection, purchased two plots of land in St Barts, one on Gouveneur Beach and one in Colombier. Rockefeller made similar purchases in St John, Virgin Gorda and San Juan, and developed three Rock Resorts there: Little Dix Bay, Caneel Bay and Dorado Bay resorts respectively. Surprisingly, neither property on St Barts was developed into a Rock Resort, although Rockefeller did construct a private vacation home on the land in Colombier.
The Rothschild family purchased over a hundred acres in 1958 on the shores of Marigot bay. In the late 1980's the family sold 18 acres of the Rothshild land to a development group that build the Hotel Guanahani. Originally opened in 1986 and expanded in 1991, Hotel Guanahani has 60 cottages and villas along with two restaurants and a tennis court, all situated between Marigot Bay and Grand Cul-de-Sac In 2004, Le Guanahani added a Spa by Clarins.
In 1972, Justin Colin, then president of the American Ballet Theatre, opens the four-room Les Castelets hotel, atop Mont Lurin, just above Gustavia. This hilltop hotel was expanded to include six rooms and two private villas. The dining room of the hotel becomes the island's first great restaurant, and attracted celebrities from the New York arts scene including Mikhail Baryshnikov. Les Castelets was destroyed by Hurricane Luis in 1995, and was never rebuilt.
Autour de Rocher opened in 1970 as a small hotel and bar in Lorient that housed St Barts first disco. In 1976, musician Jimmy Buffett first visited St Barts and fell in love with the island. In the 1980's he became a minority owner of the Autour de Rocher hotel, helping to establish it as one of the island's hot spots. The hotel burned to the ground in 1991, and was never rebuilt. The property with the ruins of Autour de Rocher was purchased by David Letterman in 2013 and rumors of a 20 room hotel being developed on the property surface each year.
Hotel Manapany was built in the mid-1970's with 20 two-bedroom cottages on a hillside leading down to the beach at Anse de Cayes. B Signature Hotels & Resorts acquired Hotel Manapany in September of 2016 and re-opened the hotel in March 2018 after an extensive renovation.
El Sereno Beach Hotel in Grand Cul de Sac bay was opened in 1980 with 20 rooms built around a garden, each with a private walled- in patio. The hotel's restaurant, La Toque Lyonnaise, offered a variety of French dishes. It was sold in 2003, and after major renovations, was relaunched as the Le Sereno Hotel. A sister hotel in Lake Como was opened in 2016.
Francois Plantation hotel was opened in the 1980's as a boutique hotel in the hills of Colombier, with a highly rated restaurant. The hotel closed in 2005 and lay dormant for 10 years. It was purchased by the Maison et Hotels Sibuet group, and was re-opened in 2017 as Villa Marie hotel with 21 bungalows, 3 villas, and a main building that houses the lobby, the library, and in-house restaurant called François Plantation.
The Taiwana Club on Flamands Beach was opened in 1980 with only nine rooms in a cluster of four gingerbread houses. In 2010, it was sold and renovated, and in 2016 it was sold again to the Cheval Blanc group who combined it with the adjacent Isle de France Hotel.
Originally built in 1991, Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France Hotel underwent a complete renovation program in 2003, and opened its Clarins Spa in 2004. In 2013, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA (MC.FR) purchased Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France. It was awarded AAA/CAA Four Diamond Lodgings status for 2015.
Hotel Carl Gustaf in Gustavia was built in 1991 by Jacques Laurent, the founder and owner of PRB, large paint coating manufacturer in France. This 14 room hotel was the first luxury hotel to open in Gustavia, and also the first upscale hotel that was not located on a beach. It was significantly renovated in 2008, and a spa was added. The hotel closed in 2013, and was purchased by the Barriere Group in 2017. It will reopen in 2019, with a beach club on Shell beach anchored by Shellona restaurant.
Hôtel Le Toiny, with its 14 villa suites, first opened doors on November 1, 1992. The hotel hits Page Six in 1995 when Brad Pitt and then fiancee Gwyneth Paltrow were photographed nude by paparazzi. The property is well known for the decadent four-course dinners served at its Restaurant Le Gaiac. In 2015, the hotel was acquired by current owners, Charlie and Mandie Vere Nicoll, who initiated a multi-million dollar renovation.
Le Christopher Hotel in Pointe Milou was built in 1993, the last of the new luxury hotels to be developed on St Barths. The hotel was bought in 2009 by Mr. & Mrs. Terrassoux and was fully renovated. In 2011, the hotel became a 5 star hotel in 2012, and now includes a spa and two restaurants.
Le Barthelemy Hotel opened in early 2017, marking the first new luxury hotel to open on St Barts since 1993. The hotel sits directly on Grand Cul de Sac Beach and features two restaurants, a water sports center and a spa.
In September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma swept over the Leeward Islands, causing significant damage to many of the hotels on St Barts. Those hotels which were located close to the high tide line were all forced to close for over one year to complete repair work. Many hotels took advantage of this situation to update furnishings and amenities as well. Luxury hotels in St Barts that were damaged by Irma included Eden Rock, The Guanahani Le Sereno, The Christopher Hotel, Cheval Blanc St Barths, Isle de France, Taiwana, the Manapany and Le Barthelemy. All luxury hotels in St Barts impacted by hurricane Irma are forecasted to reopen by December 2018.