Descending into Saint Barthélemy, you can’t help but notice the island’s iconic red-tin rooftops, many of which have faded under the tropical sun. It’s their very particular shade of blush pink that’s become the signature colour of the Cheval Blanc St-Barth, Isle de France, a five-starred hideaway in the easternmost corner of the island’s longest beach, Flamands.
Though there’s been a hotel here since 1991, it wasn’t until French luxury conglomerate Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton bought the property in 2013 that it got a much-needed facelift, reopening as a Cheval Blanc ‘Maison’ the following year. In 2016, the resort became the only one in the Caribbean to be awarded ‘Palace’ distinction by the French Ministry of Tourism, cementing its status as the region’s most gushed-about celebrity hotspot. Then came Hurricane Irma.
The Category-5 hurricane caused no fatalities on the island, but it did wreak havoc across St Barts, leading to the Cheval Blanc St-Barth undergoing another renovation, spearheaded by three luminaries, all world-renowned in their respective fields – interior designer Jacques Grange, landscape architect Madison Cox and sculptor Jean Michel Othoniel, whose work The Constellation of Pegasus greets guests upon arrival.
Strolling around the Maison’s grounds, you could argue its 61 rooms, suites and villas constitute not one hotel, but two: there are the original structures strewn around lush, tropical gardens and connected via a network of boardwalks, as well as a more recent addition of suites and villas tumbling down a hill in the far corner of Flamands beach. Aside from works of art and a signature colour – staples in every Maison of the 2006-founded Cheval Blanc brand – the St Barts property also entices with its own scent. Tropical Chic was created by Guerlain’s head nose Thierry Wasser and is one of countless small touches that demonstrate the ingenuity and sophistication that has gone into tailoring a retreat where every part of a guest’s stay has been considered and refined.
This attention to detail is indeed the Maison’s most seductive quality, and it starts, as it always does, with the staff who run the Cheval Blanc St-Barth. Very French, very charming and perhaps a little flirtatious (although ‘French’ arguably covers that), they acknowledged us with a courteous ‘bonjour, Monsieur’ each time they handed us a towel on the beach or pointed out the tortoises crawling around the undergrowth surrounding the spa.
“They love to come here around noon to feed on hibiscus flowers”, explained a majordomo in a frilly-strap dress. “C’est un compliment, bien sûr, because the blooms are blush pink, like our Maison”.
While St. Barts’ colourful capital of Gustavia offers some surprisingly good retail therapy (and a multitude of sceny seaside restaurants), our favourite thing to do was snorkelling in the Anse de Grand Cul-de-Sac, where we watched several turtles from a respectful distance. Though we didn’t get a chance to swim in the Anse de Marigot just around the corner, we hear this is a superb spot for reef sharks sightings.
In line with the property’s intimate size, the spa wasn’t exactly the most elaborate we’d seen, but the treatments were sublime and, to the delight of our inner gourmand, they were followed by delicate treats rather than the cookie-cutter cup of ginger tea we’ve come to expect post-massage. Small gestures like these are an important thread in the fabric that makes the Maison: daily-changing sleep elixirs made from verbena, orange peel, pineapple or cinnamon awaited us at our suite each night. So did indulgent midnight snacks, petal- and palm-leaf-filled baths, and even a bottle of homemade, vanilla-infused rum left by our minibar. If we hadn’t known better, we’d have thought the Cheval Blanc was trying to get us laid. Incidentally, the pillows on our bed teased with sweet promises in the shape of stitched expressions, from ‘harmonie’ to ‘paradis’, neither an overstatement.
Those were far from the only charms that came with our 90-sq m Ocean Suite. Once used for a Louis Vuitton pop-up, it featured an assortment of globally inspired amenities. Aboriginal art, Venetian vases, Moroccan tiles, Mexican pottery and mashrabiya-style cupboard panels were shown to advantage in a bright and breezy space that culminated in a walk-in wardrobe not unlike the inside of a perfume bottle at one end, and a private terrace offering jaw-dropping views at the other.
When we stepped out onto the terrace for the first time, we watched the sun set in the exact spot the sea met the crescent-shaped Flamands beach straight ahead, casting its light over forested hills to our left, where mansions with stratospheric price points bathed in the golden glow. Back inside, some 60 different amenities, from body scrub to bath bombs, continued the theme of attention to detail, although if you ask us, Cheval Blanc’s branding on objects such as coasters, mosquito swatters and even loo-roll stickers evoked an air of commodification at odds with the island’s perceived remoteness.
Ironically, the only place that lacked labelling was the breakfast buffet, leaving those with dietary requirements feeling rather neglected. The Maison made up for this once they realised we’re vegan, cooking up a plant-based storm for lunch at the beachside La Cabane, and delectable dinners at La Case, where chef Jean Imbert’s signature dishes, such as avocado with chilli pepper or cucumber with pomegranates and lime, made our taste buds tingle in their thousands.