With few Caribbean islands open and/or accepting tourists this winter, and even fewer without many confirmed COVID-19 cases, Americans vying for a warm-weather getaway have one place that fits the bill: St. Barths. The island, under French authority, has been vigilant about COVID-19 safety protocols since last spring, when the island was completely shut down to tourists. Since the fall, it’s been open again with stringent precautions and mandates like requiring any entrants to be tested within 72 hours of arrival, and cases have remained relatively low. A recent visit felt safe, and everyone was wearing masks indoors and out.
Wellness influencer Laurie Lloyd has been visiting the island with her husband, Oliver, for 13 years, staying in various villas and, more recently, the Eden Rock—where she plans to return in February. “St. Barths is a very small island with absolutely delicious food, great shopping, beautiful beaches, long lunches, fun nightlife and, most importantly, lovely people,” she says. So, what’s Lloyd’s idea of the perfect day? “Rent a car and explore the tiny twisty roads and beautiful views. A morning hike is also always a great idea, especially before a 2 p.m. rosé-filled lunch!” There is a certain je ne sais quoi about the island that lures people back regularly. “There is a mystery in St. Barths’ soil that makes it so unique,” says Felipe Sandoval, Hotel Le Toiny’s director of sales. “Its uniqueness definitely keeps visitors coming back every year.”
The best way to travel to the island paradise is on Tradewind Aviation, a U.S.-based aircraft operator providing private charter service and shuttle flights along the Northeast and Caribbean, via San Juan, Puerto Rico (easily accessible from most airports). “St. Barths opened in late June, and our demand has remained relatively strong during a traditionally slow summer and has now ramped up to full strength in advance of the winter,” says David Zipkin, Tradewind Aviation’s founding member and vice president. “We are seeing a much shorter booking window, but our clients are focused more on longer trips than ever before—this was true for Nantucket this past summer as well.”
Tradewind flies Citation CJ light jets and Pilatus PC-12 turboprop planes on this route, and with concerns about health and safety, coupled with fewer airline options these days, many travelers are discovering private charter for the first time. “We are well-positioned for this new market, offering lower-cost entry points with our unique fleet,” says Zipkin. As far as safety and health are concerned, Tradewind has implemented new protocols to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus. “Aircraft interiors are cleaned between each flight and deep cleaned on a regular basis,” Zipkin explains. “The air circulation in our aircraft is quite similar to that of an airline, where the air is completely replaced every few minutes.”
So, once you’ve arrived safely on the island, where to stay? There are many world-class hotels, resorts and villas to choose from, but we did the work for you.
Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France marries French refinement with a beach house-style setting. It reopened in 2019 after the devastation of Hurricane Irma. Cheval Blanc is the luxury hotel brand of LVMH, and this iconic island property boasts 61 suites and villas beautifully designed by Jacques Grange. Landscape designer Madison Cox has created fragrant gardens that fill the oceanfront property on the white sand Flamands Beach.
Chef Jean Imbert oversees La Case restaurant and the feet-in-the-sand beach restaurant La Cabane, which specializes in locally sourced produce and Caribbean flavors and is a hot lunchtime scene. “In addition to the unrivaled location on Flamands Beach, the bountiful fauna, the beautiful ambience and style and, of course, the feet-in-the-sand dining, guests return year after year for the indefinable soul of the Maison,” says the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, Eva Sitarz. A new 7,000-square-foot five-bedroom villa stuns with an infinity pool, private spa, fitness room, dining room and kitchen and is ideal for families and those looking for more privacy.
The hotel’s customer service is meticulous and efficient: A call for a shaving kit produced the requested items in 30 seconds and the team routinely sent gifts during our stay. They took care of everything, from arranging transportation and spa appointments to a private hiking guide to tackle the Colombier beach hike (Elisa of local company Body+Soul showed us the ropes) and a private yoga session with her partner Nanda afterward held in the resort’s serene yoga pavilion. From arrival to departure, the property is top-notch and appealing to both couples and families.
Hotel Le Toiny’s cliffside location on the other side of the island is a totally different vibe and experience. The 38-acre luxe bohemian hotel, which first opened in 1992, is spectacular, and the views are a constant companion, whether you are dining at fine restaurant Jarad or lounging beside your private pool.
The 22-villa property features spacious one- and two-bedroom suites (each with its own private heated pool) located across the hillside along one of the most rugged and beautiful coastlines on the island. The hotel’s interiors showcase natural materials—linen, sun-bleached teak, mother-of-pearl and petrified wood—and a white-and-blue color palette creates a breezy aesthetic that perfectly matches the cerulean ocean below. Its remote and private location keeps guests, who like to maintain a low profile (celebrities and media magnates alike), returning to this a perfect romantic hideaway. The Beach Club restaurant, lounge and beach area (only accessible on foot or via the hotel’s signature Jeep) is the chicest all-day destination in town, with chill French tunes and delicious dishes like tuna tartare, grilled lobster and roast Peri Peri chicken with French fries—and rosé, of course!
“Le Toiny defines the privacy and authenticity that St. Barths is so proud of,” says Sandoval. “All of our villa suites offer ocean views, private heated pools and tons of space—something that we can’t get enough of right now.” The Rev. Charlie and Mandie Vere Nicoll, the British visionaries behind Isle de France (now Cheval Blanc), bought Le Toiny with several investors in 2015 and have maintained its distinctive atmosphere.
So book a trip to St. Barths this winter: Book a stay at Cheval Blanc or Le Toiny, enjoy dinner at Maya’s, hike to Colombier beach and drink lots of ice-cold rosé—it’s the perfect way to say goodbye to 2020.