Perched high above Gustavia Bay, Hôtel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf sits at the pinnacle of luxury on the French island of St. Barth.
Written by Bridget Williams
Location, location, location, as they say in real estate, is everything. The same could be said for the proliferation of luxury resorts on the chic tropical island paradise of St. Barth, where one in particular—Hôtel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf—stands alone. Its high hilltop location on the aptly named Sunset Hill provides sweeping views of Gustavia Harbor, Shell Beach, and Fort Karl, offering a simultaneous feeling of being away from it all but close to everything while enjoying the upscale service and amenities indicative of the family-run Hôtel Barrière Group.
The result of a five-year build on challenging terrain, Le Carl Gustaf is executed as a series of standalone buildings that terrace down the hillside. While densely packed onto the site, each of the 21 northwest-facing bungalows, most endowed with a private plunge pool and all crowned with a red metal roof, indicative of the architecture in the capital city of Gustavia, are enveloped by dense tropical landscaping that affords an incredible feeling of privacy.
Guests are welcomed into the open-air lobby, which is also home to an outpost of the legendary Parisian restaurant Brasserie Fouquet as well as Spa Diane Barrière, named in honor of the hotel heiress who died in 2001 from injuries sustained in a plane crash. The spa's petite size belies the broad range of available face and body treatments.
Our Deluxe Suite boasted a pair of vaulted-ceiling rooms, each opening to a partially covered deck with a plunge pool. I had good intentions to use the available Hydrorider water cycle on our terrace but opted instead to use it to dry our swimsuits and let our steep walks to and from Gustavia suffice as my daily workout. Inside the bungalow, the décor is understated and elegant beach chic, with a primarily white and sand-colored palette punctuated by pops of color on the headboard and the wallcovering at the back of his and her closets flanking the entry to the spacious bathroom. In the living area, a recipe booklet for making in-room cocktails rested next to etched copper barware, and vintage black and white photographs of the area lent a homey feel.
Perched even higher on the hillside, the Villa Diane is a 4,300-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-bath stunner with the most exquisite sunset views and elevated amenities, including a private butler. Yachties and AvGeeks can be amply occupied for hours watching the ongoing sea and sky parade.
Years ago, I loved visiting Shell Beach (the only beach in Gustavia) and having lunch at DoBrazil, a happy hippy-chic place whose slightly rough-around-the-edges aura stood in stark contrast to the gleaming mega yachts anchored just offshore. After Hurricane Irma decimated the island in 2017, the restaurant was reimagined by Hôtel Barrière as Shellona, just a short walk downhill from Le Carl Gustaf. After a few trips to the elevated day dining experience, packed with beautiful people, I was nearly ready to believe that the dark flecks in the sand at Shell Beach were actually bits of truffle that had wafted from the oceanfront restaurant, whose delectable menu is heavily laden with the fragrant fungus.
Dinner at Le Fouquet’s is a delight. The intimate open-air space offers views of Gustavia, whose lights twinkled like stars from our elevated perch. We began with a unique cocktail spritzed with edible perfume concocted by the head bartender using herbs grown at Hotel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes. We sipped while savoring classic steak tartare, a French classic prepared tableside and extra spicy to our liking. While there are parallels with the original Fouquet's menu, there is a distinct sense of place unique to this outpost courtesy of touches of Jamaican and Indian spices delicately sprinkled throughout.
Although I’ve been lucky enough to visit the island on multiple occasions, this was my first time staying in Gustavia. I enjoyed walking to the beach, shopping, and dining without renting a car and navigating the increasingly congested winding roads. And, while it was easy enough to nearly roll down the hill for dinner at Bagatelle or scrumptious pizza at L'Isoletta, the steep ascent back to our room made me choose my footwear accordingly and wish I wasn't quite so stubborn when it comes to always eschewing the offer of a ride.
For more information visit www.hotelsbarriere.com/en/saint-barth/le-carl-gustaf.html