Jay-Z and B, Emma Stone, Demi Moore, LiLo, Ellen and Portia, Victoria's Secret models, Matt Damon, Chris "Thor" Hemsworth, Kimora Lee, Courteney Cox, the Murdochs, the Abramovichs, the Rothschilds (excuse us while we catch our breath), the 21 square kilometre French West Indies island of Saint Barthélemy is the world's number one playground of the rich and famous. Why? Well, the remote island boasts all of the natural beauty of the Caribbean - rugged mountains (the highest stands at 283 metres) loom over impossibly blue waters and protected bays, while the villages and streets smell of jasmine - but it also has French flair in its cuisine, architecture, boutiques, art galleries, inhabitants, beach life and more.
How it all began
The tiny island - which is 30 times smaller than Singapore - is officially a region of France and was discovered by Columbus in 1493, but was only permanently settled by French dairy and vegetable farmers from Normandy and Brittany in 1673. It then, oddly, became a Swedish territory in 1784 when the French swapped it with the Scandinavians for a warehouse and Baltic Sea trading rights, but was then bought back by France in 1878 when they realised what they'd lost out on. While the official language is French, the food is distinctly Gallic and a lot of the architecture is too. The Swedish influence has lived on in many of the island's place names (Gustavia, the main town, is named after the Swedish king during its rule) - as well as in the fact that many of the locals boast Nordic blonde locks.
Celebs, cuisine and coasts
When flying into the ocean-surrounded St Barths on your small, usually virtually private, plane, it becomes clear just how many beautiful beaches there are on the petite island (particularly given the fact that the main landing strip is just off of the island's popular St Jean beach, making for quite dramatic views for sunbathers). Most of the 20 or so beaches on the island have sand that would rival Claudia Schiffer in terms of blondeness; great snorkelling and plenty of restaurants - including the best prawns you'll ever taste - and potential for celeb-spotting. Although, if it's something a bit different you're after, a visit to the usually very quiet and famous-for- snorkelling Shell Beach should be on your agenda - remember to wear shoes, however, because, you guessed it, the sand is made up almost entirely of crushed up shells.
All the hotels in St Barths are boutique-style (the largest has around 70 rooms, most have around 10), and there are so many celebs swanning in and out during peak season - December to mid-April - that hoteliers say they hardly notice them - a Madonna here, a Kardashian there. If it's famous folk you're after, your first port of call should be Nikki Beach Club - which is famous for its hip hop beats, bubbles, billionaires, socialites (Paris Hilton is a huge fan) and all-day tanners - and infamous for the fact that it hosted that private party on New Year's Eve in 2009 when Beyoncé peformed five songs for Mutassim Gaddafi and his friends. Taking up a strip of sand on St Jean beach, a visit here is a must for people-watching - the partying invariably kicks off at around 11am and winds down at around 6pm.
If the somewhat nouveau Nikki Beach sounds like your worst nightmare, then venture into Gustavia and explore the gorgeous little village to see its cute colourful buildings (some of which, no matter how unassuming, host stores such as Gucci and Cartier - the island's duty free, BTW), meet the friendly locals, visit the markets to pick up French and Caribbean produce and try out its great restaurants (the father/son owned French spot, Wall House, comes highly recommended, wallhouserestaurant.com). The best thing about Gustavia is; because St Barths' airport is so small, and due to the fact that the government has vowed to eschew a mass tourism destination-vibe and big franchises (there is no Maccy D's here!) it still retains an air of old-school glamour from a bygone era.
If you're not a yacht owner or a high roller and are worried about budget, just book a visit to St Barths post-April and pre-December. It is the rainy season, but the hotels are a lot cheaper, and rest assured, the island doesn't get any less beautiful.
Pirates Of The Caribbean, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Along Came Polly, Lord Of War.
Yes, there are more gorgeous beaches in St Barths than you'll know what to do with, but this little gem is special because it's so secluded. Accessible from the main part of town only by boat - or a 25-minute hike - the water here is warm and clear and the vibe is very relaxed.
Brunch at Le Gaiac
Hotel le Toiny is one of the most exclusive retreats on the island thanks to its location in the least developed, southern-most point of the isle - and its 15 private bungalows that look over a turquoise lagoon. You might not be able to afford to stay there, but book for the Sunday brunch at Le Gaiac and sample the best food available on the island. Just book well, well in advance (and wear sunnies so you don't look too obvious when staring at celebs).
St Barths Yellow Submarine
The snorkelling in St Barths is world-famous (you can spot sea turtles from most beaches), but if you're less active, more lounge lizard, book on this tour, which takes you on a submarine from Gustavia port around the ocean to spot a shipwreck, tropical fish, and yes, turtles. Tours from Dh195.
Budget: Normandie Hotel
This is as "budget" as it gets on the island. One of the oldest hotels in St Barths, this cute heritage building is just steps from Lorient beach and was renovated just a few years ago. The eight rooms are white-washed and relaxing, the pool is the perfect place to unwind (as are the complimentary afternoon grape tastings). Rooms from Dh560 a night, including breakfast.
Mid-range: Le Sereno
This 37-room hotel was designed by hot-stuff Parisian furniture and interiors designer, Christian Liaigre, and is located on a cul-de-sac cove that boasts 180 metres of quiet beach. From the fresh fish at the in-house, Restaurant des Pêcheurs (the local fisherman literally rock up on boat to the hotel with their catch of the day), to the ocean-side pool that looks out to sea - this is St Barths at its lux-lax best. Rooms from Dh2,300-a-night with breakfast and transfers.
Luxury: Eden Rock
Beyoncé, Angelina Jolie and Madonna have all been spotted there - so, yes, this is the pinnacle of luxury and exclusivity on the island. It offers uniquely designed rooms, as well as villas - the ‘rockstar' villa comes with its own recording studio and is a fave for bands mid-album - the food in the open-air restaurant is delicious and the service pitch perfect. You can pay in the tens of thousands to stay here, but book between mid-April and December in a Garden Cottage and pay Dh1,950 per person for three nights with VIP airport transfers, chilled wine on arrival, a daily breakfast and your own car to explore the island in.
American Airlines flies from Dubai to St Maartens in the Caribbean via London and Miami from Dh5,500. You can then take a 15-minute charter flight, ferry or private boat across to St Barths, www.aa.com