Imagine yourself as an accomplished world explorer who has seen all the stunning sights the world has to offer. Where would you choose to visit next? Imagine yourself as a famous Hollywood star seeking tranquility and peace to get away from it all. Where would you go? Over the years, there is a secrets answer for the select few who have asked themselves such questions: Saint Barthélemy.
Long known as the secluded playground for the super rich, and the winter hideaway where celebrities vacation in style, Saint Barthélemy (or St. Barths for short) is a tiny island gem in the Caribbean Sea. A long list of celebrities has been associated with the island including:
Tom Cruise, Madonna, Sylvester Stallone, Demi Moore, Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz, Ellen DeGeneres, Beyonce Knowles, Nicollette Sheridan, Marisa Miller, Marg Helgenberger, Lindsay Lohan, Doutzen Kroes, and Mariah Carey.
Decidedly French, St. Barths is an island of glamour that is in a league of its own. Most visitors from North America fly in to St. Barths from the nearby St. Maarten, a mere 10 minutes away. You can also opt for arriving by sailboat which is only a 40 minute cruise. From the air, the most prominent topographical feature on the north coast of the island is Eden Rock itself. Protruding into St. Jean Bay it is surrounded by calm, turquoise waters. It is the most picture-perfect spot and un-doubtedly a forbidden and forgotten piece of heaven. As if fallen accidentally from the heavens, this divine piece of rock from the Garden of Eden seems to hold a mysterious power that attracts visitors from around the globe. Readily, Eden Rock offers a perfect opportunity to catch a glimpse of heaven. Eden Rock Resort began as the home of Rémy de Haenen (1916-2008), the adventurer, aviator and the former mayor of St. Barths. He first landed his 2-seater plane on the grassy meadow that is now the airport, in 1945. In 1953, he purchased the acreage that would become his home for $200 and enlisted the locals to begin construction. Roguishly handsome and charismatic, he attracted the attention of Hollywood’s most adventuresome stars and that is how the Eden Rock Resort was born. He counted among his guest and personal friends Jacques Cousteau, Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes and members of the Rockefeller family.
The current owners Jane and David Mathews, who share Rémy De Haenen’s vision and zest for life, took over Eden Rock in 1995, and extensively renovated it. It has won the prestigious “Relais & Châteaux” designation in 2000, bestowed on only the finest properties. Widely regarded for its exclusiveness among the world’s most sumptuous boutique hotels and restaurants, the Eden Rock boasts 34 accommodations, two restaurants, two beaches, fitness center, pool and boutique. All of them are well appointed and expertly managed by Sonia Tejero who ensures Eden Rock’s superior services and attention to detail. Moreover, under the guidance of Natalie Clifford, Director of Jane’s Gallery, the arts programs are flourishing beautifully. Artist in Residence program and the resort’s art gallery offer a very special opportunity for guest to observe and interact with some of the best new artists on the rise.
The collection of garden cottages, themed suites, and beach villas is the brainchild of Jane and David Mathews. Tastefully decorated by Jane Mathews, each unit is unique, and cleverly blends into the surrounding nature. From the luxurious smaller rooms to the beach villas, this resort has it all. The suites named after Greta Garbo and Howard Hughes were the guest quarters of the two celebrities who stayed in and adored them. My personal favourite is the three-level Greek-style Frégate Suite. The view from the suite resembles that from a yacht in the open sea. And the setting of the outdoor Jacuzzi terrace right next to the coral reef is dazzling. In many of the suites the original rock formations are left exposed and constitute part of the walls. Lit by natural light, the effect is extraordinary. It is an architectural wonder that offers the best of two worlds: the privacy of an indoor space and the benefits of an outdoors setting.
Eden Rock has two six-star Ultra Beach Villas available for bigger groups: the Rockstar and the Nina. The two villas can be rented separately or combined to become one whopping 22,000 square feet of ecstatic joy of heaven. Each villa offers: ultra-luxurious suites, a garage and cars, a custom kitchen and bar, dining facilities, a spa pool and 24-hour butler services. In addition, the Nina also includes a private art gallery and a plunge pool. The Rockstar, has a fully equipped gym, an office, a large Jacuzzi, and a complete music studio. Musically inspired guests will be delighted to discover the professionally equipped recording studio, where they can record their own music using the very same music console used by John Lennon when he recorded “Imagine”. The services of Oceanway Recording Studios of Hollywood and the world famous sound engineer Allen Sides, who recorded the “Thriller” album for Michael Jackson, are available. All of the above luxury comes with intoxicating ocean views and easy access to the beach, with a ten-foot wall ensuring complete privacy.
The Concierge and the staff can accommodate your every whim. How about a massage on the beach while listening to the natural sound of ocean waves? Feel like an ocean adventure? Eden Rock’s staff with their unparalleled service is at your command. There are various kayaks, paddleboards and seabobs right on the beach. You can easily have the concierge arrange a scuba diving adventure with Stephan Poujol, Director of SPLASH Diving School, (www.divestbarth.com) , or a yachting excursion with Master Ski Pilou (www.masterskipilou.com).
A short kayak ride away to the St. Jean Bay affords you hours of breathtaking beauty and serenity. In my personal opinion, it is the ultimate spot to contemplate and appreciate the beauty of the promontory. Upon seeing the utterly stunning view, one can easily imagine why St. Barths has been the secret enclave for the rich and famous for so long.
There are two restaurants at the Eden Rock Resort: On-the-Rocks and Sand Bar. On-the-Rocks is literally suspended on the rocky outcrop overlooking St. Jean Bay, and offers an incomparable and magnificent view. Sand Bar is on the beach where one can hear the mesmerizing sound of ocean waves. The talented chef Anne-Cecil Degenne and her team of 30 not only infuse the spirit of traditional French cuisine with a Caribbean soul, but also freely borrow inspirations from around the world. The fare here is the free expression and blending of epicurean cultures, from the Far East to the Mediterranean, from American to Thai, to its max. What impressed me was the ease with which Anne-Cecile is able to tease out the essence of various national cuisines, and weave them into her unmistakably French delicacies. “You can’t go wrong with any choice of dish here,” was the refrain. For those more adventurous souls who would like to venture out to sample the other marvelous dining options on the island, I would recommend the Maya Restaurant, another see-and-be-seen nightspot during the peak season. It serves only dinner with a menu that changes nightly. When I first visited Maya, I was wondering how it was possible for the chefs to never exhaust ideas for recipes, and whether the level of success could hold up. The wait staff seated us and explained the menu to our group in detail. In the next few hours, my doubts dissolved with each innovative dish that pleased the eye as well as the palate. The somewhat bold use of ingredients and combination of dishes proved to be brilliant. For example, my appetizer consisted of a small dish of congee, or Asian rice soup, with hints of cream and subtle seasonings, just the right amount to entice you for the main course. Having had many congees in my life, I would say serving congee as a starter is somewhat surprising at first, but it was appropriate as a teaser appetizer. Like many who had explored much of the Caribbean, I have found the food at St. Barths simply out of this world, both for its freshness, and for the openness of its French fusion culinary philosophy.
In addition to its many excellent dining venues, St. Barths is often rated as one of the top upscale shopping destinations in the world. The island has been a free port since the Swedish era, hence known for its duty-free shopping. The town of Gustavia hosts many designer boutiques such as Prada, Louis Vuitton and Hermes. While you are in town, you also should take a leisurely stroll around the picturesque Gustavia Harbor dotted with some of the glitziest yachts in the world.
A vacation in the heavenly Eden Rock without spending some time in its art gallery would be incomplete. Eden Rock Resorts stands above many other luxurious resorts because it is an active part of the art scenes of New York and Paris. The list of the artists who have exhibited their works at Eden Rock is a long and illustrious one. For art lovers, Eden Rock offers a rare chance to bring home the early works of rising artists. Many well-known art collectors and gallerists such as Mary Boone, Richard Prince, and Larry Gagosian are often spotted here. Moreover, if you are one of those who would like to unleash your creativity, Eden Rock’s resident artist is here to help. In collaboration with the New York Academy of Arts, Eden Rock sponsors a scholarship for highly talented art students and grants them a month-long stays. While nurturing their imaginations, the beautiful Eden Rock helps young artists become part of the charm itself. As Claude Monet put it, “The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.”
During my stay, I had the honor of meeting Julien Gardair, the amicable New York and Paris-based artist. Much of his work involves using and transforming easily available materials, common devices or mundane subject matter in order to convey subtle insights with depth and complexity. Whether it was magazine clippings, photocopies or carpet trimmings, the materials or devices he used were local, even though his ideas were global. There is hidden charm and vitality to be found in each of his works. I especially appreciated the repeated use of images of the hand to symbolize creativity and vibrance and to illustrated his palatable vigor for life.
If you can envision the dream and seek to experience the miraculous, you will find Eden Rock is not only tranquil, exquisite, epicurean and welcoming, but also nourishing to the soul. Casual yet elegant it promises and delivers so much that guests return over and over, simply because this magical alcove is addictive. For those who welcome inspirations during their vacations, and especially for those who seek something beyond luxury, this is definitely the right place to be.
Written By Aron Joon