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An overview of Saint Barthélemy

The island of St Barthélemy is a French overseas collectivity situated at a latitude of 17°55 North and a longitude of 62°50 West, just below the Tropic of Cancer, in the far north-east of the Caribbean Sea.

It is about 8,500 kilometres from Paris, 2,500km from New York, and 180km from Porto Rico.


 




Often called by its nicknames Saint-Barth, St Barts or St Barths, it is one of the Leeward Islands, themselves part of the Lesser Antilles, and is found between the island of Saint Martin and the islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis (also known respectively as Saint Christopher’s Island and Niévès). These latter lie to the south-west of St Barts, whilst the island of Barbuda lies to the south-east. St Barts is 25km south-east of St Martin and 230km north-west of Guadeloupe.

St Barths is a true archipelago with its numerous isles: Chevreau, Coco, Fourchue, Frégate, Tortue, Le Boulanger, Les Grenadins, Pain-de-Sucre, Pelée, Petit-Jean, et Toc Vert.





Comité territorial de tourisme de Saint Barthélemy




Lapped by both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and situated in the north of the Antilles island chain, St Barths is well known among the global jet set and still remains to this day a symbol of a luxurious aspirational destination in the tropics.

Indeed, unlike its neighbours the island has, since the 1960s, resisted mass tourism and by maintaining high prices it has retained its status as a high quality destination. There are no apartment blocks here, in fact the rule is no houses taller than a palm tree! And property prices are extremely high.

This is what the fortunate tourists who come here to stay are looking for, ever since a certain Rockefeller landed on the island in 1956 and made it a fashionable place for the ‘happy few’ looking for tranquillity, safety, and beautiful unspoilt landscapes. These days there are also sumptuous villas and hotels, restaurants the equal of any in New York or Paris, and fabulous luxury French-style (and duty free!) boutiques in the streets of Gustavia, with all the major international luxury brands having a presence.

The official language is French, but a large proportion of the population speaks English. There are also two dialects on St Barts: patois (in the leeward side of the island) and two types of creole (in the windward side). The origins of the former are probably Norman and Breton, and those of the latter are obviously creole but more precisely, in the case of that spoken in Gustavia, from Guadeloupe. Such a variety of languages is unique in such a small territory. The island has its own newspaper and a local radio station.


Saint Barthélemy became a French overseas collectivity on 15 July 2007, with the territory being run by the new collectivity from that point on. In French this collectivity status is commonly referred to C.O.M., an abbreviation of Collectivité d’Outre-Mer, and is defined by a law which came into force on 21 February 2007. This overseas collectivity is administered by a territorial council of 19 members and an executive council of 7 members, who are led by the president of the territorial council. The seat of the new collectivity is the Hôtel de la Collectivité building in Gustavia, the capital of St Barths. So although the island is French, the inhabitants do not pay taxes, and the main currency used is the US Dollar. It should be noted, however, that a so-called ‘ad valorem’ tax of 4% is collected on all imported products.

Another particularity of St Barts is that it is the only island in the Antilles (West Indies) with a mainly white population. There is a historical reason for this: at the time the island was colonised it was very poor and the colonisers did not have the means to buy black slaves from Africa, and so the population remained fairly self-sufficient and static. Indeed this led to problems later, due to inbreeding. At the 2007 census, a population of 8,450 was recorded, and the residents fall into three categories: natives descended from the colonisers who came from north-western France (Normandy, Brittany, or the historical regions of Poitou, Saintonge or Anjou); more recent residents from mainland France; and lastly residents from elsewhere, mostly from the United States of America.

This paradise island, the most prized in the French Caribbean, is also sometimes referred to as the pearl of the Caribbean.

The island itself covers a surface area of about 21km², with the islets covering a further 4km², which together offer 32km of coastline for visitors to discover.

It’s quite a hilly island, with numerous hills of volcanic origin which are known here as ‘mornes’. Quite typical in the Antilles, these hills are quite large and sometimes quite steep, and they divide the island into several valleys, which open out at the sea. The highest point of the island, at 286 metres, is the Vitet morne. The main asset of the island is its wealth of stunning beaches, 22 in total. Apart from two museums, there is not much to visit as such, but the atmosphere is unique in the world and you will be charmed by the capital Gustavia with its handsome port. Here the focus is on relaxing, having fun and designer shopping!

The climate is dry, marine and tropical in nature, meaning it rarely rains, apart from short showers, and whilst the average temperature is 27°C there is little variation between the winter minimum of 22°C and the summer maximum of 32°C. Bathing is possible all year round, as the virtually transparent waters are never cooler than 26°C. It is worth noting that in theory nudism is not permitted on the island. There are a few palm trees around but otherwise vegetation is scarce on St Barts, the climate being too dry for tropical plants. One might even think it more reminiscent of the south of France than the tropics, resembling the hills above St Tropez perhaps.




Sphinx du frangipanier - Tony Duarte  Lézard commun- Tony Duarte
Sphinx du frangipanier, Lézard commun Anolis Gingivites mâle. Copyright Tony Duarte



There are many animals and birds – including iguanas, tortoises, tropicbirds and gannets – on the island, which is classed as a nature reserve and where hunting is prohibited.




Fou brun - Tony Duarte  Paille en queue - Tony Duarte
Fou brun et Paille en queue. Copyright Tony Duarte




The pelican has even become the emblem of St Barths, featuring on the flag representing the collectivity. Tree species, endemic or imported, that can be seen on the island are coccoloba, manchineel, guaiacum – much used in the past in boat construction but now rare, and the latanier, a variety of palm tree imported in the 19th century whose fibre has been used ever since by local artisans. You will also see various species of cacti, hibiscus, orchid and aloe, which are native to the island. Other fauna includes turtles, lizards and small birds, notably hummingbirds.





               Pelican brun - Tony Duarte
               Pelican brun. Copyright Tony Duarte




Water is a rare commodity here, which explains why the price per cubic metre is the highest in all of France. There is no river or stream, indeed no natural source of drinking water at all on the island; it is through the use of rainwater reserves and the desalinisation of sea water alone that enough potable water is produced for the needs of the population. This unprecedented process is a world exclusive, with 40% of the energy required by the desalination plants coming from the combustion of household waste in the island’s incinerator.

Saint Barthélemy is truly a special place, extraordinary on many fronts. We are delighted to offer you a comprehensive guide to this destination in these pages. For additional information, we recommend getting in touch with the island’s Tourist Office.



Comité territorial de tourisme de Saint Barthélemy





sauterelle verte - Tony DuarteSauterelle feuille. Copyright Tony Duarte





Lézard - Tony Duarte
Lézard Ameive de pie. Copyright Tony Duarte





Lézard - Tony Duarte
Lézard commun Anolis Gingivites mâle. Copyright Tony Duarte