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Copyright Tony Duarte


Culture

Visitors to Gustavia often head first for the port, whose many terrace cafés serve breakfast from dawn. It is usual to rise early in the West Indies! People also come down to the quayside in the early morning for the traditional fish market, where the locals can be heard talking in dialect to each other and where all the riches of these Caribbean waters can be marvelled over. The fishermen’s catch can be sampled at lunchtime, in one of Gustavia’s 20 restaurants. The centre of Gustavia boasts an unrivalled concentration of luxury and French style designer fashion boutiques, setting it apart from anywhere else and certainly making it the most prestigious town in the Caribbean. It is also an important centre for water sports equipment, with famous surfing shops and the best ship stores company in the West Indies.

Below is a walk-through of historic points of interest in and around Gustavia.


The Wall House Museum

Saint-Barthélemy’s municipal museum is situated on the Gustavia promontory. A large stone building – the largest on St Barts – it houses the island’s most important collection of objects, photographs and documents (relating to the sociological, ethnological, economic and natural, since the time of the Arawak people). The building itself is a historic monument dating from the Swedish era, and has recently been restored. Through souvenirs and images, the museum presents Saint-Barthélemy’s often bumpy past, as well as its geography, its flora and fauna, and the way tourism has been developed here – forming an account for future generations. In addition, the island’s library is housed on the first floor, and in the courtyard the ruins of a stone and brick-built bread oven can be discovered.

Behind the Wall House you will find the ‘Hôtel de la Collectivité’, previously the town hall and since July 2007 the seat of local government, the ‘collectivity’ who is in charge of the island.


Official historic monuments and other tourist sites


A visit to the ‘Maison Dinzey’ (also known as ‘Le Brigantin’) in Gustavia will give you the opportunity to see one of the few traditional homes that survived the widespread fire of 1852. A true wonder, it was renovated and maintained by the Swedish honorary consul.

Equally deserving of a visit is the superb ‘Notre Dame de l’Assomption’ Catholic church, built in 1829 and restored in 2006, and Spanish in style, which is uncommon in the West Indies. It is located in the centre of Gustavia, but its presbytery and bell tower were constructed a short distance away up the hill, so they would not damage the church in the event of a cyclone and also so that the bells could be heard by everyone.

The Anglican church, on the other hand, dates from 1853 and is small in size. Built of stone, and nowadays topped with a corrugated iron roof, its little pointed bell tower is a reminder of its Scandinavian origins.

Another site on the to-do list is the Fort Gustave, one of Gustavia’s three defensive forts, although only two canons and various ruins remain. However there is a lighthouse, a weather station and a museum here, and above all a splendid view over the bay of Gustavia to be admired. The ‘Gustaf’ fort was the most important, harking back to the days when Gustavia was a fortified town during the period of Swedish rule.

Also in ruins, Fort Karl in Gustavia is a small defensive gun post with two canons, named after the king’s brother, Duke Karl. Accessible via a set of steps maintained by the organisation in charge of conserving the coastline, it now sits within the island’s nature reserve, and a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding islands can be appreciated from here.

Worthy of admiration too is the subprefecture building, the French state’s seat of administration on the island since 1975. Constructed in the early 1800s, this robust stone building was destined to become the first school on St Barts, but before that was a gathering place for festivals and celebrations, and its basement was also used as a prison in 1819!

Another sight to see is the Swedish bell tower, damaged by the cyclone of 1837 but renovated in 1931, and now equipped with a clock which faces the town and also therefore faces the lighthouse which is on the hill above the town.

The Maison du Gouverneur is another important building, indeed it is registered as a historic monument. Constructed between 1796-1799, it was Gustavia’s town hall until 2001, when restoration plans were begun to make it a ‘house of Swedish culture’. There are also other beautiful houses in the town, including the residence of the town’s major (where the Act of Retrocession of the island back to France was signed on 16 March 1878) and the judge’s residence, both dating from the 1780s and having been used for various purposes over the centuries.

As you stroll through the back streets of Gustavia, you will also come across traditional Creole dwellings, which are now being renovated, with their little gardens which are so typical of the Antilles region.

The ‘Vietnam’ restaurant is of interest as it is located in the Lutheran presbytery from the Swedish era. It was built around 1790, for the first pastor, but later became a school house, and today houses one of the oldest restaurants in St Barts.

Also be sure to have an apéritif at ‘Select’, the island’s first café – in 2009 it celebrated its 60th anniversary and is a real institution here. Run throughout that time by Marius Stackelborough, it is an unpretentious snack bar, known mostly for its burgers. Inside, photos and keepsakes on display trace the modern history of St Barts, and it has a lovely shady terrace.




Le select - Tony Duarte
Copyright Tony Duarte



Other sights around the island include the church bell tower in Lorient and the Swedish cemetery at Public. And on the roundabout in St Jean, representing the soul of St Barts, ‘The Arawak’ is a statue of an indigenous warrior armed with a spear and blowing into a large conch shell, which serves as a trumpet. At his feet are a pelican and an iguana, emblematic animals of St Barts, all of which stand on a rock in the shape of the island.




Arawack Saint Barth




Inter Oceans Museum : the international shell museum at Corossol


Unfortunately, this museum closed several years ago and remains so to this day, but perhaps may reopen one day… It was an excellent collection of shells from around the world – from Florida, Japan, Panama, Hawaii, but also from Australia, Africa, Venezuela and of course St Barthélemy itself. With more than 9,000 items on display, indexed by the type of shell, it was the third largest collection of its kind in the world. It was put together by Ingénu Magras, who has since passed away, and at the moment it is not known whether the collection could be given new life and his legacy continued. The museum opened up the discovery and study of sea shells to visitors, with examples of the most common as well as very rare shells. The original building had been destroyed by a fire on 12 February 1984 and was subsequently completely rebuilt. It was renowned worldwide.


Art in St Barts

St Barthélemy offers a good number of art galleries, mainly in Gustavia and St Jean, as well as some creative workshops. A dozen or so painters live on the island.

Entertainment

Every day, especially during the high season, you can attend concerts, fashion shows and numerous other entertainments in St Barts’ trendy hotspots. You will find details in the daily free newspaper, ‘Le News’, or the weekly magazine called ‘Le St Barth Weekly’.

Cabaret evenings are put on by two restaurants: the Ti-St Barth at Pointe Milou and Nikki Beach in St Jean. Or you can carry on partying until dawn at several night clubs.

Festivals and events

Cultural and sporting events take place on the island throughout the year; there is no off-season in terms of events. We detail here some of the major events that happen during the year.

In January, there is a music festival whose programme of classical and jazz music is delivered by the finest musicians in the world.





Comité territorial de tourisme de Saint Barthélemy



In February, a windsurfing competition called the St Barth Fun Cup is held, and well as being carnival season, which is celebrated across the West Indies.

The Caribbean film festival takes place in April, followed by a theatre festival in May.

In August there are various festivals for local patron saints, as well as a tennis tournament, the festival of Gustavia on the 13th and 14th, and the festival of Saint Barthélemy himself on the 24th, involving official ceremonies, games and sailing races, and festivities on the quayside at Quai Général de Gaulle.




carnaval St Barth - Tony Duarte  carnaval St Barth - Tony Duarte


carnaval St Barth - Tony Duarte  carnaval St Barth - Tony Duarte
Copyright Tony Duarte



Those visiting the island in November will be able to enjoy the Taste of St Barth Gourmet Festival, which draws some of today’s finest chefs to St Barts and sees them creating exquisite menus for local restaurants.

As for sailing events, there is of course the famous transatlantic race now known as the ‘AG2R La Mondiale’ (formerly the Lorient-St Barth), which takes place every two years, setting off from Concarneau in France and arriving in St Barts at the end of April. Also the exclusive ‘Bucket Regatta’ in March, and the 6-day regatta known as ‘Voiles de St Barth’ in April, both of which attract some of the biggest and most impressive sailing boats in the world, including maxi yachts. 




Bucket Regatta
photo © Laurent Benoit




Les voiles de St Barth
photo © comité territorial du tourisme de Saint Barth




Les voiles de St Barth
photo © comité territorial du tourisme de Saint Barth




Not to mention various other sailing races such as the ‘New Year’s Eve Regatta’, and the ‘Régate Rose’ (‘Pink Regatta’ to raise money for breast cancer research) between St Tropez and St Barts…





Comité territorial de tourisme de Saint Barthélemy



In addition, all the French national feast days are celebrated, as are French cultural events such as the ‘Fete de la Musique’ on 21 June. Also New Year, which is a real event on the island, with millionaires’ yachts arriving in the port that evening, fireworks going off over the port of Gustavia and many restaurants in celebratory mood. Naturally the 14th July, Bastille Day, is also celebrated – St Barts is proud of its French roots!




feu d'artifices St Barth - Tony Duarte




feu d'artifices St Barth - Tony Duarte
Copyright Tony Duarte