For many celebs and tycoons St. Barth’s is their home away from home. Those seeking glamour without pretense, however, look no further than the secluded hideaway of Le Sereno for its unique barefoot luxury. Jet away with Lance Avery Morgan to experience the island dream that high profile and celebrated visitors enjoy at this year ‘round oasis.
The French, as you know from spending any time in Paris, have a phrase that is often heard as a response to most requests: Non, non qui est tout à fait impossible – nous ne pouvons pas faire que pour vous (No, no that is quite impossible – we cannot do that for you). In St. Barth’s, the chic, small island in the French West Indies, the response is very different: Yes, of course. Whatever you wish, we can make it happen. At the insider’s favorite resort of Le Sereno, the response is accompanied by the fulfillment of any request for its star-studded guests.
“We believe the ‘St. Barth Spirit’ is embodied in a series of somewhat contradictory values such as: private, friendly, exclusive, stylish, informal, French (although the clientele is predominantly American), simplicity, good food, party, quiet and relaxed,” confides Le Sereno’s South American owner, Luis Contreras. “There are other “non-contradictory values that are also important, but are much easier to understand such as: Beach/Sun; Expensive; The Beautiful People, etc. We believe in creating a tangible environment were the intangible “spirit of St. Barth” is evident; both in the rooms, pool, public areas and the restaurant.”
At St. Barth’s it is easy to feel that anything is possible as the balmy winds blow across the water seems to get bluer with a more intent stare. Those in the know swear that St. Barth’s looks exactly as it did in the 1950s, when the French-Caribbean island was known in insider circles as the private sandbox for the Rockefeller and Rothschild families and their Jet Set play pals (the former David Rockefeller mansion sits right above Colombier beach, which is one of the island’s 17 beaches). Fast forward to today where St. Barth’s is now coveted vacation getaway.
Getting there from Texas is a real jaunt. If you are flying commercial, there are many flights, and they fly often, from here to the island of St. Maarten. Once on St. Maarten island either a small jet or a water ferry gets you to St. Barth’s in about 30 minutes. Then let the fun and relaxation begin. And oh, so stylishly so.
Ignore the lore of the extravagant party scene in St Barth’s that may have tarnished its lure to some. Not everyone wants to come to St. Barth’s to do tequila shots with Hip Hop singers or be around the latest junior film actress’s island escapades as she’s enroute to recovery. That is exactly why people who want R&R at a high level seek Le Sereno instead. The hideaway is yes, a favorite of Victoria’s Secret catalog shoots, and also Bill Gates likes to have lunch there periodically while visiting his sister’s home nearby, yet this resort exudes the best of the best for a sun-filled getaway that is located on the Grand Cul-de-Sac lagoon on the island’s northeastern side.
HIGH STYLE SECLUSION
The resort has, to use another French term, soignée. Perhaps that is firmly in place because of the world–class French designer Christian Liaigre (in the U.S, think of the Mercer and Buddakahn hotels in Manhattan and beyond that, the Montalembert in Paris, Troisgros in Roanne, Busaba in London, as well as private residences he’s done for Karl Lagerfeld, Calvin Klein and many others of the pop cultural elite). At Le Sereno he has created, literally, a serene environment in varying shades of Dior gray, snow white and with punches of red to keep the visual senses alert in the island surrounded by miles of azure blue water. Liaigre owns a home on the island, so he understands what a visitor would love in St. Barth’s and designed a perfect backdrop for the ocean’s mesmerizing water tones at the resort.
Upon arriving, after the hotel’s driver who picks you up at the ferry landing or island airport, the calm begins to set in for your stay. Secluded, yet with island access to the island’s “scene”, when desired, the resort’s entry speaks volumes. The entire scope of the resort is taken in with one breathless look. The hotel’s 37 suites and villas (that amount can easily also be found on just one floor of a Vegas hotel) is anchored by the center, freshwater pool, and faces the island’s tranquil beachfront of the resort’s peaceful lagoon. It exemplifies understated exclusivity.
The resort has been there for about 30 years, yet underwent a transition in 2002 when the chic Venezuelan architect couple Luis and Gabriella Contreras envisioned the hotel as a new player in the resort scene on the island. Then they went to work transforming it into an oasis. “Our business is word of mouth. We are not a resort spot like you might find on other islands,” shares Gabriella Contreras. “You don’t feel overscheduled while you are here. Plus, it is so quiet, there are no need for our celebrity clientele to have security guards. Privacy is key.”
Privacy is indeed key, which is reflected in the rooms that are elegant, yet without fuss. Comfortable and lovely, yes, but this is a beach destination after all, so the hooks on the wall of every room to hang wet swimsuits speak volumes of the practicality of the rooms and villas. The four-poster beds that are draped with crisp white mosquito netting rests on dark, wide-plank wooden floors. The decadent Porthault linens throughout are as bright white as the walls. It is this intentionally neutral backdrop that frames the stunning ocean that sweeps beyond the French doors to the patio, complete with an array of gray furniture and often times, lap poolside views. Beyond the suite’s wooden benches, desks and sleek sofas, you’ll find the latest five star amenities like plasma-screen TV’s, iPod docking stations and of course, Wi-Fi to stay in touch with the outside world when needed.
In the last decade, naturally, the resort as found itself as the go-to destination for fashion types from both Paris and the US (about 50% of the hotel’s guests are Americans), along with media mavericks, high tech successes and their families. In fact, while I was there several young families had children in tow, all perfectly behaved, so as not to intrude with those guests who were married couples seeking down time or the singletons there to explore the nightlife as well as the beach’s sun scene. In fact, according to owner Gabrielle Contreras, one American couple has come to the resort every year for 30 years; sometimes with their family on occasion, but always for a trip alone, too.
Around the holidays, during the beginning of the high season, the island goes, well, crazy, shares Contreras, and plenty of other people who have managed the Christmas time frenzy. She states, “It’s nuts. We love it, but it’s nuts. We have one special visitor who comes twice a year. Once during the holidays so he can get business done by meeting others, and the other time during the low season when it is much more quiet.” From about December 20th to about January 5th is off the charts and that is the time when people showboat their yachts in nearby Gustavia harbor. Island occupancy tends to quadruple at this time and all the hotels and restaurants are usually overbooked. Getting a table without a reservation weeks in advance is a pipedream. So, going in the winter takes planning. The room rates at Le Sereno range from one bedroom suites at $700 a night low season to $1500 a night in the high season and increase from there depending on the number of bedrooms in the suite and the whether you include a private pool or hot tub.
For a group of friends or a family gathering, Le Sereno’s villas are a perfect option. The rates range from $4860 a night in the low season to $11,500 a night during the high season and if you are in a buying mood, each villa is always for sale for a cool $10 million dollars. There are three of these abodes that perch upon the beautifully landscaped hill, above the resort’s entrance, and each of the four-bedroom villas provides 7000 square feet of living space including the deck, outside living spaces and amply sized swimming pools. Nestled above the resort, with a view of the lagoon and luxury homes that dot the hillside, the villas also come with a 24/7 butler and many special occasion options for gatherings. For families, the rooms will be supplied with stuffed animals and custom jigsaw puzzles handcrafted in France and illustrated in Venezuela that the owners created. A Mini Cooper convertible also awaits the villa resident, ideal for traversing the island’s winding roads.
The town of Gustavia, when you venture out, is a shopper’s haven. All shops are duty free, including Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, as well as any other luxury brand you could want. Inspired by the resort’s innate flair? Christian Liaigre furnishings are available at his boutique in Gustavia. The eight square mile island takes only 20 minutes by car to go anywhere you want. Some of the best and most sought-after restaurants can be arranged by the hotel concierge in the low season. It is important to note that St. Barth’s is known as the “cuisine capital of the Caribbean.” Its flavors and food range from classic French to native seafood to Asian and West Indian cuisine are readily available at more than 80 restaurants.
During the high season is when the island’s eateries buzz at a fever pitch. The restaurants that have the most scene-stealing people watching and water views are Baz Bar, Isola, Bonita’s and Maya, and more depending on the mood you are in to create a stir with a group, or to simply share a dinner for two. The nightlife on St. Barth is diverse as well. From live jazz at a café to some of the most happening discos and nightclub, the great times never seem to end in St. Barth.
Within arm’s reach, the resort’s only restaurant and accompanying bar, Restaurant des Pêcheurs, is about al fresco dining. Set above the sand and by the pool, it serves as an epicenter of epicurean delights. It specializes in seafood and its special wine list complements every course. Serving all three meals, the eatery transforms itself from a casual breakfast and lunch spot to a fine dining establishment all by way of lighting – pin lights, candles and up lighting create a very sexy ambiance for a romantic meal, or just a gathering of friends.
While there, indulge in the hotel’s Spa at Le Sereno. The designer Liagre also had a heavy hand in designing the hotel’s spa retreat area which uses the fragrant Ligne St. Barth products that are made with ingredients native to the island. The retreat has treatment rooms that are actually waterfront pavilion that mean you never are leaving the beachy feeling while being indulgent. I recommend two spa treatments out of the array of an extensive menu of facials, body wraps and massages.
The first is the spa’s specialty, the St. Barth Coco Massage that uses fresh coconut shavings as part of the therapeutic scrub treatment. For sixty minutes it is worlds-way indulgence at its finest. The second massage is the resort’s signature massage called the Chill Out. It may as well be called Heaven. This one-of-a-kind treatment was created by the spa and infuses hand-buffed clamshells that are filled with minerals and seawater that are then activated with heat and applied through the massage to the skin. The warmth of the shells, the scent of the minerals and the coolness of the breeze in the spa’s treatment area is the perfect combination that also offers health benefits beyond the mind renewal; it stimulates lymphatic flow and increasing circulation flow. The best part is that skin is immediately silky smooth as the massage comes to an end before you create your next island adventure.
Since the island is home to a fair amount of the most beautiful and pristine beaches on the planet, there are many water activities to fill the days if sunning, eating and shopping are not enough. Within steps on the beach is the opportunity to snorkel, sail, kayak, paddleboard or Jet Ski the day away and still not have to leave the resort’s waterfront. We love that.
At Le Sereno, where it’s French connection can remedy the toll of hard work with a week or more of true serenity to return to again and again, as if seeing an old friend that one missed more than one thought.