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Winter 2006 | Weekender: St. Barts

Winter 2006 | Weekender: St. Barts

At a time when much of the Caribbean appears increasingly hostile to gay and lesbian travelers, tiny St. Barts--that island hideaway for the global fabulocracy--is a surprisingly tolerant, trés chic retreat.

Like half of St. Martin (its neighbor and site of a well-publicized gay-bashing incident earlier this year), St. Barts is a French colony. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, St. Barts was a strategic Colonial-era commercial hub traded for centuries between Swedes, Brits, and ultimately the French. Today, French law--and a decidedly laissez-faire sense of openness--governs the eight-square-mile island, which dazzles with its sheer physical beauty, a slate of new sleek, discreet hotels, Michelin-worthy cuisine, Madison Avenue–level shopping, and a "don't ask, don't care" crowd.

Day 1
Touchdown and downtime: Check into your hotel, then recover by the beach from the heart-stopping thrill of landing at the blink-and-you-miss-it St. Barts airport. Work on your tan before slipping into that comfy-chic something for your first night out. Start with drinks and continue with dinner at On the Rocks at the ever-chic Eden Rock hotel (011-590-590-29-79-99). , close to the airport. Chef Jean-Claude Dufour's open kitchen delivers dishes such as crab and seafood soup with lemon grass, squid ravioli, and quail breast kebab with satay sauce, all served on three seafront levels. If you're up to it, head for a nightcap at Boubou's (Grand Cul-de-Sac, 011-590-590-276), to chill to the house DJ and hang out under the Moroccan-style tent.

Day 2
Hit the beach: Sleep late and enjoy a languorous seafront breakfast before tackling the island. Arrange a rental car through your hotel (about $45 per day) to cruise like a local. Pop into Maya's to Go (Les Galleries du Commerce, St.-Jean, 011-590-590-29-8370) for the finest picnic supplies--from croissants to sushi to lobster tails--before making your way to secluded Anse du Grand Colombier on the island's northwest tip. Pack lots of water--this pristine sandy strip requires a steep, 20-minute hike, rewarded by Technicolor sunsets and unrivaled solitude. Pack a change of clothes and stay all day before making your way to La Case de l'Isle at the Hotel Saint-Barth Isle de France (011-590-590 27 61 81) for dinner. Perched over aquamarine Flamands Bay, the restaurant has a new look and a lighter, more organic-focused menu.

Day 3
Spa and shop: For such a sybaritic island, St. Barts was relatively late to latch on to the spa resort trend. But it's quickly playing catch-up. Hôtel Guanahani's (011-590-590 27 66 60) serene three-year-old Clarins Spa has a pair of new suites--one with a private deck and Jacuzzi, the other with a beachfront "bathtub for two"--and its own Frédéric Fekkai salon, opening this season. Follow your treatment with a dose of island-wide duty-free retail therapy. In the capital, Gustavia--especially along the Quai de la République--look for boutiques from global biggies such as Hermès, Ralph Lauren, Armani, and Cartier. For more variety, visit indie shops like Human Steps (Rue de la Republique, Gustavia, 011-590-590-276046) for Prada, Miu Miu, and Paul Smith footwear, and Iléna (Villa Creole, St.-Jean, 011-590-590-298405) for Dior. Pop by Ligne St. Barth (Route de Saline, Lorient, 011-590-590-287263) to stock up on the coveted bath and body products brand at the source (at up to half off U.S. prices). End the day with dinner at Maya's (Saline Beach; 011-590-590-524610) for chef-owner Maya Gurley's contemporary Creole cuisine, beloved by fashion and media kings on both sides of the Atlantic. Expect the freshest produce, often from Gurley's native Guadeloupe. End the night at Le Feeling (Lurin, 011-590-590-528409) (not gay, but certainly gay-friendly) for dancing and cabaret.

Le Sereno (011-590 590-29-83-00, from 450 Euros), Parisian architect Christian Liaigre's latest Caribbean project, is a year-old 37-suite modern-design abode fronting deep blue Grand Cul-de-Sac beach. There's a sleek Indonesian stone swimming pool and a clutch of private cottages, including a massive recently finished stunner with its own pool. Next door, Hôtel Guanahani and Spa (011-590-590 27 66 60, from 550 Euros) is St. Barts's only true full-service resort. Le Manoir de Marie (011-590-590 27 79 27, from about $115), a 17th-century Norman cottage transported from France to St. Barts two decades ago, offers eight Gallic-style rooms as well as a two-bedroom manor house amid mango and banana gardens.

There are no direct flights between St. Barts and the United States--all travelers must transit via neighboring St. Martin. St. Barts is either a 10-minute flight (try Winair, or St. Barth Commuter) or a one-hour ferry ride away (Rapid Explorer, or Voyager).

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