St. Barts: A Foodie’s Paradise

 @MarkJohansonIBT on December 23 2011 1:16 PM

St. Barts may be eight square miles of arid, volcanic rock, but this small Caribbean hideaway is home to over 60 restaurants.

The French territory is by far the Caribbean's foodiest destination.

Why? I think it all starts with the fact that it's French, joked Stiles Bennet, the president of WIMCO (West Indies Management Company), which just released the Vendôme Guide to St. Barthelemy in December. The book is one of the most complete travel resources on the territory.

The island's name is shortened to St. Barth with its nearly silent h for the French, and St. Barts with no apostrophe for Americans.

However you call it, the island is unique in that it's peopled primarily by descendants of the original French settlers and transplanted Europeans. Unlike other French Caribbean Islands like Martinique, Guadeloupe and half of St. Martin (the other half is Dutch) where those of African descent make up the majority of the population, most in St. Barts hail from regions of Northern France like Normandy and Brittany.

Through the vagaries of history, it became a duty-free port and more recently, liberated itself from the administrative yoke of Guadeloupe.

Odd, idyllic, and enchanting, St. Barts is certainly the most unusual of the French West Indies.

But how did this small island that's environmentally undistinguished and politically invisible with no casinos or dazzling clubs become the Caribbean St. Tropez?

St Barts' tourism industry really developed in the 1970s, when the small island became a popular escape for New York elite.

These New Yorkers came down and expected the classic cuisine from French cafés they'd eaten at in Manhattan, Bennet said.

Over the next three decades, St. Barts grew its reputation as the premier Caribbean destination for high-end food and luxurious accommodation.

The fact is it's really 100% focused on tourism, Bennet notes. There is nothing else on the island - no natural resources, no manufacturing. You can't grow anything. There's not even a rum distillery.

As luck would have it, Bennet adds, it's a rather exclusive spot that can support a high quality culture of cuisine.

The average dish on St. Barts is on par with a nice restaurant in New York and though the island uses the euro, any establishment will accept dollars after a quick conversion.

In the winter months, throngs of Americans flock to this star-studded island to escape the seasonal chills. In the summer, the crowd is more European. Though the official language is French, nearly everyone speaks English, and the menus and signs are bilingual.

The food may be pricier than other Caribbean destinations, but you'll save on the drinks.

Wine is one of the great values of St. Barts, Bennet notes. You can get a nice Burgundy or Bordeaux for cheap because it's not subject to import tax.

Like any Caribbean island, rum is king of the cocktail menu. St. Barts, however, does something decidedly different with the island staple.

Though a planter's punch or rum and coke is a popular daytime quaff, the heart of St. Barts' rum culture lies in its Rhum Vanille.

Rhum Vanille is an ever-popular digestive. Every restaurant has its own recipe, but essentially the drink involves vanilla and aged rum for a smooth after dinner nip.

Rhum Vanille tasting is like a sport for many, Bennet said, adding that couples will make the rounds to sample each restaurant's offering.

With 60 restaurants on this island of just 8,000 residents, it's hard to know where to begin. Bennet offers a few suggestions for eaters of all types:

Most Romantic: L'Isola, Le Gaiac, La Case de L'isle, The Rock, Victoria's

Best on the Beach: La Plage, Sand Bar, La Gloriette, Do Brasil, Nikki Beach

Easy on the Wallet: Andy's Hideaway, Les Bannaniers, Le Jardin, Entre Deux, Le Select

Classic French: Wall House, Sante Fe, Le Bistroy

Creole: La Langouste, Chez Rolande, Chez Yvon, Au Regal

Exotique: Le Ti St Barth, Tamarin, Massia

For a look at some of the island's signature dishes and where to try them, scroll through the photos above.

The Vendôme Guide to St. Barthelemy is published by WIMCO. The company's 2011-2012 international villa inventories and live availability can be previewed online at www.WIMCO.com.

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