Culture

Most residents of St-Barth fall into one of three categories: descendants of the pioneers from Normandy who have called St-Barth home for more than 300 years; mainland French setting up expensive shops and restaurants; or foreigners looking for a more relaxed lifestyle. As tourism blossomed, the first group of residents largely traded in their fishing careers for tourism-related jobs, so virtually everyone is working in hospitality of some sort.

Despite the island’s location, the general atmosphere is much more that of a quiet seaside province in France than a jammin’ Caribbean colony.

For hundreds of years, St-Barth’s residents were too busy toiling in near-impossible conditions to create much art, thus the traditional handicrafts were largely utilitarian, such as hats and baskets woven from the leaves of latanier palms.

Today there's a smattering of art galleries and workshops around the island devoted to exhibiting local paintings, photography and sculpture. For more information about visiting artists’ studios, stop by the tourist office.

Landscape & Wildlife

St-Barth’s total land area is a mere 24 sq km, although its elongated shape and hilly terrain make it seem larger. The island lies 25km southeast of St-Martin/Sint Maarten.

St-Barth has numerous dry and rocky offshore islets. The largest, Île Fourchue, is a half-sunken volcanic crater whose large bay is a popular yacht anchorage and a destination for divers and snorkelers.

St-Barth’s arid climate sustains dryland flora, such as cacti and bougainvillea. Local fauna includes the red-footed land tortoise, the Lesser Antillean iguana, the Anguilla Bank Anole lizard, and the endangered Anguilla Bank racer snake (all snakes on St-Barth are harmless, though they can bite). From April to August, sea turtles lay eggs along the beaches on the northwest side of the island. The islets off St-Barth support seabird colonies, including those of frigate birds.

Considering the island’s minuscule size, St-Barth has an impressive 16 beaches. Those looking for ‘in-town’ beaches will find that St-Jean, Flamands, Lorient and Shell Beach all have beautiful sandy strands. The most famous secluded beaches – Colombier, Grande Saline and Gouverneur – are as close to the picture-perfect Caribbean beach as possible, with long, powdery expanses of sand and gently lapping warm waves.

In recent years St-Barth has taken environmental concerns very seriously, and has committed to sustainable methods of energy production. The island utilizes a color-coded recycling system; be sure to toss glass in green containers and plastic in blue containers.

In 2001 St-Barth pioneered the first ecofriendly trash incinerator of its kind in the Caribbean. The incinerator is able to simultaneously burn trash, create energy and produce drinkable water, all with less pollution than older incinerators. It comes with a higher price tag, but islanders feel the result is worth it.