I had never been to the luxurious island of St Barthélemy (St Barths ) before, so when I was invited by Le Guanahani Hotel and Spa , I leapt at the chance to go. Not only did I experience the wonders of the resort, but came to know one of its treasures—the Clarins Spa—the only one in the Caribbean to offer the “My Blend” facial treatment, reputed for its anti-wrinkle properties.
The tropical island of St Barths (population 9,278) is approximately 25 square kilometres (just over 9 square miles), located southeast of St Martin and north of St Kitts. Puerto Rico is only 240 kilometres (150 miles) to the west.
Mention the name St Barths to people throughout the world, and immediately luxury springs to mind. But what many people don’t know is that there is also an abundance of wildlife and a firm commitment to ecology on this island. It maintains a strict recycling program for household trash, has a desalination system coupled with cisterns under houses for rainwater collection, offers incentives to use low-energy light bulbs, and protects the salt flats around the island. In other words, while you relax, St Barths is hard at work protecting the beauty and the ecosystems of the island.
One of its most famous venues, Le Guanahani Hotel and Spa, lies between Marigot Bay and Grand Cul-de- Sac in a private enclave spread out over 18 secludedacres on its own peninsula. Easily accessible to travellers, it is only two miles from Gustaf III Airport. Last year, Le Guanahani celebrated its 30th anniversary by commissioning a US$40 million refurbishment by famed Venezuelan Renaissance man, Luis Pons— architect, artist, interior and accessories designer
Well known as a multi-generational destination, Le Guanahani has seen many young honeymoon couples return to the hotel years later as parents, and later still, as grandparents, with all family members in tow. Pons wanted to keep the guests–and their lifestyle–in mind, when redesigning the hotel.
“From the beginning Le Guanahani has been the choice for elite young families: people who are cultured, informed, well-travelled and educated, with an eye for beautiful detail. Above all, they are looking for the safety and security of a private environment in a place that provides a sense of relaxed luxury,” says Pons.
In the native Taino language, “guanahani” means “welcome.” The lobby of the hotel is situated in a plantation-style house, which opens onto a dining area and a lounge, offering a warm, homely welcome for arriving guests. The reception desk is designed to resemble a bar, crafted from the many steamer trunks on a porter’s trolley. Charmingly, the “explorers” style is echoed throughout the design on the property.
Pons says, “The spirit of the Guanahani design is the spontaneous gesture of courtesy: a hug and the tip of a hat. The Panama hat became the inspirational object for Le Guanahani brand because, for me, it is the perfect integration of form and function, representing sophistication, lightness, craftsmanship and beauty. It provides shelter to one person as a roof provides shelter to many.”
As you walk through the property, you will see how hats are used as part of the decoration, on racks or incorporated into the furniture. The open doors of the reception lead to a broad veranda and to lush gardens outside, with the Clarins Spa just off to the left, creating an oasis of calm for parents and grandparents wishing to relax while their children are looked after in the Children’s Club. The property also boasts two restaurants, the Indigo and the Bartolomeo, two swimming pools, tennis courts, a fitness centre, and an array of water sports to keep the whole family happy.
The hotel’s vernacular architecture is that of a village comprised of clusters of Caribbean-style cottages, which are set within a network of gardens and offer a variety of views over hills, mountains, beaches and valleys. There are 30 rooms, 27 suites and 10 unique signature suites on the property, many with their own pools.
As to landscaping, Pons followed the weather conditions of the island. On the windy side, plants with thin leaves draw attention to the movement of the breeze. In the shade and in front of the rooms where plants are protected from the wind and salt, there are more exuberant and lush gardens with exotic tropical plants that contrast with the simplicity of the bungalows.
Painted in yellow, blue and lavender, the bungalows’ colours reflect the hotel’s previous colour palette (the hotel opened in 1986 and expanded in 1991), each meant to be associated with a distinctive mood, energy and lifestyle. Yellow is the dynamic, blue is the sophisticated and lavender is the mystic.
Within the bungalows, Pons increased the light and space by relocating bathrooms to structures outside. He used indirect LED lighting to emphasize the beauty of the cathedral ceilings and the new spacious living and sleeping areas. I loved the space both inside and outside. It seems someone else did as well: each morning, as I sat in my garden, I was visited by one of the local red-footed tortoises (Chelonoidis carbonaria) who shared my fruit breakfast. Bold and brave, it ate straight from my hand.
In matters of design, Pons described how he fashioned the interior: “In the furnishing collection I created for the resort, the aesthetic of the Panama hat takes on a new dimension. Applied to cabinets, the weave creates lightness in the design, representing relaxing on the beach under shady palm trees. The structure of the furniture evokes the exterior of the bungalows, which are surfaced and framed with wood elements. In Neocolonial style, each piece of furniture recreated the image of a vintage travelling trunk. The five lines of the furniture collection are inspired by the furniture and luggage explorers carried on their journeys throughout the colonies.
Souvenirs and antiques from adventurous journeys, as well as a collection of pillows are used to tell a story about the notion of vacation, and are all part of the concept behind “Rooms as a Map of Life.” Pillows and throws express the transition that occurs between departure from the urban environment and arrival in a tropical atmosphere. Three concepts integrate art into the design of the rooms and reception lobby: the collector, the artist and the merchant of art.
Authentic Turkish, Persian and Moroccan carpets have been cut and reassembled in patchwork fashion, displaying diverse colours, textures and patterns. Desk mats, magazine caddies, hat racks and bathroom accessories have been handcrafted from timeless materials including leather, stone, marble and buffalo horn.”
Pons told me that he loves to set the stage for things to happen. What he loved most was to be a storyteller in experiential design. As I sat on the veranda of my beautiful cottage, with its spectacular view and pristine pool, I became part of this story even if it was just for a little while. Having lived in Europe, I found that the re-styled Guanahani offered a unique blend of cultures–the chic of the South of France with the warm notes of the Caribbean. And like its other loyal guests, I too would return with my family.