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The December 2010 Trip - A Novel

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GayleR View Drop Down
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    Posted: 21 December 2010 at 4:42am
WARNING - This is a crazy long trip report! Glass (or bottle of wine) may be required.

We started our trip with a Sunday overnight stay in NYC at the fabulous, newly renovated Surrey Hotel on E 76th Street between 5th and Madison and dinner in their restaurant Cafe Boulud - the perfect meal to start our vacation.

Continental flight from EWR-SXM was a breeze and had us into SXM by 1:00 and on our island via the wonderful St Barths Commuter by 2:30. Picked up car fro Avis (love the convenient online booking) and arrived at the charming Normandie Hotel for our one night stay before moving to our villa. This experience reminded me so much of the St Barths of 20 years ago. We arrived to find no one around...our key was in an envelope with our name on it, and a little welcome message, propped up at the front desk. We were given the first room on the left immediately as you come in the front door which was thoughtful and convenient for us to haul the stuff to and from the car for the one night.

The next day we headed to beautiful, contemporary Le Jardins d'Emmanuel and happened...we fell...we fell hard for the intoxicating charms of Rosita. Oh we'd known Rosita socially over the years but we'd never been entrapped by her web of incredible generosity and hospitality.  2011 will be our 25th year of  going to St Barths. After probably 40 trips, a few hotels  and many, many villas, we have never experienced a villa owner quite like Mme Rosita.

The villa is beautiful and well laid out, with expansive grounds, utmost privacy and quiet and a spectacular view. Rosita has literally thought of everything. This house is so well equipped that for a nit-picky, hyper-critical OCD person like me, I was in heaven. In addition to all the standards one expects in a good villa, there was also abundant and very good quality glassware (no shortage of champagne flutes, highballs, old fashioneds etc.), whiteware, including excellent bowls, platters, serving pieces, good knives! and every kitchen accoutrement one would ever need, beautiful linens (table, bed and bath), an extremely comfortable and firm bed, black out drapes, mosquito coils, fresh candles..I could g on and on and on...I know some people are reticent to share their villa finds or to rave about villas they love for fear of having then "stolen" out from under them...but this villa is completely booked so it won't make a difference. And I simply could not help but shine a spotlight on this extraordinary villa and owner.

Rosita called us every few days to check in on "her two little birds", ensuring we had everything we needed (and more). She remembered and noted my birthday and of course was there to greet us and came to say goodbye too. This could not have been a better experience. In fact we rebooked for next year!

On a personal note, I often found myself at the foot of, or gazing at Julie's Tree, standing strong and proud (just like Julie) and reflecting on our brief friendship and remembering what an incredible woman she was. I'm sending love to Jim this difficult holiday season.

Though the island seemed quiet (la calme avant la tempete), there was much traffic and a ton of road work going on. Generally people seem cautiously optimistic about a prosperous season ahead but all admit it's been a pretty tough slog the last couple of years.

Weather was the weirdest we've ever seen, 6 days out of 12 of completely overcast skies with intermittent or heavy persistent rain, some sun (not much), lots of rain, ending with clear, windy days. Note to self, bring an umbrella.

In Gustavia you need to put "le disque bleu"  on your dashboard when you park, turning the paper dial to indicate the time of your arrival and allowing you 90 minutes in town. This is such a joke. Merchants and lingering visitors run back and forth changing the time on the discs all day long. Plus apparently the "traffic cop" doesn't check after 3:00 during school days as he picks up his kids from school to takes them home and doesn't go back to work.

We arrived on a Monday and on Tuesday we headed to L'Oasis and MatchU - almost bare shelves at both. Thursday proved better at MatchU but line ups at cashier snaked through the store and down the aisles with waits of 40 minutes!

I never thought I'd say this, but all the clothing stores have all the same gauzy, pretty print stuff they always had with nothing new or interesting to look at or buy. And I haven't the least bit of interest in global brands I can buy anywhere. But as an aside, out of curiosity, I did compare prices at Bulgari, Cartier and Chopard and prices were about 20% more than in US. There are four shopping exceptions in my opinion that are worth the time and the expenditure, if you're into shopping.

The first is Laurent Effel where Anna and Erik have the most luscious and irresistible bags and shoes.  The second is all the rage - grey and/or black Tahitian and/or baroque pearls on leather cords. Though they've been around for awhile, this year everyone is selling them and the prices and quality vary wildly. Buyer beware I say. And yes, I did succumb to a 31 pearl, very long strand. Sigh...The next spot worth checking out is Genevieve Lethu This lovely shop is on the street that runs west away from the port from the corner of the Wall House. Prices are fabulous and it's a great place for the perfect gift (or a set of stunning dessert plates being shipped in January!). And finally this is the first time I have ventured into C.C.P.F - the large store in Public up behind La Cave. This is a mini department store with a wide array of stuff from kitchenware to china, to linens. They had fabulous espresso cups and saucers for a few euros, mini Emile Henry casseroles and serving pieces for a fraction of what they cost at home and many other treasures. Be aware, this is local, not glamourous, not a boutique, with crap everywhere - but a fun hunt.

Two shops for men still worth the fly by are Linen where Valery continues the tradition of great menswear at good prices and Cafe Coton where Michael always picks up shirts he loves.

We were not adventurous at all this trip, sticking to comforts and tried and trues.

Coffee/croisssants and omelettes many mornings, and cocktails many evenings before dinner at Bar L'Oubli. Live music from a terrible "flamenco" musician names Soley on Wednesdays. Very fun atmosphere despite complete lack of talent. No one cared.

Upon multiple recos we went to IdF for the Tuesday fashion show and cocktails. Unfortunately it had been raining pretty heavily, so people sat at restaurant tables so no socializing going on. Still a pleasant evening and what could be bad watching beautiful models walk around mostly naked?

Le Repair - best frites
Routes des Boucanniers - best burger, sadly frozen frites this season
Wall House - a pleasant surprise for lunch - big menu, excellent chicken Caesar Salad, killer frites, superb value
Santa Fe - Another Emmanuel with charm - wonderful food and view to match
Le Piment - one of our faves this trip - exceptional Caesar Salad with "crispy chicken", great burger (alas frozen frites)
Kiki et Mo - for take out
La Cantina - the warm, welcoming Franck (former of Wall House) presides over average, non descript lunch fare (frozen frites too) - what a waste of his talents (see Gossip section below)
Creperie - always delicious salads and crepes
Isle de France - terrific wok for two (changes daily) in beautiful beach setting with gorgeous models

Harbour Saladerie - Twice. Thiery, Gilles and Patrick were at their home in Mont Tremblant, Quebec skiing so service missed a beat, but only marginally. Still great pizza. Maitre d' is former Le Repair waiter many will recognize. Love the old Jao setting for these guys whose former digs belied the excellent food and service.
L'Entracte - new owner, very nice. Same pizza maker and former owner/chef still works 5 days a week. Reliable.
Wall House - not the same. Nice to see a varied menu but miss the old staff and food was average verging on bad. Smoked tuna carpaccio came undressed - and less than fresh. Had to ask for lemon and olive oil. Chicken supreme served on thick, gummy, tasteless risotto that had consistency and texture of day old oatmeal. Whole sea bream was good as were faux frog's legs. Rack of lamb - meh. Desserts had been sitting around and were tired.
L'Isola - twice - first night FANTASTIC - best meal of the trip. Eggplant parm light and airy, followed by best veal milanese and penne arrabiata to accompany with amazing service. Second time - mediocre at best, and a 75 euro porterhouse for which the price was not disclosed nor was the fact that it could have served four (our bad for not asking), despite it being my birthday (which they knew).
K'fe Massai - new chef - new menu. Yes, still have fixed price menu with three choices per course but not three different price points. Service terrific. Food just OK. Portions huge. Michael said best rack of lamb on trip. Alas superb tarte au citron of days past is no longer.
Pipiri (Le Palace) - excellent, as always, though "special" tomato/mango salad declaration is getting a bit tired.
Le Bęte ŕ Z’Ailes (BAZ Bar) - sushi and Adam Falcon trio. Both of us got sick from both food and likely music too. Hmmm...
Maya's - we enjoy Maya's before the crazy rush, when it's half full and the staff slide up to the table, rather than run through the resto. Food was fresh and delicious with superior service and good conversation with Randy and Maya.
Eddy's - delicious food, great ambiance, Eddy on sight. It was all good.

I was fortunate to celebrate my birthday on the island. Thank you to all who sent lovely, thoughtful birthday wishes. I started the day with a pedicure (absolute worst I have ever had) and a massage (excellent) at the Isle de France Spa, followed by my annual cheeseburger and frites washed down with rose at Boucanniers, a nap, a fabulous facial outside beside the pool from Insitute de Beaute (thank you RM!), champagne and dinner at L'Isola. I am blessed and thankful.

Never a shortage of tidbits.
Franck was supposed to be cooking at La Cantina but former Bernard of Wall House got wind and enforced non compete clause despite the fact this place will never compete with wall House, forcing Franck to be the host at what is essentially a snack bar. And no, he has never recovered his money from you know who, who the FBI is apparently looking for too.

Contrary to original plans Laurent Effel kept both the skins and purse store which is also carrying Beverly Feldman shoes at much better prices. No plans for the Stroks to leave the island.

Old Dior store is now Tourbillon store Like the island needs another watch shop.

Le Presqu'ile has no hot water and owner (who is a plumber) doesn't care or plan to repair it. (I know, I know, how on earth would I know this, or even care about this place, once referred to as the closest thing St Barths has to a housing project?!).

Charley's Chicken Shack (yes, really!) opened in the parking lot of Primantilles selling whole BBQ chickens as well as full take away meals at fairly decent prices.

Bulgari is running an interesting scam. Two or three years ago when chatting with the owner he told us they price everything in US dollars and discount some things (which means all things) about 20%. This year all price tags were marked in euros and we were told that "just for us" they'd give the item to us for the same cost in dollars...which, when I compared to US pricing was actually 32% more. Take from that what you will.

Thankfully the days of lugging the separate book bag (and paying for it) are over. One Kindle, One iPad and we were set.
Books I read included:
Angel's Game, Zafon
Unbearable Lightness, de Rossi
Room, Donoghue (best fiction book of the trip)
Growing Up Laughing, Thomas (best non fiction book of the trip)
I Remember Nothing, Ephron
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Larsson
The Cookbook Collector, Goodman

And finally....
It's been a jam-packed year filled with lots of good things, some not so good things and a ton of stress and many long days and nights. We are both always connected and online, including during vacations. Michael has not taken a vacation in 10 years where he hasn't had to work in the mornings (and sometimes in the late afternoons too). For this trip, we decided to completely  unplug. No Blackberrys, iPhones, voice mail or email. No Twitter or Facebook either. After I got over having the shakes for the first three days (extra champagne helped), I can say it was B-L-I-S-S-F-U-L!!!!! The world still turned, the office managed just fine, the Twitterverse didn't miss me and Michael and I connected in a way we haven't in a long time. So fellow SBH lovers....if I have any words of wisdom about going to the paradise island we all love so much, it's UNPLUG! Listen to the waves, feel the breezes, inhale the tropical fragrances that surround, watch the changing horizon and look at the one your with, tell them you love them and be thankful that you are there.

I wish all of you a happy, healthy holiday season and a wonderful 2011.

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stbarthlover View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote stbarthlover Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 December 2010 at 10:03am
Great report, Gayle.  Sounds like a near-perfect trip.  I enjoyed hearing about le Jardins de Emmanuel.  We have stayed twice in La Baleine, Rosita's other villa, and have been in love with Rosita for years.  Next year we are staying at La Baleine for a week and then over to Emmanuel for the next week.  We are really looking forward to a double-dose of Rosita!  Thanks for whetting our appetites!
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GregB View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GregB Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 December 2010 at 12:15am
Thanks Gayle for posting the Nobel Novella of the year. 
Enjoyed every morsel of gossip, rumor and tips.  Most appreciated are your shopping insights, rip-off detectors and keen eye for what makes an ideal St Barth villa. 
Its easy to realize that Rosita Magras, as villa owner extraordinaire, sees eye to eye with you on villa decor, quality and furnishings, accoutrements and personal touches that make a villa much more than another rental property. 
Thanks also for the words regarding Franck and the reminder that not all of the scammers are locked up yet with Madoff.
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Mysty View Drop Down

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mysty Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 December 2010 at 12:41am
Great report! I also unplugged! No TV!
Happy Belated birthday! No better place to be for it.
Actually, no better place, at anytime. :))!
Loved your remarks about Facebook, etc.
Your observations about shopping are spot on.

st barts, the perfect kiss upon this earth.
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CEC1 View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote CEC1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 December 2010 at 6:16am
Fabulous report, Gayle . . . such care in giving us the "scoop" on everything.  I'm very happy that your night at the Normandie was a happy one for you -- and I particularly appreciate the comparison of your experience to what you found in St. Barths of 20 years ago . . . it's definitely part of the ambiance that Wendy and I wanted to capture in developing the hotel.  I feel now like I've had a quick visit on the island!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote NYC Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 November 2018 at 7:18am
Very nice report Gayle!!
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