by Lee F. Mindel
Saint Barthélemy, my annual winter respite, is my favorite of the Caribbean islands. Its beautiful landscape and coastline are matched only by its fascinating history. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, St. Barts was invaded by Carib Indians, colonized by French sailors in 1763, sold to Sweden by King Louis XVI, and then reacquired by France in 1946. The island finally gained its independence in 2007, though it remains an “overseas collectivity” of l’Hexagone.
Over the past 20 years I’ve had the opportunity to explore most corners of the 11-mile-long island, which features dramatic volcanic and coral landscapes along with 22 beaches on both the leeward and the windward sides. To capture these photographs, I’ve hiked trails, scaled mountains, climbed fences, moved barbed wire, trespassed, and boated, and swum to places I couldn't reach by foot. It is those odd, hard-to-get-to vantages that, to me, offer the most beautiful perspectives of this very special place.
In terms of development, St. Barts’s rough and rocky terrain has made the construction of large resorts, golf courses, and tennis courts nearly impossible. It also prevented the island from being exploited as a plantation colony, as neighboring St. Maarten was. Just creating an airport proved to be a challenge; the existing runway is not long enough to receive jetliners from any of the mainland hubs. Connections are made through neighboring islands, where the puddle-jump commuter flight can last little more than five minutes and the landings, as anyone who’s ever visited knows, can be high drama.
St. Barts is home to more than 50 exceptional restaurants, but it is Maya's that sets the island's culinary standard. Maya Beuzelin Gurley, born in Martinique and raised in Guadeloupe and France, and her husband, New England’s Randy Gurley, have perfected their own blend of neo-Creole cuisine. The restaurant has stayed true to its mission over the past 30 years: change the menu daily, use the freshest products available, and keep things clean and simple. I can think of no better advice, as it is this philosophy that prevails on the entire island.
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