In Search of the French Johnny Depp

By Bill Bisanz | St. Bart’s

During a recent trip to St. Barth’s, the French jewel of the Caribbean, we encountered at least two fellows that could have been the French incarnate version of the great American actor. The first, named Gael was reminiscent of Depp in Chocolat while Jacques was the spitting image of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, right down to the swashbuckling regalia. Ladies- beware, as either of these French look-alikes could steal your heart while on this romantic and beautiful island.

Historically, St. Barth’s has had an eclectic history including acting as a staging base for pirates and as a trading port. It was too rocky and small to cultivate for agricultural exploitation, so it was never as highly contested as some Caribbean islands. It has been under the jurisdiction of Britain, Sweden, Knights of Malta and  most currently, France. It makes sense as you hear French spoken on the street, spend Euros, enjoy delicious pastries while admiring pretty women and paying entirely too much for drinks!

Planes are not allowed to land after dark on St. Barth’s, as it has one of the world’s shortest commercial airstrips-tucked in between a hillside on one end and the popular St. Jean beach on the other. So if you arrive in St. Martin in the evening, you will need to travel to St. Barth’s by boat. Due to the ferry schedule we took the longer ride that departed from Marigot, on the French side of St. Martin (the shorter ferry departs from Oyster Pond). The ride over was sublime as the seas were calm and the clear skies showcased a universe of stars that unfolded as we made our way to Gustavia harbor – a more spiritual way to arrive, if not the quickest.

The roads are narrow and hilly on this island so prepare for a driving adventure. I suggest renting a fun and stylish car like a Mini Cooper, as you will want to be exploring the island and its many secluded beaches. I also suggest getting a car with an automatic transmission unless you want to get a PhD in driving a stick shift.

Beware of the wildlife on the island… wild goats, iguanas and tortoises can wreak havok on the landscaping at your dream villa or leave little presents on your hotel terrace. The iguanas are a protected species but, as seen in this photo, the lucky ones enjoy the good life at the chic hotel Isle de France on Flamands beach. We took in some snorkeling at the Guanahani Hotel on the Grand Cul-de-Sac beach and saw a stingray, several species of tropical fish, some of the largest Conchs I’ve ever seen and most impressively a paddle surfer avec dog!

For a hip and trendy daytime scene check out Nikki Beach on St. Jean. For a mellow scene, check out any of the 20+ amazing beaches on the island. My two favorites are Saline and Gouverneur. Shell Beach in Gustavia is also pretty cool especially considering it’s the town beach.

At night, the infamous Le Ti is amazing. For anyone who has experienced chez Castel in Paris, you will feel right at home à la crushed red velvet, low-ceilings,  and dimly lit atmosphere, along with great DJ’s mixing a healthy dose of 70’s and 80’s dance classics for after dinner dancing. We had heard it was fun, but didn’t quite know what to expect. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Jacques, the French Johnny Depp look-a-like. During our meal we were amused by a fashion show with French models flaunting stylish outfits. More incredibly, the restaurant was doing a brisk business in selling these various fashion pieces to the diners. The fashion show ended up evolving into a burlesque dance party (rated: PG-13) with the restaurant’s guests joining in and dancing on the tables. For those who like the night life, Le Ti, is a wild, highly combustible place to have fun a la Francaise!

Here are some of the restaurants we checked out:

  • Bagatelle – Gustavia Harbour – this is the third installment for this NYC/LA trendy eatery
  • Hotel Carl Gustav – try the chef’s special mystery dinner as you overlook the lights of the harbor
  • Le Ti St. Barths – See above
  • Bar Le Oubli – great goat cheese salads!
  • Nikki Beach
  • Le Select

St. Barth’s is to the Caribbean as Aspen is to the Rockies; i.e. like no other!


Yacht Papa

By Bill Bisanz | St. Barts

If I could do anything in life, I would sail around the world with my family and dog, experiencing the far-flung lands and cultures of the globe. Exploring the world with my kids and learning about foreign peoples, languages, history and food while travelling along in a floating house, inspires my imagination.

While having young children has considerably slowed my sailing adventures, I’ve been fortunate to get a taste of this seafaring life during my travels where some French friends  and I rented sailboats and set out exploring the Mediterranean. A younger man at the time, I often found myself wondering, “how did I get here?” like the time we sailed into the Grand Canal of Venice at sunset. In just a few weeks we would visit small seaside villages, uninhabited rock-lets, inhabited volcanic islands and iconic destinations like Capri. Simply amazing!

It was this sort of curiosity and sense of exploration that was at the heart of my desire to start Elite. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to explore new places with the help of others who had travelled there before. This is a big part of what we are up to at Elite; providing people with the opportunity to explore and learn through travel and sharing of personal experiences.

Lately, I think my favorite place to visit is Saint Barthélemy, or St. Barth’s, the French island located just a short hop away from St. Martin in the Caribbean. St. Barth’s is a small place with only about 8,000 full-time residents, although this number can double during the season when visitors from around the world visit.

My favorite beach on the island is Saline (the non-nude side), and one of the most fun nights one could ever have is a dinner and show at ‘Le Ti.’  Gustavia is the capital and, for me, it is very reminiscent of a Mediterranean seaside village. That’s probably why I like it there so much as it reminds me of my past sailing voyages.

Another dream of mine is to return to St. Barth’s with close friends to enjoy the New Year’s Eve fireworks from aboard a sailboat in Gustavia Harbor.

Un jour bientôt, j’espère ….