Originally built in the 1970s, Le Carl Gustaf hit its heyday as a four-star getaway in the ‘80’s, when it was known on the island for hosting everyone from Michael Jackson to Madonna. It’s no wonder they favored the covert escape: Though just a few minutes walking distance from downtown Gustavia on the island of St. Barts, the 21-key property can barely be spotted from the road and sits covered in lush foliage atop a hill that offers some of, if not the, best views on the island.
That version of the hotel closed in 2013, but the new incarnation—which had a soft reopening in late-2020 and is currently celebrating its first full season—has made a pointed effort to keep the same secluded feel as the original. Coupled with a new design and truly tailored and elevated service, the result is now one of the best VIP hideaways on the island.
The property was purchased in 2016 by the French hospitality conglomerate, Barrière Group, which has another 18 hotels to its name. The brand soon set about redoing the place—but not too much. “The group bought it and we renovated it, but we did not rebuild it,” says Olivia Junières of the O Creative Agency, who has been working with the property on its transformation for the last three years. “We wanted to keep the soul of the place. You have bungalows and suites but they are separate, so you have your own, let’s say, little villa. We kept the original architectural plans.”
While the spacious layout of the rooms remains the same, the hotel enlisted French designers Gilles & Bossier to revamp the interiors in a French Colonial decor with a ’70s vibe that wouldn’t look out of place if it had been designed for Palm Beach. Think vibrant, colorful patterns in navy and lime green on couches, parrot-themed wicker lampshades, lemon-yellow ottomans and baby blue- and white-striped deck loungers.
As noted, privacy remains a priority at the small property, which is comprised of one junior suite, three suites, a collection of bungalows and double bungalows and a palatial five-bedroom villa; the latter is a new addition for this year, and can be booked either in its entirety or with the rooms sold separately.
All of the above offer sizeable spaces in which you feel entirely secluded from other guests, and every accommodation offers stunning views of Gustavia’s harbor, plenty of closet space and a private pool.
The five-set bar with a small lounge space was also designed to feel intimate and serves a thoughtful menu of cocktails designed by the Barrière Group’s bar consultant, Emanuela Balestra, an Italian mixologist with a residency at Le Majestic in Cannes. “She works with a lot of plants and does mixology that is very delicate and quiet and new in terms of the experience,” says Junières.
The innovative touch she speaks of are the array of edible fragrances, kept in a leather box on the bar, that top off each drink; the Carlito’s Sangria comes spritzed with a lemon, thyme and basil aroma, for example. This focus on special concoctions also applies to the guestrooms where, every night during turndown service, a carafe of water arrives infused with various fragrances such as hibiscus flower.
Special touches extend to every corner of the rooms. In the bathrooms, which are outfitted with Japanese toilets and oversize showers, discerning clientele will be pleasantly surprised to find Officine Universelle Bulyproducts from Paris. Founded by perfumer and cosmetologist, Jean-Vincent Bully in 1803, the company was renowned for forward-thinking beauty products that landed it medals at Paris’ famed Expositions Universelles at the end of the 19th century.
Today it is run by Victoire de Taillac and Ramdane Touhami and its first modern store, which opened in 2014 in Paris’ 6th arrondissement, is one of the must-see destinations in the city. The products blend ancestral savoir faire with modern improvements in beautiful packaging that looks plucked from its original era. And you won’t just find travel-sized versions at Le Carl Gustaf, but large bottles of lotion, bath oils and more to take home at the end of your stay.
The spa, likewise, carries high-end beauty products, and works exclusively with French line Biologique Recherche for its treatments.
Even better, the massage beds come with the most comfortable face holders we have ever experienced, and the rooms feature beautiful views of the sea should you want to leave the curtains open. In the event that your luggage is delayed and you want to hit Shellona Beach—a shell-scattered enclave with an oceanside restaurant owned and operated by Le Carl Gustaf, set just three minutes walking distance from the hotel—the spa boutique is stocked with bathing suits and coverups that you can try on in the privacy of your hotel room before you make a decision on your purchase.
The revamped Le Carl Gustaf is also dedicated to next-level service. Have dietary restrictions or following a vegan diet? The staff at Fouquet’s restaurant tries to learn about guests’ eating habits before (or upon) arrival in order to best accommodate meals—and that also applies to the mini bar options.
Need a car to get around the island? A fleet of convertible Mini Coopers are available to rent upon request. In need of treatment for a particularly wicked sunburn? Just tell the staff and they will run out to the lush gardens that surround the hotel and clip you a piece of natural aloe, then teach you how to apply it.
“Pretty much everything is manageable and possible from the team,” says Junières. “And we have a great team of insiders. It’s a tailor-made trip for every single guest. I cannot recall one time where we have had to say ‘no’ to someone.” Rates start at $1,400 a night for a junior suite, while the five-bedroom Villa Diane can run $42,000 a night in high season (including the services of a private chef and butler.)
If you ever feel like leaving the hotel and experiencing a dose of St. Barts more scene-y (and equally scenic) spots, Le Carl Gustaf can arrange day trips to various other hotel beach clubs and help snag coveted restaurant reservations. Here are a few recommendations:
Equipped with wooden swings, hammocks, lounge areas, a pool, surfing lessons (the Surf Shack is a new addition this year) and plenty of fun for the kids, Le Toiny offers something for the entire family. To get there, you will first arrive at the hotel before taking an open-air, safari-style truck down to the beach club, enjoying incredible views on the way down.
Don’t miss the strawberry gazpacho soup—an absolute must—or a visit to the boutique stocked full of caftans, dresses, swimsuits, beach bags and more from designers your friends won’t already have in their closets. When the staff greets you with, “Welcome to paradise,” you’ll believe them.
Arguably one of the best beaches on St. Barts, the one fronting Le Cheval Blanc offers pristine turquoise water and silky white sand. You can dine underneath rooftop shade at La Cabane or front-and-center on the beach. Try the Mahi-Mahi “hot dog” (just trust us), paired with the Shameful Tiki cocktail.
As for the clientele, expect to see Hermès bags on the beach and Patek Philippe Nautilus watches adorning the wrists of that fashion industry executive sunbathing next to you.
Eden Rock is, of course, a legendary destination on the island, so it’s a bit of a must-drop-by locale. Post-up at Sand Bar by Jean Georges and watch the planes land and swimmers diving off the hotel’s platform floating in the middle of the sea, or try and spot who is staying in the Pippa Middleton Suite.
You can also have food delivered to you beachside, if you’d prefer to maximize your sand time. Don’t miss the highly recommended sea bass, or go more casual with the ER-branded burger and the “Frozé All Day” cart.