Following extensive damage to the island of St Barths caused by hurricane Irma, the hotel is now closed and is anticipated to reopen by summer 2018.
Unspoiled beauty, paradise lost, beautiful horizons…Arriving at Le Guanahani, all my senses were put into a state of high alert; dazzled by the brightly coloured cottages, carefully manicured tropical gardens, and the team of staff members who were delightful and helpful in every way, I easily fell in love.
Everything about this resort is geared to a family beach vacation where the kids will have a great time and the adults will too. There are endless varieties of water-based activities on offer, on-site.
Where Le Guanahani excels is in the choice of accommodation and at 68 rooms and suites, it is the largest hotel in St Barths. Most importantly for families, there are a variety of two and three bedroom suites available, some with a private pool. Room designs, facilities and amenities are excellent and hotel staff interact freely and merrily with children of all ages.
And while St Barths has never struck me as a family destination, I am now willing to reconsider. True, the smaller luxury hotels on the island are much better suited to romantic couples or older teenage kids. But Le Guanahani is unique in that it provides a stylish, European environment and delivers it in a relaxed and understated way. This is the very essence of the hotel and one that adults and kids alike just seem to love.
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- Facts & Amenities +
The arrival experience overall was very pleasant; however, the hotel car was not at the airport when I arrived. This was probably because my flight landed about 20 minutes early, but this could have easily been flagged and noted in advance by the concierge.
Check-in was fast and efficient—perhaps a little too fast. Information was delivered at breakneck speed, most of which I had no chance of retaining.
Interestingly, a very strange pattern started right at check-in which I call the ‘thanks for coming and when are you leaving…’ syndrome. It’s the sort of welcome I would expect if I were to show up unannounced at a friend’s one-bedroom in New York City with a suitcase in hand. No big deal, but there is something just a little disconcerting about contemplating one’s departure when you have just set foot in the door.
Rooms and suites
Almost all of the rooms and suites have been recently renovated and the results are a delight. My junior suite was around 40 m² (430 ft²) with a 22 m² (240 ft²) terrace directly overlooking the ocean. Le Guanahani is themed on the colours of the original Caribbean chattel houses and throughout the resort there is a combination of delightful hues making up the property’s rainbow. These are tastefully translated into the room decor with accents of cream, navy, yellow and grey. My room had dark wooden flooring with rust coloured accent rugs; the overall effect was delightful.
There are two layouts of Junior suites and mine featured an entrance area with the bedroom in one direction and a large bathroom on the other side. The room has a king-sized four-poster bed which was very comfortable. A clever interior designer ensured that the television is on an adjustable arm which means it can be moved so that viewing is not obscured by a bedpost.
There seems to be a return to the humble switch, something that I personally celebrate. It just makes life so simple. TV controls were easy to use; however, the in-room sound system did not support my iPhone 6 or iPad.
The bathroom is large, with half the space consisting of a ‘wet area’ which houses the soaking tub and shower with windows that look out over the ocean; for me a perfect way to start the day. Vanities feature two basins and the entire area is tiled with small beige and coral coloured bisazza tiles.
Oddly, the shaving/makeup mirror is wedged into the wall shared by the WC and is not on an extending arm; you need to be a contortionist to access it.
The bathroom amenities are all by Clarins.
I am not usually a fan of the ‘wet area’ concept in hotels and more often than not, I feel I am in a giant bird bath. But this one is well designed, well laid out, and spacious.
When it comes to good food in the Caribbean, many tears have been wept in disappointment. This is not the case in St Barths; however, where good food and service abound and are as good as good gets in Paris or Lyon, for example.
Bartolomeo is no exception. The restaurant has an indoor/outdoor seating option and is set right in the middle of the hotel’s luscious, tropical gardens. Service is highly professional and on the evening I dined, it was an almost exclusively female team managing events with military precision. They were very helpful in explaining the menu, offering wine pairing suggestions and taking the time to explore what myself and other diners liked and disliked. Each course was perfectly timed and at no stage did the meal seem too rushed or too slow.
Of course, the food itself was the star. Bartolomeo’s menu is traditionally French with strong Mediterranean and more subtle Caribbean influences, all delivered with a contemporary twist. The end result is accomplished cooking, balanced flavours and a presentation that’s worthy of your time and money. This restaurant really is very special.
Spa and wellness
Whilst I didn’t have a treatment at the Clarins spa, I did take a sneak peek. Treatment rooms surround a relaxation area and pond that lead out to an adult-only pool. The whole area is very private and relaxing. Hotel management informed me that during this year’s annual closing, the spa will undergo renovations and will emerge featuring both Clarins regular treatment lines along with the company’s new Premiere range of skin and treatment products.
Pool and beach
Not being a fan of pools that are joined, quite literally, to hotel restaurants (in this case Indigo, the restaurant), it was with trepidation that I headed off to take a look at various things aquatic. There is just something rather disconcerting about stripping down, slathering on sun lotion and arranging oneself on a sun lounger whilst audiences of diners view your progress from across the other side of the pool. And whilst the pool is a reasonable size, there is not a great deal of useful seating around it. I did, however, spend a pleasant hour or two here before heading over to the aforementioned adult-only pool in the spa area, which I found more private and relaxing.
Tragically during my stay, the beach was covered in globs of saragassum seaweed, a highly smelly algae that, according to The Economist edition of August 29th, 2015, which I picked up on my return to Europe, is plaguing Caribbean resorts with little or no hope of a financially viable method of preventing the problem in sight. So, while I hope that ordinarily the beach is pristine and welcoming, it certainly was not during my visit.
In their defense, hotel staff were quick to tell me that this is a natural occurrence and that nothing could be done about it; during ‘hard times’ it affects all beaches in St Barths. Whilst probably true, the Guanahani is located in an area more prone to the problem than others.
Much is dependent on actual location, reef exposure and prevailing ocean currents, according to the Cousteau Society. So, my advice is to google what you can before you go, call the hotel and ask directly what the situation is looking like, or else just pack and go and then stick to the pools if all else fails and you arrive at a bad time. You’ll still have a fabulous holiday.
Editor’s note: At the time of our stay the seaweed was unusually bad. It is now back to normal and any new seaweed is cleared daily.
Staff and service
A significant number of the staff at Hotel Guanahani are young, well trained and hail, not surprisingly, from France. Service is slick and professional and delivered by very helpful, very friendly, and dedicated people. I got the feeling that staff genuinely wanted guests to enjoy their vacation to the utmost and were doing all they could to make sure this happened. There was not a single time when ‘en passant’, a staff member missed the opportunity to wish me a cheery ‘bonjour’, and I was always asked if I was enjoying my stay and if I needed anything. I left very impressed with the team working here.
During my visit, the hotel was busy and there were a number of checkouts and check-ins on the day of my departure. However, the constant reconfirmation of departure times, lurking housekeepers, and offers to have baggage collected became somewhat irksome.
How to get here
10 minutes by road from St Barths Airport
67 Rooms & Suites