This is part II of Sandy Ross Jacobs’ feature on St. Barts as it used to be. Last week’s Beacon contains Part I.
We had made the discovery of our lifetime and decided that if we survived the flight, we would return to St. Barts. We did survive—and we did return— at least twice a year for l7 years, often to the Eden Roc Hotel.
In 1971, we paid a total of $100 for two rooms, including three meals a day for our family of five—that’s 15 meals a day of fantastic French cuisine (wine included). We respected the admonition, “Tell no one,” given us at the airport, but someone told someone, and we watched helplessly as the tiny, five-room, rundown Eden Roc Hotel expanded to become one of the l00 best and most expensive hotels in the world.
The present price for two rooms is $2,978 per day (to sweeten the deal, breakfast is included). Our last trip to St. Barts was in 1987. The spell was broken for us long before the prices went sky high. The changes that had been happening at a snail’s pace escalated when the “beautiful people” discovered the island. The simplicity of the place was going…going…gone.View More images >>
We’re left with faded pictures and the following best memories:
1. Eden Roc Hotel- a disaster! Remember, this was 1970. The rooms were horrible. Ours had two beds: One cot in a dark corner and one slightly larger bed with a deep “V” down the center of the mattress. The bathroom (cold water only) vented directly into the lobby bathroom; we heard everything that went on there and vice-versa. We unpacked — then immediately repacked — when a cat jumped through the broken window in the door and used our room as its litter box.
“Tomorrow, we’re outta here,” we agreed. We dressed in our “cruisewear” and entered the small dining room. The other eight guests were seated boarding house style at one big table, dressed in sarongs, shorts, and bikini tops. There were two empty seats for us. We ran back to our room, ripped off our good clothes and changed into casual dress.
Dinner was out of this world, four courses of luscious food and drink. The other guests included a Swedish diplomat, a scion of the Rockefeller family, a famous British clothing designer and a couple from Bryn Mawr (just minutes from where we lived in suburban Philadelphia).
Conversation was lively, mainly about the “crummy-ness” of the Eden Roc. A cat persistently jumped from lap to shoulder to tabletop.
They all told us the same thing: “Unpack! We guarantee that you will want to stay!” Okay, we decided to give the Eden Roc 24 hours.
Well, the magic of the place got to us, and, of course, we stayed the duration … and wished it never ended.
The owner of the Eden Roc was Remy de Haenen, the mayor of St. Barts. He had built the place years before as his private residence. His daughter Isabelle occasionally helped to serve breakfast. She’d appear sleepy-eyed, usually wrapped in a see-through top. My husband, eyes fixed to the two perfect rosy circles seen through her sheer bodice, invariably ordered two eggs, sunny-side up!
The welcoming force was hostess, Peggy de Benedictis, the live-in American friend of de Haenen, who over-saw everything that happened at the Hotel. I could write volumes about our Eden Roc experiences during the many times we stayed there. But enough said.
2. Beaches: Saline, Gouveneur and St. Jean—1970-style—deserted but for us. Saline was relatively easy to approach, a fairly flat drive through the salt flats and sluices, then a short stroll through a hard-to-find trail to the beach, a collection of coves surrounded by rocky cliffs.
EMPTY- but for us!
We feasted on a box lunch packed gratis by the Eden Roc – a basket with cold lobster, marinated potatoes, fresh bread, fruit, cheese and a bottle of wine.
Gouveneur beach was another story. We challenged the clutch and gears of our rented, rundown, topless, door-less, window-less Mini-Moke to get us straight down a steep cliff, the car “ leaping” from one broken piece of paved rubble to another, defying us to keep our insides intact.
The treasure was at the bottom — what has become one of the most sought after beaches in the Caribbean. EMPTY!
We carved out chairs in the sand and stayed for hours. The drive back up the road was an even bigger challenge, but the reward was at the Santa Fe Restaurant atop the hill. There we found a Planter’s Punch, real French fries and a hamburger or steak (the only place on the island that served fresh beef). St. Jean beach—completely natural and undeveloped all around the cove past the airport. EMPTY!
3. Looks, objects, and tastes of St. Barts:
Looks: There were two distinct looks on the island — those of the Magras family, or those of the Blanchard family. Most of the people of all ages on the island shared the facial features of one of these families.
Objects: Silk-screened fabric prints by Jean Yves Fromant, the chief artist-in-residence. From his home studio in the hills pillowcases, tablecloths, sarongs and dry goods of all sizes and colors were available for modest prices. Forty years later, we still have a large, framed, silk screened hummingbird on the wall of our bedroom, a Fromant original.
Piz Buin suntan lotion—with the aroma of the French islands.
Tastes: Fluorocaril Toothpaste—refreshingly anise-flavored, a taste we’ve never forgotten. Fresh, hot bread sold by a local woman from an outdoor, roadside oven in L’Orient. Croissants from heaven.
Sandy Ross Jacobs is a freelance travel writer for the Boca Beacon.
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