For the sailor,
St. Barts has the allure of a small island whose economy
and well being have always been intricately bound up
with its picturesque port. The island itself had little
to recommend it in the early days for settlement, as the
rainfall is insufficient to support agriculture.
However, St. Barts is strategically placed in the middle
of the Lesser Antilles. Its fine small harbor and
several sheltered bays made it important enough to be
fought over by the British, French, and Spanish. It
prospered under the French in the late 1600s when it was
used as a base by pirates who came here to spend their
quickly-gained fortunes. The most famous of these was
Captain Montbars, a Frenchman who was so horrified by
what the Spanish had done to the native populations that
he decided to avenge them, doing well while he did good.
He took on an indigenous crew who, no doubt, felt
somewhat bitter, and did so well he became known with
some terror as "Montbars the Exterminator." He finally
disappeared in a hurricane and it is thought that his
treasure is still buried on the island, though it is
more likely that it was spent on the island.
the French gave St. Barts to the Swedes in exchange for
free port rights in Gothenburg. The Swedes made it a
free port, which it remains today. It had a second
period of prosperity as a trading center during the
American war of independence, when American rebels came
here for supplies.
During the hundred years
following 1852, its fortunes fell owing to changing
trade patterns and several hurricanes. The Swedes sold
St. Barts back to France in 1878 and it remains part of
France today, though, like St. Martin, it is a free port
and so somewhat special. Over the last 30 years this
free port status has resulted in an astonishing economic
recovery. At first it was mainly inter-island trade.
Small motorless sailing sloops would arrive here from
down island and load themselves to the gunwales with
alcohol and cigarettes to be smuggled back home.
Although the customs officers in their home ports were
properly taken care of, the return journey was
nonetheless a long and hazardous sail to windward. The
smugglers' biggest problem was to evade the customs men
in St. Kitts and Nevis who would happily confiscate
their cargo, no matter its destination. To keep out of
their way, many would sneak by night through The
Narrows, the reef-filled passage between St. Kitts and
Barts is going
through an unprecedented renaissance. With its sharply
contoured rocky hills, a picturesque port, and gorgeous
beaches, it has become a world famous chic destination;
the favored hot spot for the good looking, well-to-do
"in" crowd, seasoned with a sprinkling of acting,
singing, and sports stars: the Riviera of the Caribbean.
Through all this development, St. Barts has happily
managed to keep some integrity of architectural style,
and is still quite charming. Sociability reaches a
crescendo around the New Year when a hundred or more
superyachts arrive for festivities that include a
spectacular fireworks display.
has some excellent cultural events. These include a
music festival (classical and jazz) near the end of
January, and many art shows, as well as carnival
(visitors are welcome to join in). The day after
carnival there is a mock funeral when an effigy of all
the evil spirits is buried.
Caribbean film festival in April is excellent and there
is a festival of music and food in August, and a
Flamenco workshop and show in October. November has both
Swedish week (music and dance) and November 1 is All
Saintes, when everyone decorates the graves.