Saint Barthélemy 2016: Gustavia

Oct 25, 2018 | Saint Barthélemy, Settings, Travel, Writing


Day four, we drove to Gustavia to shop the chic boutiques, browse the art galleries, and simply enjoy the capital, meandering up and down the streets of the U-shaped town that hugs the harbor.

High on the hill overlooking Gustavia, I spotted what appeared to be an old fort and wanted to explore it. At first, I saw no way of reaching the fortress, so I stopped in a nearby shop to ask for directions. What I pointed to, according to the shop owner, was Fort Oscar. “The grounds are actually a police station, which means they are off-limits to tourists.”

He also told me that Gustavia has three forts—Fort Oscar, Fort Karl, and the Gustavia Lighthouse. There isn’t much left of Fort Karl, but he gave us directions to a long flight of wooden stairs—a steep ascent to a well-worn trail that dead-ends into what remains of Fort Karl. The panoramic view of the town and harbor are stunning, and we had the place to ourselves.

During the 17th century, when Saint Barthélemy belonged to Sweden, the Swedish built three citadels to protect the island’s harbor against invasion—Fort Gustaf, Fort Karl, and Fort Oscar. At Fort Gustaf, on the north side of the capital Gustavia, the fort is mostly in ruins, but there are a few cannons as well as a lighthouse. The same is the case with Fort Karl—it too is mostly ruins. Both forts have been turned into tourist attractions and both have great views.

On the other hand, Fort Oscar appeared well-preserved and I would’ve loved to have toured it, but the fortress is off-limits to tourists. Fort Oscar, which overlooks the Port of Gustavia, was once a former military installation. In the late1970s the site was used as a listening station for the French counterintelligence service and was strictly off-limits. But those days have passed and the French defense minister closed the espionage station a few years ago. Today, the fort is the headquarters for the state police, and the houses adjacent to the fort, which once housed members of the counterintelligence service are now inhabited by the families of the state police.

Back at street level, I was still curious about Fort Oscar, so we drove the back roads until we came to the access gates, and indeed they were closed and guarded. You can shut out the tourists, but you can’t shut down a writer’s imagination. I’m certain the location will pop up somewhere in a Darcy McClain and Bullet thriller.

We returned to our villa late in the afternoon for a refreshing swim and some sun. Recharged, we drove to Anse des Flamands for an early-evening stroll along the beach and then dinner at Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France hotel. It’s located within a one-minute walk of Taïwana, where we’d had drinks in the bar the night before before dining at La Langouste.

Prior to dinner at Cheval Blanc, our concierge had mentioned that a fashion show would be held. I wasn’t keen on sitting for a fashion show, but in hindsight it was fun.

Our server seated us in a quiet corner, and throughout dinner we were serenaded by the soft lapping of the ocean waves as we savored an excellent meal and top-notch service.

For starters, we enjoyed grilled scallops, as well as lobster tortellini in white wine. Our mains were grilled turbot with paper-thin zucchini slices on a bed of baby spinach and a light citrus sauce; and miso-marinated swordfish with wok vegetables. We finished with Black Forest gâteau.

November 1, 2018—Saint Barthélemy 2016: Toiny.

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