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Inside Eden Rock St Barth's: a heavenly blend of cutting-edge art and celebrity glamour

Eden Rock St Barth's
Eden Rock St Barth's

Despite being named after the younger brother of Christopher Columbus and once being a Swedish colony, history in St Barth's only really starts in the 1950s when adventurous jet-setters discovered its hard-to-reach location and craggy profile were the perfect canvas on which to create a dream hideaway. It's less simple now but still a rare treasure.

Eden Rock's constellation of little red roofs clustered around the promontory that juts into St Jean Bay is one of the twin pivots around which St Barth's revolves (the other being the yacht harbour), drawing in money and glamour from every corner of the globe.

Eden Rock St Barth's
Eden Rock St Barth's

The Wall Street titans, Silicon Valley tech gurus, the uber-wealthy and the well-connected barely notice the likes of Beyoncé or Leonardo DiCaprio riding yacht tenders to Nikki Beach - that's partly just how St Barth's is and partly a result of mega-rich omertà (I won't notice you if you don't notice me), though locals tell me that the social non-compete agreement goes into abeyance over Christmas and New Year as the more aggressively plutocratic have tables booked in multiple restaurants just on the off-chance. That aside, St Barth's really does offer a sybaritic escape from the cares of the world that's hard to match.

It was ever thus at Eden Rock: Greta Garbo, the American socialite Princess Lee Radziwill and Howard Hughes really could be alone as guests of the raffish Rémy de Haenen who founded the hotel in the 1950s - and Jane and David Matthews have preserved its intimate feel since they took over in 1995 (and yes, it is that Matthews family, complete with sons, the Made in Chelsea star Spencer and financier James, husband of Pippa Middleton).

The bar at Eden Rock
The bar at Eden Rock

There are family touches, individualistic details (ranging from family photos in the bar to raffia monkeys apparently clambering over the light-fittings) that would never survive a corporate environment, a colour scheme that's perfect against the azure seas and brilliant skies, and just happens to be instantly recognisable as the backdrop to gossip-column shots and Hello! jaunts.

Look a little closer and you'll see discreet steel frames supporting the main structures, a legacy of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma which raged through in 2017. The storm did far worse damage elsewhere in the Caribbean, but enough at Eden Rock to warrant a complete overhaul that's just been completed, something the Matthewses had apparently been considering anyway.

Villa Nina at Eden Rock
Villa Nina at Eden Rock

They decided what needed to - or could be - kept, and began a refurbishment that's taken the best part of two years (there was still some work being done in the lead up to Christmas). It has seen a significant change to the main buildings as well as the rooms - there's one fewer restaurant but a new bar, the Rémy Bar, named in honour of the founder, a new yacht-inspired spa and gym set-up, reorganised kitchen spaces and lots of behind-the-scenes work.

The design was overseen by Jane Matthews, who brought in Martin Brudnizki Design Studio London (you'll know their aesthetic from Annabel's, the Ivy, Harry's Bar and Scott's) and Architectonik St Barths with a brief to create an even more luxuriously laid-back vibe for the hotel.

The laid back vibe at Eden Rock
The laid back vibe at Eden Rock

Naturally, the accommodation was the focus and the 37 rooms and suites (plus the Nina and Rockstar villas) are what set Eden Rock apart. The standards are spectacular - you'll find the expected welcoming touches (such as Champagne on ice and a generous supply of Ligne St Barth for the bathroom), so it's really a question of how intense you like the décor.

The Garbo and Howard Hughes suites are exactly as over the top as you might imagine - think of Camille (1936) and the flying boat Spruce Goose respectively - while the vast, 2,200 sq ft, Christopher Columbus suite is all grey oak, steel and glass, and feels like it's almost in the sea. Most of the rooms, though, have an easy Caribbean feel based on warm colours, natural materials and pale woods.

It's a little colonial, 1950s overall but seen through a very 21st-century prism. Otherwise, the choice is down to quite how much privacy you need - some of the rooms are set around the garden, some close to the Beach Bar (a survivor of the storm) and some looking straight over the water.

Eden Rock
Eden Rock

But where the décor does verge on the easy side of calm, there's always a counterpoint in the art collection assembled by Jane Matthews. This consists of some 400 pieces drawn from galleries in New York and London as well as more locally, and includes pieces by KAWS, Daniel Arsham, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Will Cotton, Richard Prince, Piotr Uklański and Jonas Woods.

Dining is under the care of multi-award-winning Alsatian chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten (best known for his New York city restaurants ABC and the Mercer Kitchen), and the menus do have a strongly French feel. While there are plenty of healthy options available, there does seem to be a lot of truffle pizza being carried around - this, after all, is a world where a crushed-ice rosé is a sensible idea.

As part of the renovation, Vongerichten was able to specify everything from the kitchen and ovens through to the tables, plates and cutlery - none of which you notice, just as you should expect at this level.

The Legacy Suite at Eden Rock
The Legacy Suite at Eden Rock

Also reassuringly French are the armies of well-trained and capable staff under the management of the Oetker Collection (which also runs Hotel-du-Cap-Eden-Roc, the Bristol in Paris and the Lanesborough in London). That Caribbean laid-back approach to service doesn't apply on the island - this is the French West Indies, as the T-shirts say, and the French take luxury as a serious cultural heritage.

You'll find the same efficiency and standards across the island, whether at hotels such as the Cheval Blanc or Le Toiny, or in Eden Rock's parallel villa operation that mixes the hotel's organisation with a portfolio that includes the Nina and Rockstar villas which are part of the hotel, and ranges from the merely perfect to what even Eden Rock describe as the astonishing Palmier Royal. All come with the requisite butler, maid and concierge services, as well as the Mini Coopers that are de rigueur on the island.

Eden Rock
Eden Rock

There is, of course, shopping to match, including boutiques from Cartier, Hermès and Prada in Gustavia should Eden Rock's own Eden Being run out of options - unlikely, since there are exclusive editions from Orlebar Brown and Anya Hindmarch, backgammon boards by Alexandra Llewellyn and, now, Hublot.

As Ricardo Guadalupe, Hublot's CEO, points out, a collaboration with Eden Rock makes perfect sense, as the brand want to be seen with partners that speak a shared language - and judging by the number of Hublot watches being worn in the Sand Bar, the project will go down well with the Eden Rock crowd.

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