Travel: Rolling Stone
Some passengers on the 20-seat planes that service St. Barts may be too concerned about a splash landing to notice their bird’s-eye view of the Eden Rock Hotel. As the pilot cuts the throttle to approach a runway that is shorter than many California driveways, the plane swoops past a jumble of roofs covering a large, circular rock that extends into the Caribbean from a sandy beach. Even those who manage to spot the Eden Rock’s outcrop setting likely will overlook the hotel’s new beachfront wing—which is exactly the way owners David and Jane Matthews planned it.
The Eden Rock, a fixture on St. Barts for nearly six decades, added the sleek new wing during an 18-month renovation that more than doubled the number of guest rooms to 33. But the property, which reopened in December 2005, remains the quintessential St. Barts resort: private, discreet, and unmistakably French. Guests barely settle into their rooms before housekeeping calls to ask if a staff member can deliver Champagne.
St. Barts owes much of its reputation as the St.-Tropez of the Caribbean to the Eden Rock. The uniquely situated property dates to the late 1940s, when Dutch aviator Rémy de Haenen built a collection of bungalows on top of the rock. In 1951, de Haenen opened his aerie as the island’s first hotel, which soon attracted Robert Mitchum, Greta Garbo, and other Hollywood stars.
The Matthewses acquired the Eden Rock in 1995, originally planning to make it their private vacation getaway. Instead, the Yorkshire, England, couple began improving and expanding the hotel, culminating with the property’s recent $25 million makeover. With each new addition, expansion, or transformation, however, the Matthewses have stayed true to St. Barts’ relaxed spirit.
The pièce de résistance of the latest renovation is the 1,500-square-foot loft suite named for Howard Hughes (a former guest of the hotel), where three terraces afford 360-degree views of St. Jean Bay. A restored Greta Garbo suite, which, like the Hughes accommodation, sits on the rock, is a simulacrum of 1930s Hollywood glamour.
These two roosts on the rock complement 13 new suites and houses where the neighboring Filao Beach Hotel once stood. (Hotels cannot build on residential land on St. Barts, leaving mergers and acquisitions as their only ways to expand.) Jane Matthews, a painter with a flair for color, drama, and light, created breezy abstract compositions for the new wing’s rooms. Light floods the interiors, and chocolate tones in the walls, floors, and furnishings set off the azure sky and turquoise sea, which are visible through glass walls. Although St. Barts has no freshwater source, Eden Rock makes enough water not only to provide sustenance for its guests, but also to fill a plunge pool and heated whirlpool at each of the beachfront accommodations.
In typical French fashion, sustenance—or, more specifically, la gastronomie—is an obsession on St. Barts. Morning conversations often begin with, “Where did you eat last night?” A frequent reply is “the Eden Rock,” whose chef, Jean-Claude Dufour, has dominated the local dining scene since 1996. With lobster, tuna, and grouper from the hotel’s boat augmented by twice-weekly shipments of cold-ocean fish and shellfish from France, he has a solid foundation from which to work.
Eden Rock Hotel