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Winter Travel
Mustique and St. Barts
Mustique and St. Barts are known for their spectacular private villas, so why haven't you ever rented one? It may be cheaper than you think.
Home alone: A private pool at Obsidian, a rental villa on Mustique. (Photo by A&C Anthology)
Would-be island travelers seeking tranquil relaxation often shy away from the bustle and excitement of the grander Caribbean resorts. For these vacationers, there is a more serene — and surprisingly affordable — alternative: Rent your own island home. Most Caribbean destinations have houses available for short rentals, but St. Barts and Mustique are particularly well suited for a villa vacation. Though widely disparate in cultures (St. Barts is French; Mustique is British) as well as in their amenities (St. Barts has 60 restaurants and at least as many boutiques; Mustique has one full-scale restaurant and one rather dinky boutique), these two exclusive getaways both offer renters luxurious accommodations and absolute privacy.

When choosing a temporary home from among the 200-plus rentals available on St. Barts, you have to weigh your priorities. Do you prefer to be directly on the beach (these are the scarcest and therefore the priciest villas) or up in the hills with a panoramic view? Do you need a pool, or will you spend most of your day by the ocean? Will you be cooking at home — indeed, do you want a private chef? — or do you prefer dining out? In this way, you can custom-design your own island experience. WIMCO (800-932-3222) leases most of St. Barts's villas, and its rentals start at $1,350 per week for a one-bedroom and climb to $24,000 for a five-bedroom (which, when divided among ten guests, is still pretty reasonable).

Getting to your St. Barts home-away-from-home can be stressful, considering you land on what has to be the world's shortest runway, then have to drive a tiny rental — usually the minuscule SmartCar — on narrow roads. But once you've settled in, villa life is sublime. You can sleep late, or at least linger in bed long enough to appreciate the unmarred views of the sea you'll likely have from your bedroom. Have breakfast on the terrace — if you were careful enough to choose a villa with an outdoor eating area — then drive to any of twenty serene beaches. Swim, read, ogle the gorgeous French vacationers. Break for lunch — a long lunch — and at least consider the $70 lobster special at the Lafayette Club. Spend the afternoon shopping the classics — Hermès, Bulgari, Cavalli — or just let Stéphane et Bernard show you their handpicked Thierry Muglers and Gaultiers.

Heaven rent: A bedroom in a St. Barts villa. (Photo by A&C Anthology)

Mustique is a considerably quieter, much less flashy getaway, where no one cares if you're toting last season's bag and unruly hair doesn't feel ridiculous. Unlike on St. Barts, entertainment venues and restaurants are limited, so you'll be spending a lot more time in your villa. So choose wisely. This is not a difficult task, however, since all of the 57 available rentals — as well as the island itself — are managed by the Mustique Company, a consortium of owners that ensures each villa meets strict aesthetic standards. Every house automatically comes with a full staff (butler, maid, and cook), and almost all have private pools. Mustique villas range from $6,500 per week for two-bedrooms to $30,000 for a seven-bedroom palace that sleeps fourteen. Call the Mustique Company (784-458-4621) for details.

Days on this lush British isle may be less glitzy, but they are no less indulgent than on St. Barts. After discussing the day's menu with your chef (cooking talents range from good to very good, with the exception of the Eric Ripert-trained chef at L'Ansecoy — owned by Le Bernardin's Maguy Le Coze — who is excellent), you might go to the beach, though a poolside butler isn't easy to turn down. Either way, you'll eventually be served lunch — at your villa or on the beach, picnic-style. Before dinner, a crowd gathers at Basil's Bar to sip fruity drinks like the Mustique Smile and watch for the elusive "green flash," a brilliant, second-long display of light that occasionally graces the horizon at sunset. Nightlife is limited to house parties, so it behooves renters to charm their temporary neighbors, either on the beach or at the cocktail party hosted by the Mustique Company every Tuesday evening at the Cotton House Hotel.


• Dining out in St. Barts: François Plantation (590-29-80-22) and Le Toiny (590-27-88-88) are great for traditional French cuisine; Le Ti St. Barts attracts a young, lively crowd who will most likely dance on the tables by night's end (590-27-97-71); and Maya's serves up fresh, light fare (590-27-75-73). New St. Barts restaurants this year include L'Esprit (590-52-46-10) and Do Brazil (590-50-96-58).

• On Mustique, there's the Cotton House Hotel (784-456-4777) and Basil's Bar (784-456-3405).

• American Airlines (800-433-7300) flies nonstop to St. Martin, then it's a ten-minute flight to St. Barts on Winair (599-545-4237).

• To get to Mustique, fly nonstop to Barbados, then take a 45-minute flight on Mustique Airways (800-526-4789).
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    From the November 5, 2001 issue of New York Magazine.