On the Rock in St. Barts

by  Stephanie Johnnidis | Dec 30, 2009
St Barths Eden Roc
St Barths Eden Roc / Photo courtesy of the property

I recently had the pleasure of overnighting on St. Barts to review its jewel-box hotel, Eden Rock. (Ah, yes, I love my job.) While it’s hard to go wrong with accommodations on St. Barts – the island is filled with glitzy boutique hotels polished to perfection – the Eden Rock stands out from the gang for a few reasons. 

For one, the hotel has history. Island residents credit aviator (and the first mayor of St. Barts) Remy de Haenen for putting the hilly – then practically forsaken – island on the tourist map. He first landed here some 60 years ago and sought out the eponymous rocky outcrop that juts off St. Jean beach as the site to build his home. During his time living at what’s now Eden Rock, he often hosted friends Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, and Robert Mitchum.  When current owners Dave and Jane Matthews bought the property in 1995 they restored and added on to the original structure, keeping with the intimate and exclusive ambience, and paid homage to the former tenants with standout suites named Howard Hughes (video preview above) and Greta Garbo; both are designed to represent the celebrity’s persona (curvy aeronautical walls for Hughes and Deco glam for Garbo) and are located in what once were their original guest quarters.  

Because of its origins as a private residence Eden Rock has a range of accommodations, all varying in size and décor (Jane Matthews pilots the design and decoration for all interiors), from petite cottages at the base of the rock to oceanfacing suites in de Haenen’s and friends’ former rooms to new villas and bungalows that stretch out on the beach on either side of the rock. It’s a mishmash of luxury that’s both enchanting and flashy. 

The Matthews also have a passion for the arts and have thus created The Eden Rock Gallery which has exhibited works from American artists Richard Prince and Will Cotton (they also partner with the New York Academy of Art and host burgeoning artists at the hotel as part of an inspirational work/stay program) as well as a new tricked-out Rockstar Villa complete with a fully equipped recording studio designed by Allen Sides and featuring a vintage console favored by John Lennon (he used it to record “Imagine”).

All this, plus two fantastic – and super-trendy – restaurants, the Sands Bar (the mahi mahi with bacon is divine) and On the Rocks (try the mushroom ravioli and the veal fillet), helmed by Chef Jean-Claude Dufour. Needless to say, I was in heaven – Eden, if you will – and while it was hard to ignore the beautiful people lounging on the beach, the air of exclusivity, and the sky-high prices of cocktails, well, and the sky-high prices of everything (the Euro-to-dollar conversion on top of high prices is killer), I sat on my breezy balcony, flipping through a Hughes biography (there are many Hughes-related books and curios in the suite), watched the propeller planes take off and land on the tiny stretch of runway that fronts St. Jean Beach (once the goat pasture that de Haenen landed his plane on), and imagined de Haenen and Hughes gallivanting around the island’s secluded coves with their harem of Hollywood pinups. I wondered if they ever imagined then that their private and quaint hideaway would morph into the epicenter of style that it is today.

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