News & Reviews Caribbean & Mexico Saint Barths Review: Cheval Blanc St Barths

Dorsia Rating:

2/5

When I contemplate the top luxury hotel brands in the world—which I do nightly while reverently praying to Jesus H. Adrian Zecha Christ—Cheval Blanc is always at the forefront of my mind.  Their properties in the Maldives and Paris aren’t just first-rate; they’re must-visit meccas that justify hopping on a plane from any corner of the globe.  The no-expense-spared architecture, incredible cuisine, stunning interiors, captivating art, and world-class service are part of their exceptional qualities.  As is their consistency: they think a sense of place means Paris, all the time, every time.  And then there’s St Barths, which took a long look at that list and thought, screw all that good stuff, I’ll show those Philistines a thing or two about hotels.

You think lights are useful?  I’ll show you.

Service

Let me correct one point: Cheval Blanc’s exceptional service seems to have sneaked into their St. Barth’s corporate DNA.  The Caribbean is often, and rightly so in many cases, notorious for its service that borders on comatose.  As the saying goes: “If you want a beach and great service, get yourself to the airport and travel 9,000 miles to the Maldives.” Not the catchiest saying, granted.  Needs more rhythm, maybe fewer words.  Still, I used to believe this wholeheartedly until I set foot in St. Barths.  First, Eden Rock shattered that myth, and then Cheval Blanc obliterated it completely.  So now we can say the Caribbean is mostly lousy service—just not in St. Barths.

But to just say it was great doesn’t cut it; it rivalled the best.

In typical Cheval Blanc fashion, generosity and gift giving are taken to an absurd level.  In a good way, though – like being showered with chocolates instead of finding satchels of blood and newspaper cutouts declaring their love for you.  The room was a treasure trove of welcome goodies.  Not since the spread of COVID-19 have I seen anything catch on as quickly as these trendy new teepees they’re sticking in hotel rooms for kids.  Guess what?  Our kids were all over them.  The spread included their legendary cookies (alas, not as good as the ones in Paris), puree for tots, a sublime apple cake from the patisserie, chocolate sticks, island-shaped chocolates, champagne, a kids’ puzzle game, armbands sporting Frozen and Paw Patrol, bath goodies, and personalised dresses for the girls.  Our three-year-old daughter bagged her third Cheval t-shirt.

Every time we returned to our room, it was like Santa had made a pit stop: fresh fruit, cakes, and nighttime surprises.  They were all over what our kids liked, restocking relentlessly.  On day one, we found an extra bounty of gifts—scarves, more teddies, more dolls, probably some bags of cash.  Afternoon tea came with a DIY crepe kit loaded with berries, sugar, and chocolate.  They even kept topping up the cake and sent us off with a new one at checkout, which we ate out of sheer politeness.

The GM was frequently around and would come over to chat.  In their restaurant, the maître d’ was quite the character and almost too helpful.  At dinner, they brought along colouring books with the children’s names on them.  We were recognised by name everywhere we went.  The service could not have been any better.

But, our butler stole the show.  It was like she parachuted in from butler heaven.  She might be one of the best butlers I’ve ever encountered; she even made a point to check on the kids when the babysitter was holding down the fort, and actually spent time with them.  She was all in, doling out suggestions for kiddie activities and the best local eats like a seasoned tour guide.  All those thoughtful extras and that laser focus on elevating our stay?  All her doing.  She was the real deal in a world where too many “butlers” are just glorified room service runners.

Setting / Facilities

Now, I’ve got all the niceness out of the way, back to why it’s lousy.  Sometimes, you can’t beat what has already been said, so allow me to steal a client quote that Cheval Blanc St. Barths is a “four-star hotel with five-star service.”  That seems extreme unless you’ve been there and have functioning eyes.

Cheval Blanc was originally two properties merged into one.  I don’t know how bad it was before because I’m too lazy to check, but for it to end up so uninspiring and generic, it must have been one of those islands they used for nuclear tests.  It looks like what happens when you take two properties, smash them together, and hope for the best.  Like a child with multiple discarded Lego sets mixed together into one chaotic jumble.  It lacks any of the finesse and elegance of their other properties.  You get a backstage pass you didn’t request to the downtrodden parts and some areas that look like they’ve been through a few rounds with a heavyweight.

It’s not exactly hideous though, for most parts.  Tortoises and iguanas roam around the property, including a garden tour to go see them and feed them.  The tortoises, that is.  The gardeners prefer sandwiches.  The beach is ok, certainly a downgrade from Eden Rock, and the ocean is much rougher too.

There are two pools, each with its own brand of melancholy.  The first is near the men’s boutique, restaurant La Case, and the White Bar, feels like you’re being smothered and constantly judged by the overhanging rooms.  The second is more private, closer to the women’s boutique on the other side of the property, but it still manages to feel as luxurious as sipping champagne whilst stood in a Glaswegian toilet.  The design—or the conspicuous absence —doesn’t scream Cheval Blanc so much as it whispers “design internship gone wrong.” I know nepotism is customary at LVMH – they must have given this project to one of the grandkids.  The pools are heated, though, so kudos for that – they are at least usable rather than ghastly and pointless, like the cast of a reality TV show.

The gym gives a clearer picture of the mishmash of how these two resorts were merged into one.  They have two gyms.  The main gym is new, with TechnoGym equipment, a few cardio machines, a bit of weights, and a yoga/pilates room.  But it’s not on the large scale – it’s always one deep breath away from bursting at the seams.  I saw people giving up on the idea of coming in because it was too full.  They should probably introduce a bouncer with a velvet rope to manage the crowds.  It’s the busiest gym I’ve ever seen, probably because there’s not much else to do on property.  The second gym is over in the gardens by the spa, opening later in the day, with older equipment.  It’s like discovering a second, forgotten attic in your house.

Surprisingly for a hotel chain that even has a kids club in a city hotel, there’s no kids club here.  In fact, Rosewood is the only property on the entire island that offers a kids club, proving that the French are all for making love, just not dealing with the results.  They do offer activities for kids over the age of four, and one morning we hired a nanny to look after the children in our room.

Room

We stayed in Suite #38, an Ocean Front Suite, one of their top accommodations with 120 sqm of space, including the terrace.  It’s right by the beach, with a small plunge pool, and the main restaurant for breakfast and lunch was just next door.  As convenience goes, it was pretty great.  In fairness, if you’re by the beach, the property is so small you’re going to be ok.  There are numerous room categories, but really, your primary concern should be location: jungle or beach —the former is significantly cheaper but outright depressing, whereas the latter is much nicer, but the cost is equally depressing.  Good luck picking between whether you want to watch the first 10 minutes of Up or the ending of Marley and Me.  

Space wasn’t an issue.  Everything felt new, which was nice, but the overall vibe was underwhelming.  Not to the point it bothered me, but enough to make me think this was their first attempt at a hotel.  Then I discovered they opened this well after the superb Cheval Blanc Randheli.  It was all too generic—except for the free minibar, which still holds a special place in my heart.  The suite had an open-plan living and dining area.  The TV in the living room was so far from the sofa I needed a telescope to watch it.  The bedroom was separated by sliding doors, but they had patterns that prevented the door from being fully enclosed.

The bathroom featured an outdoor shower, but it faced the corridor near the room, and I didn’t want to terrify the neighbours with my arsecrack.  I could get arrested for crimes against humanity if someone saw me naked.  The light controls were baffling, with a combination of manual and automatic settings that made little sense. While the glass doors blocked out external sounds when closed, other parts of the room did not, allowing us to hear conversations from outside.  On the plus side, the Sonos system and the excellent blackout curtains, including a metallic door for complete light sealing, were fantastic.

A mosquito zapper was a welcome addition, quickly becoming a favourite feature that I wish I could have added to my wedding registry.  They should gamify killing mosquitos with a counter on the zapper.  I would win.  I have finally found my calling.

Food

There are two bars, each cosily next to a pool, and two restaurants: one for breakfast and lunch, the other for dinner.  That’s the peak of excitement here.

La Cabane is the lunch venue where you can feel the sand between your toes while you dine.  Surprisingly for a Cheval Blanc, the culinary offerings were a letdown.  The in-room dining is a carbon copy of the lunch menu, equally underwhelming.  Even the Greek yoghurt at breakfast made me wave a white flag in surrender—they had to scurry off to find an edible alternative.  The dessert menu was the only glimmer of hope, featuring a parade of sweets personally presented by the chef.  Trust me, we all grappled with the monotonous lunch and room service offerings.

For dinner, the only choice is a fine dining experience.  I hit a new personal low by wearing slippers to this upscale affair, but at least that made it more memorable than the food, which turned out to be just average and certainly not tempting enough for a second round.  Limiting dinner to fine dining is a bold move that seems designed to send you exploring elsewhere on St. Barths—a fairly easy escape since you can charge taxi fares to your room.  This is convenient, unless, of course, you’re wrangling young children, which makes dining out about as relaxing as herding armed bandits.

The Good

  • Setting

The Bad

  • Food

The Luxurious

  • Service

Conclusion

Most hotels have a name over the door that’s just for show—they don’t actually own the place, so their power to enhance it is limited.  Despite valiant efforts to elevate this property, it’s like trying to polish your pet rock to get a diamond.  If Cheval Blanc didn’t own the place, I’d toss them a participation medal for trying.  Since they do own it, perhaps they should have taken a bulldozer to it and started fresh.

It’s completely absent of everything that makes a Cheval Blanc a Cheval Blanc.  And I know, as this completed the set – we’ve now stayed in all their properties.  And we certainly saved the worst for last.  It offers exemplary service, a decent setting, and everything else cruising at a steady “meh”.

I am used to endlessly hearing of poor service in the Caribbean and I am here to call bullshit.  Unfortunately, they missed out on all the other parts that make a hotel great.

Ocean Front Suites start from €6,000 per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 11th Jun '24

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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