Condé Nast Traveller - The Caribbean Revival
July-August 2016

A transformed Le Toiny is shaking up St Barth’s wilder side.

This is not the St Barths most of us know and adore. Hidden away on the other side of the island from the capital Gustavia, La Côte Sauvage is a place where the wind blows hard and the shore is rocky; it feels more like pirate country than a haven for the cosseted. There are no restaurants by Jean-Georges Vongerichten here, no Guerlain spas and no Hermès stores in faux-tumbledown shacks. In fact, there is barely a beach to be found on this rugged south-eastern point of the island.

Le Toiny opened here in the early 1990s and it has changed hands once or twice, but nobody has made much of a fuss about it. Some praised its smart restaurant, others knew it only as the hotel furthest from town. With its very large, private rooms, far from prying eyes, it was probably known as the best hotel to take a mistress.

But now the 42-acre property is coming out of the shadows. The new owners — the Reverend Charlie and Mandie Vere Nicoll, he the unlikely fusion of vicar and bon viveur, she a super-waif and sun-worshipper — know all about transformation. The British couple were the team behind the Isle de France hotel, making it the spectacular destination it is and selling it for many million undisclosed dollars to the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH in 2013.

Now their new project Le Toiny is starting to lure away a particular type of guest from there: those who care less about Instagram, more about isolation. And in comparison to the rock ’n’ roll vibe of Eden Rock, another show-and-tell spot, Le Toiny has a quiet, understated earthiness.

They have kept the bricks and mortar, but interiors fairy Bee Osborn (who also designed Isle de France) has waved her pretty wand and traded the fussy for the fresh, all whites and creams and natural materials such as figured sycamore, petrified wood and sun-bleached teak. There are giant clam shells, oversized chrome lanterns and packing-case stools. On the walls are antiqued mirrors, and black-and-white photography of pelicans and sailing boats. It’s very New England nautical meets the French Caribbean.

The restaurant is far more relaxed than it used to be. They’ve ditched the cloches and lightened the menu. The impressive four-metre bar is built of oyster shells, marble, mother-of-pearl and mirror with shocking-pink bar stools, and best of all there’s cheeky Carlos serving classic Ti’punches (rum, lime and cane syrup) and other Caribbean cocktails using tonka bean-infused Cointreau and vanilla vodka.

Each of the hotel’s 15 lateral-living villas has a private heated pool surrounded by casuarina trees, oleanders and hibiscus. The rooms are gorgeous, with oversized everything from beds to sofas and thick fluffy towels. Neat kitchenettes are hidden in armoires with hot water on tap and ice-making machines; there are tree stump sidetables filled with poured resin and glass lamp stands weighted with sand. Raise the red flag at the gate to indicate ‘do not disturb’ — but be prepared for a giant tortoise or iguana by the pool.

The most welcome addition to Le Toiny is the beach club, which the owners freely admit is modelled on Le Club 55 in St Tropez. Last year, it was a windswept scrap of scrub; now guests are shuttled down by Jeep Wrangler to a slip of sand with lunch tables set between sea grape, chalkboard menus, hammocks strung up in the palm grove and plumped-up sunbeds on the shore. This is boho-beautiful, toes-in-the-sand, long-lunches, another-bottle-of-rosé St Barth’s. Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ plays after ‘The Girl from Ipanema’. A boutique in one of the oldest stone buildings on the island (thought to have been used by smugglers) sells Tracy Watts straw fedoras, Mint & Rose espadrilles and LeMar swimwear. Models wearing the shop’s skimpy wares float between tables as dishes of salade de langouste, tuna tartare and brochettes of mani-mahi are served.

The sea can be rough on this side and there’s a sacred break for surfers; the singer Jimmy Buffett, Charlie’s mate, has pledged to launch a Toiny Cup surf competition here. If one prefers calmer waters, there are plans to create a natural marine pool on the rocky shoreline. Clever. And the modest Elemis treatment room may one day be a fully-fledged Bamford spa at the beach club with yoga classes held beneath under coconut trees.

There is more to come. Next year an outdated three-bedroom villa will be torn down to make way for nine fresh-as-a-daisy new ones. Privacy will be paramount, they say. It may, after all, still be the place to come with that extra-special someone.