Villa Marie occupies a sweet spot at the small and intimate end of St. Barts' hospitality spectrum: pretty and cosseting, not flashy or forbidding.Although the serried sun loungers of the Isle de France on Flamands beach are clearly visible from the hilltop around which Villa Marie curls near the north-western tip of the island, all that seems light years away in terms of style and scale.
Here the 21 suites and villas are woody, whitewashed and shuttered, with an abundance of ceiling fans, seashells and Emmanuelle-style rattan armchairs. Beds are vast and canopied, with elaborate headboards. Soft furnishings are printed with pineapples (which I found unfailingly happy-making), parrots (likewise, though something in their expression made me think they were laughing at me behind my back) and palm trees (dark, moody and weirdly haunting). Other features suggest influences from more distant shores: sideboards inlaid with mother-of-pearl; dreamcatcher-y wall hangings; Slim Aarons prints. This spirit of playful eclecticism comes directly from Villa Marie's co-owner, Jocelyne Sibuet. Together with her ex-husband Jean-Louis, and latterly with their children, she has built up the Sibuet brand into something of a mini-empire. It started in 1989 with the rustic-deluxe Les Fermes de Marie, in Megève. There are a dozen or so Sibuet properties scattered across France. The ace up this hotel's sleeve is its restaurant. I loved its airy open-plan design, which makes it seem bigger than it really is, and the fantastic attitude of the staff, who are mostly French and all clearly delighted to be on the island. And the superlative pain perdu. But whatever you do, don't miss the banane flambée. It, too, is cooked in generous quantities of island rum.