By Kamille D. Whittaker | kwhittaker@atlantatribune.com

There are some travels that change you.

Some change the way you measure time, space, even distance. Others recalibrate your senses, birthing new essentials, and normals. Sometimes, these alterations happen in ways you don’t realize until long after, mostly upon reflection or recollection. But if you’re lucky, the significance and transformation is revealed in real time.

And then it lingers and haunts.

I should have known that St. Barth would insist on it. Called Ouanalao by its indigenous — the island is deliberately set-apart. Geographically, it sits on the eastern bend of the French Caribbean, a part of the collectivity that includes Martinique, St. Martin and Guadeloupe, only accessible by small plane or ferry. I measured the distance there, not by time, but by island: One by one, each island of the hundreds that make up the Lesser Antilles archipelago, passed below the private plane en route to St. Barth from Puerto Rico, contouring the trail where the Caribbean and Atlantic become indistinguishable. I was headed to le Caillou — which, to St. Barthelemians, means “The Rock.” I had read that the island has no water or rich soil to speak of — it is just one big rock with island accoutrement — fauna, food and folk — that beautify it. The language, cuisine, and culture – distinctly French.

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So when residents and recurring visitors go away and return, they say they are coming back to the rock, or home; drawn back each time by perennial longing. It is this currency that la Maison, Cheval Blanc St. Barth Isle de France, trades so well in: The art and alchemy of the subliminal as an ode to its chic simplicity. In an island teeming with so many options — it is St. Barth, after all — Cheval Blanc, a sister to the original in Courcheval and a second in the Maldives, is a quiet champion in an unspoken challenge — daring you to find better. Indeed, they hold space for the possibility and then morph and mold to rise to the occasion or request however “reaching” — each detail attended to particularly.

Maison Alchemists — they call themselves — posit subtle reminders of luxe here and there, such as a custom Guerlain fragrance that wafts through the resort and idles on clothes, hair and skin alike. On an early morning trip from nearby Gustavia, by way of Flamands, for example, the driver knew immediately where I was staying without me saying a word — signature Cheval Blanc lingers. Wanting to take a piece of the Maison everywhere I went on the island, I even took on its color palette and decor in my wardrobe with touches of the signature Cheval Blanc blush and a blonde-tinged taupe. When, LVHM acquired the property in October of 2013, they hired Guerlain’s perfumer Thierry Wasser, to create a signature scent for lotions, oils, candles and pillow sprays. And they invested in creating a blush-pink color that’s unique to the hotel, and not in the Pantone collection.

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Inimitable and peerless — Cheval Blanc insists. You won’t soon forget that each generously sized suite and villa is French-conceived and conjured, individually decorated, in an easy-but-elegant West Indies style with distinctive vintage French fabrics. Marble baths (some with freestanding tubs), and an understated glamour are in tune with the surroundings. Dior look books and Guerlain products make clear the high arching rubric.

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The Anse de Flamands, visible to many of the 40 suites and bungalows, almost becomes a mere backdrop — an incidental embellishment by way of the maison’s blessing of location. I stared at its ivory sands from within my infinity pool atop my private terrace. While Flamands Bay and its panoramic views is one of the most beautiful on the island, the Maison’s tropical gardens match the draw with little effort. The freestanding garden bungalows, ensconced in heliconia, palm fronds and bougainvillea, make the decision of where to divide your attention only slight more tenuous. And there is really no need for hard decisions.

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You can have a close to hour and a half-long Thai Massage in an open-air pavilion scented by the surrounding blossoms — then take a short walk to dine feet-in-the-sand at La Case de l’Isle, the alfresco restaurant that serves fine nouvelle cuisine on a terraced veranda that empties into the beach. A sommelier-curated list of more than 200 whites, reds and blushes, most of them French, complements every flavor.

Cheval Blanc has all the components to do just that, complement and enhance, insisting that you try as much as you can to gift yourself the best. And thus, I was different now; altered, if you will.

In places that change you, you start to measure time simply by how long it will take to return.

 

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Gourmet Goodness:

Cheval Blanc was my host for the St. Barth Gourmet Festival — in its third annual iteration, a rhapsody of French gastronomic innovations. During each of the three dinners of the Festival, set at different hotels in St. Barth nine chefs offered a 4- or 8-set menu, allowing all guests to discover their gastronomy and personal cuisine. At Cheval Blanc’s La Case de l’Isle, Chef Arnaud Donckele (Three Michelin-starred Chef of La Vague d’Or restaurant at La Résidence de la Pinède in Saint-Tropez) took up residence alongside house chef Yann Vinsot, who regularly combines his love for the cooking of his native Brittany with the ingredients of the Caribbean.

For the Festival, Donckele chose to adapt his dishes to match the essence of the Maison and the island. Tuna dishes morphed into crab; lemon notes, replaced with lighter grapefruit; and spices to match the heat. “The Maison is a feminine space with a light elegance. Other luxury hotels have to demonstrate their luxury … here, it is natural.”

I concur. AT

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