A coral reef protects Grand Cul-de-Sac from the ocean waves, making the water warm and calm.
Lying on my stomach in a three-walled room overlooking the turquoise water of St. Barts, I listen to Simao da Silva’s accent (Portuguese? French?) as he slides warm, hand-buffed shells across my back – a French West Indies twist on the hot stone massage. The local clamshells are filled with self-heating sea minerals, then rubbed with lightly warmed Ligne St Barth avocado oil. (Ligne St Barth is owned by the Brin family, whose French ancestors arrived on the island in the 17th century.) A heated shell is placed in each of my upturned palms, and while “Tout est bleu” (the hotel’s signature song) drifts through the air, it occurs to me that I may be the only thing here that isn’t officially French Republic.
Le Sereno is like a trip to the south of France without the jet lag: the Christian Liaigre decor, the wine, the impossibly good-looking staff. But if you’ve arrived expecting a sprawling spa, you may be in for a surprise. Here, the R&R isn’t relegated to the modest treatment room (though there was nothing modest about the 13 products used during my facial there). In-room treatments and massages are not only encouraged, they are de rigueur. And you’re more likely to spot a guest sipping citrus water in a bathrobe than a martini in the hotel bar.
Just ask the house cat, who roams about freely: Like the gentle trade winds off the ocean, tranquility flows through the elaborately spare indoor and outdoor spaces. Dotting the beach are white-cushioned daybeds big enough for two, and there are no barriers between you and serenity in the pool, either, thanks to music piped in underwater. Everywhere you go, there’s a calm, hushed whisper – even the palm trees, leaning lazily to one side, seem relaxed.
Daniel and Pierre are two very tanned young men in crisp white linen who magically appear the moment you need a towel. And looking like they just stepped out of a Lacoste ad (they’re wearing matching tropical cactus red when we first meet) are Christian and Sandrine Langlade, the charming and handsome husband-and-wife team. Bringing a mouthful of bouillabaisse to my lips, I listen as my hosts – who met in Lille – explain why they fly in meat from France (“Only the best!”) and how the bouillabaisse (prepared that morning from a shipment of fresh Mediterranean fish – they insist on it) follows the recipe established in the Charte de la Bouillabaisse Marseillaise. “Our chef, Jean-Luc Grabowski, worked for the Monaco royal family for many years,” says Christian as he refills my glass of Sancerre.
Lying in bed that night with my eyes closed, I imagine the croque monsieur I’ll be ordering for lunch the next day with a small smile curling my lips – the smell of tiare-scented avocado oil still on my skin. And as I hear the ceiling fan stir the gauzy bed canopies on the polished floor, it occurs to me that this feeling of serenity isn’t something you can find in a bottle. Even if it’s French.