Village St-Jean hotel, with its quaint hill-side mosaic of red and grey rock, is the life work of André Charneau, whose life began as a plantation owner in Guadeloupe. After investigating prospects in Jamaica and French Guyana, he decided upon St. Barth to fulfill his dreams…
Village St-Jean Hotel is the project of a courageous, determined visionary. When Charneau first purchased the land, a cubic meter of ground was worth ten times the price of a square meter of ground and wisely he chose to avoid the seaside much more exposed to hurricanes. At the time, the island was still very much sleeping vale, only a few guest rooms were available to the seldom visitor.
“When construction started in 1968”
The narrow road leading up to the site was a mere path, Gustavia’s claim to fame were its ruins from the time of Swedish occupation, and the local air strip saw one plane per day, if that. André Charneau began by shipping tons of hurricane-felled mahogany timber from his Guadeloupean property to St. Barth by sail-boat. Under each of the twenty-five houses he constructed, he very wisely put in a cistern. Water for mixing cement was imported from Puerto Rico by barge and taken up the hill in wooden bins.
The construction team headed by Jean Magras, consisted of workers from St. Thomas and all the foundations had to be dug by hand. Furniture was manufactured from the copper-toned mahogany in an ad hoc cabinet maker’s workshop. And so it went, for a full twelve years. The first American client arrived in 1969, and was met by Roger Lacour, Charneau’s brother in law, who had come from Guadeloupe to give him a hand in managing the hotel. This was the first of a long list of clients soon to include Craig Claiborne, food critic of New York Times, the Vanderbilt’s and not least among them, Greta Garbo, who suggested replacing the wooden window slats by glass ones, “should one wish to see something outside of the air-conditioned rooms”.
Charneau continued to make improvements at the suggestion of his clients, such as the mini-mokes for transportation. In early days, guests and locals would mingle at the Eden Rock on Saturday nights, or at Le Select, Autour du rocher, or the Entrepont in Gustavia.
In 1972, Charneau turned a fisherman’s hut on the beach at the foot of the slope into the island’s first seaside restaurant, the “Beach Club”.
“The Beach Club”
“Here, a vacationing Rothschild could drink
and chat alongside the local taxi driver.”
In 1981, “Le Patio” opened as an Italian restaurant, later to Village St.Jean Hotel. At the end of the eighties, the impressive cistern, once the carpentry workshop, was transformed into the spectacular swimming pool overlooking the bay. In the early years, Charneau’s wife Gaby spent her time in Paris with their four children. Once they had finished school, in 1977, she joined André and took on her share of hotel management, from reception to interior decoration. Clients were so charmed by the combination of quality service and family-style management, that their children and grand-children continue to return to this day.
Obviously, clients feel at home here, and the reception often resembles a family living room. The Charneau’s have the knack of making you feel expected and wanted, creating an atmosphere of trust which extends to the honor system hotel boutique.
Naturally, prestigious traditions need to be nurtured and developed. This is the task undertaken by the second generation, Catherine, Bertrand and his wife IB. Not only have they gradually renovated and upgraded all the cottages, they have succeeded in adapting style and atmosphere to a new generation of customers without betraying the spirit which made Hôtel Village St-Jean into what it is. The hotel is currently in its next major stage of transformation. And the loyal guests will no doubt be there to raise their glass of champagne to renewed success!