Gustavia is the main town of the island of St. Barthelemy (also known as Saint Barths). It was named after King Gustav III of Sweden. St. Barts was a French possession originally, and the area was called Carenage after the shelter it provided to damaged ships. Gustavia was founded after Sweden bought the island from France in 1785. The island was sold back to France in 1878.
There was never any hope of lucrative sugar plantations in St Barths. It was too dry, too steep, too rocky, and, finally, too small. Unsuitable for agriculture, the island was never coveted as a prize during the colonial wars of the 18th century.
The place did, however, have a serviceable harbor, and this allowed the town that grew around it, Gustavia, to play a key role in that intermittent conflict, a role that was to presage much of its future.
As a free port under Swedish rule, Gustavia served the useful purpose of providing a trade and supply center for the various warring factions. When a sea captain captured a prize or raided a settlement, he could sell the booty in St. Barths, and at the same time resupply his ship. Overflowing warehouses surrounded a harbor packed with ships from many nations, and a mercantile and architectural tradition was established that has lingered to the present day.
Today, the town has adjusted itself to satisfy the increasing number of visiting tourists. Restaurants, boutiques, and gift shops now line the busy streets.
Visitors can reach St Barts by commuter airlines, e.g., flying from St Martin. Pilots must be certified as proficient to use the modest runway under less than optimum winds.
Ferries run regularly from Marigot on St Martin. With any appreciable wind, crossings can be quite rough.
Small- to modest-sized cruise ships increasingly visit the island. Most must moor outside and tender their passengers to/from the harbor through moored yachts of all sizes. Most tenders dock within easy walking distance of downtown.
As a key destination for the "beautiful people", the town (and island) offers many ultra-deluxe stores, with prices to match. Merchandise often comes from major European designers and brands...clothing, wines, etc. Even souvenirs carry premium prices. Some items may be found nowhere else in the Caribbean.
Gustavia has quality restaurants serving American, Italian, Swedish, French and other types of food. Most restaurants have a 10-15% service charge in addition to steep prices for superbly-prepared dishes. They must use all-imported ingredients except for seafood.