These days, if you’ve heard of St Barts, you may associate it with the rich and famous who flock there annually, many of them on super-yachts, in the fortnight between Christmas and New Year's. Folks such as Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Roman Abramovich, David Geffen, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kygo, Meek Mill, Mike Tyson, and Jay Z.

I first landed on the tiny airstrip of St Barthelemy, a 25 square kilometer volcanic island fully encircled by shallow reefs, , in the French West Indies, in 1986. My flatmate in New York spent the winter months working on the island, and she’d invited me to stay with her at the Auberge de La Petite Anse, near Flamands, a modest set of rooms, still rented out to visitors 40 years on.

The island, back then, had only a couple of restaurants, Maya’s and Le Tamarind (both of which are still in business today), and a couple of small hotels, notably Eden Rock (also still a mainstay of the island.) After a couple of days driving around in a mini make (the only rental car available at the time) I fell in love with the rugged natural beauty and azure blue waters of this enchanted and still undeveloped island. Mains electricity only became available in the 1980s.

In 1986 I was too late for Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Benjamin de Rothschild and David Rockefeller, but Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Jimmy Buffett and Johnny Hallyday were already hanging out here.

Ten years later I was also witness to one of the island’s most historic events, when I returned to St Barts in September 1995, as guests of my cousin who by this time owned a house there. My partner and I had shut ourselves away in the villa’s splendid hilltop isolation, floating in the pool and marvelling in the quiet. Turned out, it was the quiet before a force 4 hurricane, Luis, which was to devasate the island. Luckily, we escaped to the safety of the concrete basement under the Carl Gustaf hotel, before Luis knocked our cousin’s swimming pool into the ocean.

We took shelter together with an Argentinian supermarket heiress who commandeered the hotel’s only generator to operate her hair curlers and emerged, camera-ready for breakfast after the storm, and also the founders of a famous Ice-cream brand, who successfully induced the French military to airlift them out by helicopter, leaving the rest of us stranded for another week, without running water or food supplies. We used Evian to shower, and survived on lobster from the hotel’s freezer.

Saint Barthélemy was for many years a French commune forming part of Guadeloupe, which is an overseas region and a department of France. Through a referendum, in 2007. The island became an Overseas Collectivity (COM). A governing territorial council was elected for its administration, which has provided the island with a certain degree of autonomy. A senator represents the island in Paris. St. Barthélemy has retained its free port status and ceased being an outermost region and left the EU, to become an OCT, (Overseas Country or Territory) on 1 January 2012. The year-round residents, only a handful of whom were born on the island, are basically French - but friendlier.

Apart from the crazy, celebrity-filled weeks between Christmas and New Year's, the island has the laid-back feeling of St. Tropez in the 1970s. You can tan topless on the beaches, and no one dresses up for dinner.

These days when I visit the island, I rent one of the 500 or so villas which are available by the week, but over the years I have spent the odd night, usually at the start or end of the holiday, in one of the handfuls of excellent, and extremely varied hotels. There is Cheval Blanc, which has the kind of Beverly Hills feel you’d expect from an LMVH-owned hotel; Le Toiny, on the wild side of the island, perfect for couples, since each villa has a pool; the Carl Gustaf, right in the middle of the town; Le Serano, which has a modernist/Hamptons vibe; Guanahani, a Rosewood resort; Eden Rock, on the beach at St Jean, made famous by rock stars and royalty, is popular with families and ravers alike. And then there’s Villa Marie, nestled in a fragrant tropical garden in the Colombier Hills.

I first knew Villa Marie when it was still called Francois Plantation: a colonial guest house and restaurant with cool verandas and dark wooden furniture. It had no pool, but I loved staying there.

Having successfully opened hotels in the Alps, the Mediterranean coast, and Provence, the Sibuet family acquired Francois Plantation a few years back and transformed it into Villa Marie. If staying at Francois Plantation was like visiting the country home of your elegant Great Aunt from Marseilles, Villa Marie is like visiting the beach house of your chic young cousin from Paris.

It’s all been designed and decorated by founder Jocelyne Sibuet, who has thrown together wooden chests of drawers with inlaid mother-of-pearl, silk rugs, seashell macramé chandeliers, and mismatched yellow, bougainvillea pink and parrot green cushions. It’s what my friend Antonia calls “divinely chic.”

The Bay of Flamands is what you look out on from most of the 20 bungalows and villas, decorated in shades of turquoise, bougainvillea pink, sky blue, or canary yellow.

The common living rooms have a colourful, colonial charm, where vintage, handcrafted furniture is combined with rattan and sun-bleached wood, in a wonderfully laid-back setting.

Although I have yet to see anyone actually swim in it, the recently added pool provides a wonderful focal point, and enjoying a deliciously simple lunch by the poolside here, you could be on the set of a Slim Aarons shoot from Hollywood in the 1930s.

From Villa Marie, you can easily drive to any one of the island's many beautiful beaches. Nothing on the island is more than a twenty-minute drive away, but you will need a car. I always hire a mini cabriolet from Welcome car hire, as the roads are narrow and steep, and parking spaces in town are quite limited.

A few minutes from the hotel, on Pelican beach, the owners have recently opened a Beach Club, Gyp Sea, with a barbecue-themed beach restaurant. It’s buzzy and fun, with a DJ most days, but I can’t help feeling that if you love the quiet, laidback charm of Villa Marie, the trendy freneticism of Gyp Sea may not be for you.

There are definitely two St. Barts: the glitzy, upmarket haunt of celebrities, and a much more low-key place of natural beauty. I’m guessing you can tell which one I prefer.