French flair, tropical bliss in Tahiti
Tahiti is an intoxicating mix of natural splendour and some of the world’s most incredible hotels. Angie Kelly goes island hopping to road test three of the best.
The rich, mellow note of a conch shell travels across the lagoon and into our overwater bungalow, calling us excitedly onto the deck and into the morning rays of Tahiti. A flower-adorned canoe is heading our way, bringing breakfast from the beach across water that melts from bright blue to an astonishing turquoise that once seen can never be forgotten.
Pulling up alongside our private ladder, the canoe crew of two passes up our breakfast of fruit, coffee and warm pastries as a marvellous and memorable start to our day in French Polynesia.
We are at the Pearl Resort off the loved-up island of Bora Bora, where it and a handful of other luxurious hotels like the InterContinental and the Four Seasons are magnets for honeymooners and couples in search of the ultimate romantic escape. Today, on this sandy dot in the South Pacific, we will snorkel off the edge of our room and see a kaleidoscope of tropical fish darting around the regenerated coral garden the hotel is famous for.
We’ll place an order for the shape of our family name to be made in solar-heated wire and later attached to the lagoon floor, a permanent underwater souvenir for us, and eventually, a new coral-covered feeding spot for the fish. We’ll kayak, paddleboard and drink in the dramatic volcanic backdrop over poisson cru – lime-marinated local fish – and gin cocktails.
The Pearl is set in vast, tropical gardens and offers an upmarket yet relaxed, authentic Polynesian experience. Spacious garden suites have private enclosed gardens – with especially romantic lighting – plunge pools and outdoor showers. Beach suites come with bragging rights – a swim in the lagoon steps from your door.
Pearl’s famous-name neighbours have a different design vibe – Ralph Lauren-esque, modern American luxe meets the Hamptons. In the overwater bungalows at the Four Seasons, warm timber tones underpin a palette of neutral soft furnishings. Rattan furniture, plantation shutters and glass in the floor create an Instagram-worthy tableau.
A spell in the spa here will almost ruin you for any other – a massage as you look down through a glass window under the table into the water followed by an outdoor bath with a view rates a 10 out of 10.
A two-minute swim off the main beach takes you to a biscuit-sized, spoonful of sand with one palm tree and just enough space for a dream wedding. As many a honeymooning couple here do before immersing themselves in the resort’s luxurious facilities.
And when there is lavish elegance paired with natural splendour, it’s no surprise resorts like Four Seasons and The St Regis are adored by deep-pocketed celebs and the upscale jet set.
When it comes to splendid isolation, however, nowhere does it better than the Pearl Resort at Tikehau, in the Palliser Island chain, one of the five archipelagos that make up the nation.
Even the locals are dazzled by Tikehau’s famous pink sand, teeming natural aquarium and 50 shades of blue lagoon.
A 60-minute flight from Papeete on the main island, Tikehau is actually a coral atoll where it’s said the fish outnumber people by a million-to-one.
And one stroll in the crystal shallows proves that to be true with baby reef sharks, small rays and countless species of tropical fish almost brushing your feet as you walk. It’s easy to see why legendary marine researcher Jacques Cousteau came here in the 1980s to study.
Luxury here comes in the form of Robinson Crusoe-style seclusion and fresh French fare with a tropical twist. Astonishingly coloured scenery, a menu inspired by the sea plus our upmarket, oversized bungalow with its huge, glass-edged bathtub makes a heady sensory combination.
On our shaded deck with views to the horizon, we take our eyes off the orange sky at sunset to take in the spectacle of a school of reef sharks swimming in the illuminated water around our ladder.
The Pearl Tikehau also offers guests what must surely be one of the world’s most idyllic days out – a gourmet motu picnic. Motus – tiny dollops of sand – are also found off Huanine, Bora Bora and Moorea, with some tours offering gourmet dining on tables submerged in the shallows and waiter service.=
On Moorea – a tiny 10-minute plane ride or a spectacular half-hour catamaran trip from Papeete – the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa is regarded as one of the island’s top hotels.
Suites were refurbished in 2013 with fabulous beach bures straddling the shoreline, half over sand and half over water. It’s also the only resort positioned perfectly on the point of Mount Rotui to give guests prime viewing for both sunrise and sunset.
Set on Tahiti’s second most populated island, the opportunities to explore beyond the resort are more numerous here than on smaller atolls and islets. Take a scooter and head for the hip and happening French-run Moorea Beach Café and settle in for a glass of beachfront Veuve and woodfired pizza.
This article appears in Volume 21 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style Magazine.