French Polynesia, March 2019
Photo: © MARTIN VALIGURSKY – DREAMSTIME.COM
By Kristy Alpert – March 1, 2019
I HAD JUST TAKEN OFF MY SANDALS, stepping onto the white-sand beach for a late-morning walk to a secluded spot I heard about from a front desk clerk, when I glanced down and saw the time on my phone. It had just turned 11 a.m., which meant it was only 7 a.m. back home, the perfect time to call and say good morning to my husband before he left for work. Not quite ready to head back to my room, I decided I’d test the WiFi signal and made the call as I continued walking toward the shoreline.
“Good morning from Bora Bora,” I said, half guiltily, as I heard the line connect after just two rings. “Wish you were here!”
The conversation continued as I trudged farther and farther away from the canopied loungers and sun beds sunken in the sand. I gripped my phone a little harder as I took my first step into the crystal-clear water, letting the salty, still liquid cool my toes and rise higher up my legs as I stepped deeper and deeper into the shallow Pacific Ocean lagoon. Up to my waist in seawater, I ended the call as I finally reached the aim of my morning journey.
FOUR SEASONS BORA BORA OVERWATER BUNGALOWS © MOEAVA DE ROSEMONT / FOUR SEASONS BORA BORA
With one last, “Miss you,” I hung up the phone, placed it in a waterproof bag and collapsed into a private overwater hammock that hung loosely between two poles so the netting barely kissed the water’s surface as I swung slowly. All alone. Not another living soul in sight.
Often regarded as a honeymoon destination due to its romantic scenery and private overwater bungalows, Bora Bora’s recent connectivity and increased flight schedules from many U.S. hubs make this Polynesian paradise more accessible for solo travelers and business men and women looking to kick back and escape the grueling 9 to 5. The island sits within the French overseas territory of French Polynesia, a country divided into five groups of islands: the Society Islands, the Tuamotu Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Austral Islands and the Gambier Islands.
Only 67 of the country’s 118 islands and atolls are inhabited, with the majority of Tahitians residing within the Society Islands, home to French Polynesia’s most famous islands of Tahiti, Moorea, Tetiaroa and Bora Bora. With a larger-than-life reputation as the Pearl of the Pacific, Bora Bora consists of a series of smaller islands (motus) and a main island encompassing less than 15 square miles in total. Most of the resorts in Bora Bora reside on their own private motu, a short boat or helicopter ride from Bora Bora’s main port of Vaitape. The main island centers around a dormant volcano that rises dramatically above the lush jungle floor into two peaks, Mount Pahia and the showstopping Mount Otemanu.
The most sought-after accommodations within Bora Bora feature views of Mount Otemanu, Bora Bora’s unofficial icon, and no resort offers a better view than Le Méridien Bora Bora. This Marriott-owned resort features 98 bungalows; the overwater offerings feature unobstructed views of Mount Otemanu and direct access to the water from each private outdoor deck. The resort’s casual restaurant, Le Te Ava, allows guests to dine in the sand in the shade of a traditional Polynesian thatched roof as they sample one of the most beautiful renditions of Tahiti’s national dish, poisson cru, a ceviche-like item prepared with raw tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk.
The resort also hosts French Polynesia’s only turtle sanctuary within the on-site Ecological Center. Le Méridien offers free tours of the center to educate guests on the protection and preservation work biologists undertake, and for a small fee, visitors can participate in a Live My Life session, in which they interact with these amazing creatures and participate in the care and healing of the sea turtles alongside the team of biologists.
All of the resorts along Bora Bora’s motu lie just a short boat ride from each other, making it easy to hop around with a pre-arranged water taxi or boat transfer to other resorts or even back to Vaitape to explore the small markets that come to life in the early afternoon or go celebrity-spotting at the sandy-floored seafood joint, Bloody Mary’s. The often-crowded restaurant’s low-key vibe attracts famous names like Pierce Brosnan, Jimmy Buffet, Kurt Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others.
LAGOON RESTAURANT BY JEAN-GEORGES AT THE ST. REGIS BORA BORA © THE ST. REGIS BORA BORA RESORT
Visitors looking for fine dining won’t find it at Bloody Mary’s, but they will at the island’s best establishment, Lagoon Restaurant by Jean-Georges. The restaurant sits over the water at The St. Regis Bora Bora, where this 3-star Michelin chef created a menu worthy of his many accolades. The restaurant is the only place in the world to find uravena on the menu, as this local fish presents a formidable challenge to most chefs in its preparation. As if this highly rare dish weren’t enough to create a memorable dining experience, the restaurant itself sits on a dock where glass-paneled flooring alone stands between diners and the black-tipped sharks that lurk in the water beneath the restaurant.
The St. Regis Bora Bora also features the largest overwater bungalows in the South Pacific, where rooms include features like private gazebos, glass-paneled floors, private plunge pools and direct access to the water below via private ladders. The resort’s 90 accommodations range from garden villas with a private beach to overwater villas and royal overwater villas, as well as the jaw-dropping royal estate with three bedrooms spread throughout 13,000 square feet, plus a private chef available upon request.
SWIMMING ALONG CORAL © THE ST. REGIS BORA BORA
Guests of the resort split their days between relaxing just off the beach in the resort’s private offshore hammock and sipping drinks at the swim-up pool bar or heading off the motu for some Tahitian adventures. The resort can arrange everything from full-day scuba diving excursions to jet ski tours of the islands, putting guests behind the controls of a state-of-the-art water craft as they zip in and out of the motu and lagoons. True adventure seekers can book a half- or full-day shark and ray tour with Lagoon Service Bora Bora. The trip begins with an introductory snorkel through the coral gardens followed by a stop in the shallows to wade through a sea floor of giant manta rays before heading out to the deeper, open waters to swim with black-tipped reef sharks. The tour wraps up with a locally prepared lunch on a private island where locals demonstrate how to find, crack and enjoy a fresh coconut.
Coconuts appear throughout Polynesia in everything from gastronomy to health remedies, but no coconut creation is more representative of Tahitian culture than monoi oil. The oils are delicately scented with the petals of a tiare flower and can be found on all pages of the spa menu at Miri Miri Spa by Clarins at The St. Regis Bora Bora. The oils have a softening effect on both skin and hair and make for a great souvenir to recall a time spent taking in the beauty, relaxation and little luxuries of the Tahitian Islands.
French Polynesia Info to Go
All international flights arrive and depart in Tahiti’s capital city of Papeete. From there, a 50-minute flight via Air Tahiti Nui puts guests at Bora Bora Airport, where they can either take a car transfer to a resort on the main island or hop in their corresponding resort boat to shuttle via water to their resort’s private motu.
Where to Stay in French Polynesia
FOUR SEASONS RESORT BORA BORA Little details create the base for the Four Seasons Bora Bora experience, where interiors by local architect Pierre-Jean Picart welcome guests into the 107 bungalows. Motu Tehotu, Bora Bora $$$$$
LE MÉRIDIEN BORA BORA Each of the 98 bungalows of this retreat offer stunning vistas, but the overwater bungalows with Mount Otemanu views earned this resort the reputation of having the best ones in Bora Bora. Motu Tape, Bora Bora $$$$$
THE ST. REGIS BORA BORA RESORT No wonder many celebrities frequent this luxury resort. The attention to detail and discreet service pair perfectly with the 90 sumptuous suites, including the largest overwater bungalows in the South Pacific. Motu Ome’e, Bora Bora $$$$$
Restaurants in French Polynesia
BLOODY MARY’S Less known for its cuisine than its iconic Polynesian atmosphere, Bloody Mary’s is a must-see while in town, even if just to grab a drink and spot some celebs from your seat in the sand. Povai Bay, Bora Bora $$$
LAGOON RESTAURANT BY JEAN-GEORGES Three-star Michelin chef Jean- Georges Vongerichten takes the helm of this exquisite restaurant, where French and Asian influences impart an upscale twist on fresh Polynesian ingredients. The St. Regis Bora Bora, Motu Ome’e, Bora Bora $$$
LE TE AVA The casual dining restaurant concocts one of the best renditions of Tahiti’s most popular dish, poisson cru: raw tuna and coconut marinated in lime juice, then served in a real coconut shell. Le Méridien Bora Bora, Motu Tape, Bora Bora $$$