Don’t trust the glossy brochures-with clever angles and heavy blue eye shadow, every high end resort looks like a tropical paradise that’s worth the thousands of dollars they will cost you. Then you finally get there and discover the sewage pipe emptying into the ocean, realize that’s a lard rendering factory across the road and that the artful brochure in the mail failed to display the tacky lobby that’s loaded with cheesy art.
In a world of conflicting paradises, discernment is key. Given that tourism is Tahiti’s number one industry and that there are literally dozens of “great” resorts to choose from throughout the islands, it’s hard to pick just five that take the cake. Even so, here’s an attempt to do just that.
This “Top 5” is not based on what’s more elite, expensive, or exclusive, but focuses instead on the overall experience available to guests-from the drinks at the bar to the health of the coral reefs outside your door. The following five resorts are all situated within French Polynesia’s Society Islands, which includes Tahiti:
Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa
If you’re going to fly to the other side of the world for sun, sea, sand, and palm trees, then do it right, people. The very best of French Polynesia is not found in the hubbub of modern-day Tahiti but out in the smaller, less-inhabited islands and the surrounding motu (small, sandy islets of an atoll). These are the islands you keep dreaming about and where all the newest resorts keep popping up.
The island of Taha’a is home to very few humans and several vanilla plantations, which makes this perhaps the sweetest-smelling place on earth. Throw in a well-conceived Relais & Chateaux property on an outlying sandy motu and it’s pure heaven. Inspired by the va’a (outrigger canoe), the Taha’a’s design is devoted heavily to Tahitian tradition, with hand-painted tapa bark cloth artwork and bottles of flower-scented manoï oil in the bathrooms (which you will be tempted to ungraciously steal). The exquisite over-water bungalows also feature giant picture windows with a romantic view of far-off Bora Bora, while the underwater coral gardens are healthy and loaded with pretty little clown fish.
You know who would love this place?: Margaret Mead and fans of Finding Nemo.
Downside: At $941 bucks a night, the Tah’a isn’t catering to America’s laid-off auto-workers.
If you have to stay on the main island, this is the place to do it. A 10-minute drive from Tahiti Faaa International Airport, the Intercon is surprisingly quiet and fairly secluded, thanks to the thoughtful preservation of the surrounding trees and plants. The resort also wins major points for having a brain and simply giving guests what they want and need. That includes free laundry rooms on every floor, free “transit” rooms for guests with night flights, free shuttles into the city, and a full-time hop-to-it concierge. Refined colonial-era design and a genuine Tahitian touch make this a favorite for locals, and the saltwater “swimming pool” is alive with tropical fish.
You know who would love this place?: Dakota Fanning and entourage
Downside: The man-made beach is a hotspot for Japanese weddings.
Pluses: Kid-friendly, outstanding Tahitian dinner/dance shows, and the same price as Intercontinentals elsewhere in the world.
Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort
Always a fan of French management (clarification: hotel management), the Sofitel in Moorea is just dreamy. Blending modern comfort with ancient island tradition, each of their 114 bungalows is spacious, airy, and totally tricked out with cool stuff like unobtrusive flat screen TVs and nearly-silent air-conditioning. Imagine a millionaire’s Manhattan loft surrounded by an untainted crystal blue lagoon (but for a bit less than a night in New York). Newly renovated, nothing at this place is drab or out of whack, and the location-at the edge of a sharp green volcano on Moorea (surely the fairest isle of them all)-is unbeatable.
You know who would love this place?: Jackie O.
Downside: Eventually, you have to leave.
Pluses: Awesome, awesome white sand beach. Two miles from the ferry dock to Tahiti.
Le Méridien Bora Bora
The glass-bottomed floors in your room offer an eerie-yet-beautiful blue view of all that swims below, from sharks and rays to local hawksbill turtles. Built on a sandy fringe of atoll across from the main island of Bora Bora, Le Méridien stands out for its dedication to protecting the natural wonders that make Bora Bora so beautiful. Clean, quiet, and design-y in a good way, the unique art deco style makes you feel rich even if you’re not. The resort also smartly bypasses the traffic and nonsensical over-development of the main island.
You know who would love this place?: Environmental lawyers with French mistresses.
Downside: If you don’t like sharks . . .
Pluses: Great activities (like dug-out canoe rides) and an in-house sea turtle sanctuary.
Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa
Brand new and built to pamper, the Bora Bora resort is also far from the madding crowds with bungalows laid out symmetrically across the inner lagoon. Beige even works in the South Pacific, and every ultra-beige suite optimizes the already-optimal views, including perfect bathtubs next to giant picture windows, stone bathroom floors, and extra-long outside decks. This resort stands out for its sense of solitude, its cheerful Tahitian staff, and a great dive shop. Although, the main attraction is the Deep Sea Spa where guests get all wrapped up in hot, messy algae (it does wonders to their skin). If you’ve always wanted to get crazy with warm,gooey seaweed, voilà!
You know who would love this place?: Lazy people with good taste and bad skin.
Downside: If your bungalows at the end of the line, it’s a long walk on a hot wood, so wear flip flops.
Pluses: Eco-friendly (seawater air-conditioning), secluded, and the deep sea spa is by far the best in French Polynesia.