For those seeking endless clear turquoise water, palm-fringed beaches, and romantic over-water bungalows, it doesn’t get any more idyllic than Bora Bora in French Polynesia. Located halfway between Australia and California, just an eight-hour flight away from Los Angeles, French Polynesia is easier than ever to access with direct flights from major gateways to Tahiti. Tourism may be the largest source of revenue in French Polynesia, but it is far from turning into the next Hawaii. This vast archipelago only receives 250,000 visitors a year, compared to Hawaii’s six million. One of the main reasons is the cost. Since most food and many other goods must be imported and incur high duties, a French Polynesian vacation costs a wad. But the breathtaking scenery warrants the price.
An awe-inspiring, 50-minute plane ride from Tahiti, takes you to Bora Bora, the most famous of the 118 islands. This stunning, unspoiled playground is actually the remnants of a sinking volcano. The towering black rock peaks of Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu soar nearly half a mile above the six-mile-long-island. The emerald mountainsides are surrounded by a never-ending pale blue lagoon, huge reef, and a protective strand of offshore motus.
Ultra-exclusive resorts tucked away on the island make this exotic setting even more desirable. When the St. Regis opened two years ago, it raised the bar for luxury even higher by shelling out more than $1 million for each of its 100 villas. The sleek resort feels like a modern Polynesian village, complete with a Jean-Georges restaurant, posh beachside bar, and a 13,000-square-foot spa situated on its own island.
Set on 44-acres, golf carts whisk guests from their villas to the beach or reception. But the over-water villas redefine luxury, so much so, you may never want to leave them. Highlights include dark merbau floors, marble bathrooms, and a separate living room with a glass bottom floor revealing the iridescent blue waters beneath. Soft coral-shaped lamps and vivid red cushions deliver a splash of color and charm. The large terrace and covered gazebo with chaise lounges call for relaxing and drifting off as the views of Mount Otemano can be hynoptic. Guests can scuttle down the private ladder or launch off the deck into the translucent cerulean lagoon, followed by a cool rinse in the outdoor shower.
Several of the villas have private swimming pools or spas perched over the lagoon and range in size from 1,550 up to more than 3,450 square feet. If you’re looking to really splurge, check into the 13,000 square feet Royal Estate. Situated in a private cove, the three-bedroom estate comprises a private swimming pool, whirlpool, steam room, sauna, beach and spa area with treatment room.
Besides amenities like two 42-inch plasma televisions and Pratesi linens, the resort offers Polynesian-style perks like reef fishing and outrigger canoeing. For the ultimate underwater experience, check out the lagoon surrounding the resort. With no current, teams of fish, and crystal clear visibility, it is a snorkeler’s paradise.
A private butler meets even the most demanding guests needs at the push of a button. Keeping with the hedonistic theme, guests can set up camp at a private cabana at the Zen-inspired Oasis pool, book a Tahitian-inspired treatment at Spa Miri Miri, or catch the dazzling sunsets while sipping frothy fruit-spiked cocktails outside The Lagoon Restaurant.
For the ultimate private hideaway, Le Taha’a Private Island and Spa awaits. Just a five minute helicopter or 30-minute boat ride away from the Raitea airport in Bora Bora, Le Taha’a is tucked away on Motu Tautau, an idyllic islet which sits on the outer coral reef off the west coast of the island of Taha’a. Built in true Polynesian style, pale natural woods permeate throughout the design and a giant wooden sail welcomes guests in the reception area. A member of Relais & Chateaux, this chic hideaway lives up to its expectations. The thatched-roofed over-water bungalows are irresistibly romantic with views of either Bora Bora or Taha’a. Tropical fish dot the water with brilliant colors while liftable glass panels in the bungalows allow for private fish feedings and exceptional aquatic encounters.
The beach villas enjoy absolute privacy and seclusion, tucked away amidst the palm groves. The polished timber floors add a contemporary touch to the spacious rooms that include a lounge and terrace, private swimming pool, and hammocks strewn between palms. The public areas, built in the trees, provide an exquisite view on the lagoon and Taha’a Island. Three restaurants─one adjacent the pool and beach, a main one for buffets and the gourmet Ohiri─serve a delicious fusion of French and Polynesian dishes.
Adventure seekers will gravitate to the shark and sting ray feeding. The expert guides race a boat over multi-colored waters and arrive in a shallow reef full of 1.5-metre-long reef sharks. Guests, positioned in the water in snorkeling gear, feed sardines to the docile sharks. Viewing the shark feeding frenzy up close creates a real adrenaline rush. For additional thrill seeking, the scene can be repeated at another area where stingrays circle the shallow waters, waiting to be fed. There’s nothing quite like feeling the gentle water wings of these amazing creatures brush against you while feeding them─ another highlight of vacationing in this otherworldly paradise.
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