Sure life’s a beach (or backyard barbecue) now, but come February you’ll do just about anything to feel sand between your toes. Like, say, endure an extremely long airplane trip. Because French Polynesia, with endless shades of blue and green water, tree-covered mountains, and sugar-white coastlines, is like no beach you’ve ever experienced. Start planning now: These islands are a once-in-a-lifetime destination that, unlike many things in life, exceed the hype.
It’s a long way to the South Pacific, any way you slice it. And unless you’re fortunate enough to arrive by private jet, you’ll have to start your trip in Papeete, on the main island of Tahiti. Stay the night at Manava Suite Resort, a modern hotel that sits at the edge of the ocean. Though the bustling capital city is merely a pit stop on your way to fantasy islands, you’d be remiss not to dip a toe in the seaside infinity pool.
Recover from jet lag on the off-the-beaten-path island, home to about 6,000 people and only one full-service hotel, Te Tiare Beach Resort. Duck into the grocery across from the boat dock for a six-pack of Hinano, the local beer, then watch for flying fish on the ride to the hotel. After sunset, hit Le Ari’i restaurant for a dinner of poisson cru (the national dish of tuna marinated in lime juice and tossed with crunchy vegetables and coconut milk).
Wake with the rooster’s crow and get ready for a jeep tour, complete with a glimpse of giant sacred eels and stops at a vanilla plantation and pearl farm. Or book a jet ski safari and cruise the lagoon in search of whales, rays, dolphins, and sharks.
Forty-eight hours of rustic solitude and you’ll be ready to ratchet it up a notch in Bora-Bora. Captain James Cook discovered the quintessential Tahitian island in 1777, and we suspect that his eyes fell out of his head when he first sailed the brilliant turquoise waters near what is now Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa.
A barrier reef surrounds the island, and the scuba diving is legendary (it is believed that nearly 500 species of fish live in the waters near Tahiti). Don’t dive? Have the concierge book a snorkeling excursion, where you can pet stingrays and swim with the sharks. Lunch on a motu (an islet) is coconut bread and chicken, pork, and native veggies cooked in an underground fire pit. If you’re lucky, the cook will serenade you while you eat.
Body art is a big deal in French Polynesia, and the hotel’s Manea Spa has a resident tattoo artist (now’s as good a time as any). If you’re looking for something almost as memorable but significantly less permanent, try the traditional Polynesian massage incorporating monoi oil or the avae massage, during which a masseuse hangs from a wooden contraption and walks all over you. Like everything else about this place, you won’t soon forget it.
If you think it doesn’t get any better than Bora-Bora, you’re in for a surprise. Staying in one of the 48 over-water bungalows at Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa is far from a bargain, but you do get what you pay for — meaning everything, from the flower leis presented upon your arrival to the bedtime story left on your pillow at night is top notch. (Attention, honeymooners: It’s also très romantique.)
Days can be as lazy or as active as you wish. Wake with a pot of hot coffee, fluffy omelet, and basket of fresh-baked croissants delivered to your room via outrigger canoe. For something low-key, find the bocce ball court or grab a mask and head out to the coral reef. And if you’re up for adventure, ask the concierge to arrange a sunset cruise or visit the island of Raiatea.
There’s nothing like crushing travel fatigue to destroy your vacation euphoria. On your return trip, say no to the red-eye and spend the night in L.A. (We like the Andaz West Hollywood.) Tomorrow, it’s back to reality.
Photos: Albert Vilalta / Flickr; Courtesy of South Pacific Management
Want to see lots of beautiful photos from French Polynesia? You can.
|Up to 50% off Mercedes Salazar|
Mercedes Salazar claims her jewelry will “connect you to the universe.” Even if it doesn’t, the beaded pieces, crafted with ancestral techniques and finished with angel, star, and hamsa charms, are heavenly at up to 50% off on Swirl.