By: Donna Heiderstadt
Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea. The names alone evoke daydreams of exotic, sun-soaked vacations deep in the secluded South Pacific – especially after this epic winter. When it comes to French Polynesia, there’s really no bad time to visit, but late spring in the U.S. marks the peak of its dry season, when temps hover at a comfy 82 degrees. And although room rates tend to be steep in the region, we’ve sourced six bungalow retreats – from a freshly redone great value on Tahiti to a celebrity favorite on Taha’a – that truly comprise some of the archipelago’s sweetest, splurge-worthy stays. Read on for our top picks for discerning spa-goers, romantic getaways, design aficionados, great values, authentic experiences, and home-away-from-home escapes.
For discerning spa-goers
Anyone who abides by the “my body is a temple” mantra will appreciate the fact that the spa at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora resembles a cathedral. Soaring over 70 feet high and set inside a forest of native kahaia trees, the spa has 10 treatment rooms (the Kahaia suite is reserved for couples) and two heavenly relaxation terraces with hot tubs and Mount Otemanu views. The menu of all-natural indulgences is drawn from regional rituals and island harvested ingredients, such as frangipani and luxurious black pearl powder. Most of the resort’s 100 overwater bungalows also have a decadent feature – private plunge pools. From $865/night; 800/819-5053; www.fourseasons.com/borabora
Only-found-here amenity: The resort offers al fresco sunrise and sunset yoga clinics atop a private deck overlooking the lagoon and Mount Otemanu.
For a romantic getaway
Located on its own private white-sand motu (islet) near Taha’a, an island known for cultivating top-notch black pearls and vanilla, Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa just hosted some à deux celebrities: Country crooner Carrie Underwood and her husband honeymooned at the hotel last year. The 60 water-top and beach bungalows have beautiful gauze-draped beds and soaker tubs designed for two. For a truly dreamy stay, book one of the recently revamped Sunset Overwater spreads, which face west for Technicolor views of Bora Bora. Couples seeking extra solitude can sign up for a private motu picnic, complete with a bottle of wine and a serenade. From $888/night; 800/735-2478; www.relaischateaux.com/letahaa
Only-found-here amenity: For the ultimate date night, head to Vanille, the resort’s French restaurant – guests dine on rustic platforms tucked into the treetops.
For design aficionados
Leave it to mastermind Philippe Starck to turn a Polynesian bungalow retreat in Bora Bora into a modern marvel – with little more than a smattering of well-placed pod chairs. Starck’s mark on the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa is evident from the moment a visitor walks into the neo-retro Bubbles Bar, which looks more SoHo than South Pacific. Ditto for its Deep Ocean Spa, a labyrinth-like space carved out of coral and stone, with a menu of treatments inspired by the healing seawater pumped 3,000 feet from beneath the property. The 80 overwater spreads feature floor-to-ceiling windows and private terraces; eight of them also come with spacious pontoons for sunbathing. From $1,135/night; 800/327-0200; www.ichotelsgroup.com
Only-found-here amenity: The resort is known for its memorable maeva (welcome) performed by two Tahitian “warriors” clad in pareu garb. Have your camera out!
For great value
In these Pacific Ocean parts, overwater bungalows are like truffles–ridiculously expensive but oh-so-fabulous. Nightly rates for the traditional thatched-roof retreats typically run $800, but the dozen bungalows at the newly refurbished Le Meridien Tahiti are about half the price. French hotel designer Didier Lefort was tasked with the top-to-bottom renovation of the resort, which now sports more modern touches and a few Tahitian ones, like locally made tapa cloth lamps and playful surfboard-shaped coffee tables. Another nice detail: Most of the lodgings look out on neighboring Moorea; Deluxe Lagoon View rooms come with terraces. From $400/night; 800/543-4300; www.lemeridientahiti.com
Only-found-here amenity: Take a dip in the largest sand-bottomed swimming pool in the South Pacific.
For an authentic experience
There’s no fancy marble flooring or high-tech mood lighting at the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa, where tikis and thatched roofs are the preferred design accents. The 50 ocean-top bungalows feature bamboo-and-woven-pandanu-leaf furniture, outdoor freshwater showers, and coffee tables with glass tops that slide off so one can feed the brightly colored parrot fish and damselfish swimming in the lagoon below. In homage to Tahitian lore, a card left on the bed’s blossom-strewn pillows each night at turndown tells a different sweet dreams legend. From $750/night; 800/657-3275; www.spmhotels.com/resort/bora-bora
Only-found-here amenity: Intrepid guests can pick up a tribal souvenir at the resort – in the form of a tattoo inked by Jean-Yves “Matatiki” Tamarii, one of Tahiti’s top artists.
For a home-away-from-home escape
Guests who feel the urge to whip up their own poisson cru – a Tahitian version of ceviche made with lime-marinated tuna and silky coconut milk – will be well prepared for such culinary undertaking at Legends Resort Moorea. Each two- and three-bedroom villa at this hillside retreat comes with a souped-up kitchen and an outdoor dining deck that has lagoon views and a Jacuzzi. For days when visitors don’t feel like cooking, the resort also offers in-villa catering – plus there’s a French restaurant, a deli, and a wine cellar stocked with international pours. On Wednesday and Saturday night, locals head to the resort’s poolside lounge, which happens to be the spot on sleepy Moorea for hot music and cool cocktails. From $511/night; 011/689-55-1515; www.legendsresortvillas.com
Only-found-here amenity: Thanks to its one-of-a-kind perch on a cliff, the resort has several hiking trails, some of which lead to dramatic ocean vistas.
See our French Polynesia Travel Guide for more trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights, hotels, packages, and more travel deals.