Enduring Landscape, Changing Reality
BY Jenny Peters
Say the words “Bora Bora” and for most travelers, an image of the bluest lagoon and the towering Mount Otemanu above it are what comes to mind. It’s a magical place and one that lovers have embraced for decades as the destination to celebrate their official unions.
But there’s a bit of a sea change going on in French Polynesia’s most famous destination, the place that James Michener made famous so long ago when he wrote, “To put it quite simply, Bora Bora is the most beautiful island in the world. To see the setting sun illuminate the volcanic tower, massive and brooding in gold, is to see the South Pacific at its unforgettable best.” That change has been a long time coming, as couples have ruled in every resort in this unforgettable destination ever since the first resort opened in the 1960s.
Nowadays, however, it isn’t unusual to see kids romping on the white-sand beaches or groups of friends gearing up for a scuba dive with the sharks, manta rays and sea turtles that call the lagoon home. You’ll still see brides floating through, on their way to their wedding day; and honeymooners remain the most common tourist sighting here, but things have definitely changed. Multi-generations of families are often found vacationing here these days, as more and more luxurious resorts are making sure to welcome everyone (not just pairs of two) to their distant shores.
A Place to Unwind and Unplug: The St. Regis Bora Bora
One thing that hasn’t changed about Bora Bora is that feeling of being a million miles away from everything, in a pristine place where the pace is easy, the phone doesn’t ring and there’s no agenda at all. It’s a true tropical paradise, where unplugging is easy (although all the resorts here have WiFi if you actually want it) and planning your day is as simple as lounging on your overwater deck until the urge to climb down your ladder to swim into the crystal-clear water strikes.
For the ultimate in luxurious living on the lagoon, the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort stands above the rest, with the largest overwater villas in all of the South Pacific. It’s an incredibly welcoming place, where you really can bring the family or a crowd of friends, especially if you book the ultimate place to stay within this breathtaking resort.
That’s the St. Regis Royal Villa, which burst onto the scene moments after the resort opened in 2006 when Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban took it for their honeymoon. There were only two of them on that visit, but this villa has three bedrooms, four baths, a swimming pool, whirlpool, sauna, private beach and much more in the 13,000 square feet of space that make up this beautiful retreat. And like every villa at the St. Regis, private butler service is included. The Royal Villa isn’t an overwater bungalow, however; for that unique experience, book one or two of the two-bedroom villas that hang over the lagoon (and have private swimming pools as well) and you can still bring the whole family.
Like most Bora Bora resorts, the St. Regis is on its own private “motu” (island), one equipped with everything required to make a tropical paradise seriously wonderful. We’re partial to the scuba diving, with dive sites both in and outside of the lagoon. The water here teems with plenty to see, from sharks of many sizes and types, sea turtles, stingrays, barracuda, spotted eagle rays, Moray eels, manta rays and (if you’re particularly lucky) passing humpback whales and dolphins. We even saw a massive swordfish whoosh past on one blissful dive here.
Non-divers can snorkel in the resort’s secluded Lagoonarium, ride jet skis, sail, kayak or use a stand-up paddleboard right at the resort; hanging out on a hammock sipping a lovely French rosé is another excellent option for an afternoon here. There’s the gorgeous Miri Miri Spa by Clarins, perched on its own motu on a secluded section of this 44-acre playland, where if you’d like, expert therapists take all your kinks out in an outdoor gazebo that overlooks the lagoon. Black pearl lovers need not go far to shop, as the Robert Wan boutique with his legendary Tahitian pearl jewelry is right on the property, too.
The St. Regis also boasts what is arguably the best restaurant in the South Pacific, Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Lagoon. Begin with a sabered bottle of Champagne for an exciting frisson to start off the night’s revelry and be certain to try the signature crusted Ahi appetizer (the tuna comes from the waters nearby), one of the swooningly delicious menu items on offer at this world-class place.
Feel the French Influence
For a more intensely French resort experience, choose the Le Meridien Bora Bora Resort, one of the classic places where overwater bungalows have been in place since the 1990s. Most resorts across Tahiti have a French feel, as that country has controlled all five of the island groups that make up this vibrant place since 1842, but the Le Meridien hotels have always been French-run. These days, the chain is part of the massive SPG/Marriott group, but in Bora Bora the feel is still very French, right down to the macarons that await in your overwater bungalow.
For an authentic culinary experience, try the Poisson Cru, the delectable national dish of Tahiti, featuring raw tuna marinated in lime and coconut juice and served up inside a coconut shell, at Le Te Ava, the resort’s outdoor restaurant that looks out across the lagoon to Mount Otemanu. Try it the first day of your trip and we’ll guarantee you’ll eat it again and again, it’s that delicious. At Le Tipanie, the resort’s other restaurant, book in on Thursday night to see a lively Polynesian dance performance – and join in with the dancers, too, if you dare.
The resort supports a Turtle Sanctuary on the property, a fascinating place to visit and learn about how supporting local marine life and protecting the ecology of this pristine place is a key part of both the Tahitian and French cultures here. Learn all about the sea turtles found in the South Pacific, then join Diveasy, the on-site dive shop run by French expert Laurent Graziana, for a fun-filled day of diving in the lagoon, where you’re likely to see a turtle or two along the way.
Air Tahiti Nui has traditionally been the only airline carrier to service the U.S. mainland to Tahiti, flying nonstop from LAX; and they are upgrading their full fleet to Dreamliner planes in 2019. Meanwhile, United Airlines just launched three Dreamliner flights a week to Papeete (PPT) from San Francisco as well.