French Polynesia: A Fine String of Pearls

If there’s one word that encapsulates French Polynesia, it is “romance,” and in a context more encompassing than our everyday use of the word. For example, the way indigenous cultures coexisted harmoniously with nature stirred the soul of impressionist painter Paul Gauguin in the late 19th century. Marlon Brando’s immersion into the culture and its […]

French Polynesia: A Fine String of Pearls
June 27, 2014

If there’s one word that encapsulates French Polynesia, it is “romance,” and in a context more encompassing than our everyday use of the word. For example, the way indigenous cultures coexisted harmoniously with nature stirred the soul of impressionist painter Paul Gauguin in the late 19th century. Marlon Brando’s immersion into the culture and its history during the making of 1962’s Mutiny on the Bounty profoundly impacted his professional and personal passions. The region’s history, from French colonization to its role in World War II’s Pacific battles, stirs passionate conversation to this day.

All of that, in turn, makes the mingling of business and pleasure virtually effortless. While Bora Bora is eternally associated with weddings and honeymoons, there’s much to love about its potential as a corporate retreat/conference destination. Few other places can blend world-class, full-amenity resort comfort, and memorable Franco-island cuisine with the numerous adventure activities that abound in the verdant, rough-hewn surroundings outside the property.

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All This And Paradise, Too: The Four Seasons Bora Bora

The Four Seasons Bora Bora is exceptionally well equipped to serve as an exclusive “base camp” for a corporate incentive trip built around South Pacific adventure. A weeklong buyout of all living accommodations, meals and drinks, water activities, a spa treatment per person, and dedicated staff of 250 is $1,000,000. Nightly buyout rates (rooms only) start at $45,000.

While the Four Seasons has been one of Bora Bora’s top luxury resorts, management upped the ante with an extensive multi-million-dollar renovation. Spectacular additions include three new two-bedroom overwater bungalows and seven plunge pools added to existing overwater bungalows. The newest overwater bungalow suites, dubbed Here Nui (“Big Love”), encompass two bathrooms, two living rooms, and a large outdoor deck with private plunge pool, lounging, and dining areas. This brings the resort’s capacity (and the wonderful possibilities that go with it) to 100 overwater bungalows, 15 overwater bungalows with plunge pools, and seven expansive two- and three-bedroom beachfront villas outfitted with private plunge pools ranging in size from 3,228 to 5,380 square feet.

Other exclusive amenities include airport transfers in custom Andreyale yachts, resort-wide wireless Internet access, the Ruahatu Lagoon Sanctuary with resident marine biologist and spa treatments that incorporate local ingredients such as monoi oil, vanilla, and black pearl powder. Their full docket of activities includes deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, Jet Ski island tours, and sunset catamaran cocktail cruises.

Dining on the resort is equally alluring, thanks to executive chef Frederic Angevin, a classically trained chef from France who oversees the resort’s four restaurants, including the Sunset Bar & Restaurant (Sushi/Asian), Arii Moana (steaks and seafood), and casual dining at Fare Hoa Beach Bar and Tere Nui.

Group trips and buyout packages can be arranged by contacting nancy.marino@fourseasons.com. fourseasons.com/borabora

Let’s Go to the (Island) Hop!

Name your South Pacific adventure. Chances are you’ll find one that custom-fits your personal definition of “paradise.”Embrace Your Inner Anthony Bourdain in Papeete.

Papeete, Tahiti’s capital, is not just the start and end point for most journeys to the region, but a great place to get acquainted with everyday French Polynesian life before heading to the resorts. By day, Le Marche (“The Market”) is ideal for souvenir shopping as well as viewing examples of ultra-locally sourced produce. Food kiosks and coffee shops along the building’s perimeter whets the appetite for local fare and people watching. By night, along the cruise ship docks, “roulottes” (food trucks) offer everything from traditional French crepes and steak-frites to local staple “poisson cru” (a raw fish salad with coconut and various fresh vegetables) to fresh-grilled local catches and chow mein with a Polynesian twist.

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Shelling It Out: The Turtle Center

While The Turtle Center is on the grounds of Le Méridien Bora Bora, the contributions it has made to local ocean life and the nearby community—and especially to endangered green sea turtles—has helped it transcend from resort amenity to a scientific institution that welcomes local families, elementary school groups, and anybody visiting Bora Bora with sights, sounds, and other little miracles.

The center features daily turtle feedings, an aquatic petting zoo, exhibits, and the opportunity to view rescued baby and injured turtles being prepared for eventual release into the wild. The endeavor, supported by the Bora Bora’s Ministry and the Delegation of the Environment, and numerous American scientists, is accessible through the purchase of a day pass to the propertyhttp://www.lemeridien-borabora.com/en/turtles

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Get Your “Motu” Running

Tahiti’s other islands are best navigated with jeep and boat tour companies operated by astute guides who bring spirit and soul to their life’s work. The highlight of snorkel and dive trips is a “motu” BBQ picnic on a motu, or mini-island. Once docked, guides serve up a mix of live music, cooking and craft demonstrations, and optional extra time to hike, dive, and explore.

Through these jaunts, you realize that while simple life may not be so simple, it can be a feast for the senses. Bora Bora is a haven for World War II history buffs, and on your behalf, Andy of Safari Tapuna will brave the steepest, most forbidding roads by jeep to safely get you to a series of fascinating remnants from the U.S. presence on the islands. On Huahine (a 25-minute flight from Tahiti and a 15-minute flight from Bora Bora), Poe Island Tours (call 28 92 13 locally) escorts you through an engaging mix of archaeological sites, interactions with local families, and even an artisanal vanilla collective.

On the remote islands, a well-chosen resort not only ensures your experience is memorable, but also comfortable, customizable, and trouble-free. Relais Mahana (relaismahana.com), located in the heart of Huahine, is a find for divers and sailors. Options include a “Surf & Turf” stay that has guests in one of their quaint bungalows for part of the trip and sleeping in style on a gorgeously appointed catamaran for the other part. For those bringing their own boat, there is another program where guests can drop anchor in their bay and have access to their restaurant, WiFi, and the divine hospitality of the owners.

While it takes effort to get to Rangiroa (a two-hour flight from Papeete), anybody looking to truly “get away from it all” will be richly rewarded. The jewel of the island is the Hotel Kia Ora Resort & Spa (hotelkiaora.com), not only for its gorgeous landscaping, superb food, and access to great dive and snorkel outings, but also sexy contemporary décor in all of its 60 overwater, beach, and land lodgings. Each unit makes use of the surrounding foliage and waterfront, yet is private, secluded, and tailor-made for intimate romantic nights.

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Two if by Sea

While Paul Gauguin Cruises offers packages covering the globe, the flagship Paul Gauguin ship is designed specifically to sail the shallow seas of Tahiti, French Polynesia, and Southeast Asia, begetting access to small ports that larger ships can’t. On-board ambiance combines the informal, relaxing environment of the islands with five-star service and gorgeously appointed suites and staterooms, as well as a water sports marina, three open-seating dining venues, and an extensive spa.

The Gauguin’s top South Pacific itineraries include a pre- or post-cruise stay at the Brando Resort on the atoll of Tetiaroa, 30 miles north of Tahiti. The lavish eco-resort is LEED Platinum Certified, and 100% energy independent, powered by solar panels (35%) and generators fueled by coconut oil (20%). The endeavor was built with the support of the Tetiaroa Society, dedicated to the research, education and conservation of the atoll. pgcruises.com

Getting There: Two (Or More) Tickets to Paradise

Flight Time 8 hours from Los Angeles
Time Zone Tahiti time is three hours behind Los Angeles
Air Tahiti Nui (airtahitinui-usa.com) The airline offers two daily flights from Los Angeles to Tahiti, as well as daily flights to Paris.
Other airlines serving Tahiti via the U.S. are Air France and Hawaiian Airlines

Pearls of Wisdom from Robert Wan

While “black” pearls come in a range of luminous shades and are available at every price point, the name Robert Wan is synonymous with pearls that are as much personal investments as they are adornments. Known as the “Emperor of Pearls,” Wan built up his business from a hobby to a leading firm in collaboration with the Tahitian government bringing the best representation of black pearls to jewelers and collectors around the world.

CSQ Many places take customers through the process of explaining how pearls are created, the varying level of quality, and how to shop for pearls. What services does Robert Wan offer that other places do not?

Robert Wan The shopping experience is very different when you buy a Tahitian pearl in its original country. In French Polynesia, all the atmosphere – lagoon, island, pearl farming techniques – around our precious gem is magical. In each boutique around the world, I’m sharing this atmosphere. We are not only selling a pearl, we are selling a dream.

bora-bora-2CSQ What questions should the prospective pearl buyer be prepared to ask, especially when thinking of investing in a strand of pearls?

RW The Pearl––especially the Tahitian Pearl––is a living being. It is necessary to wear it if you want it to be everlasting. It is more than a jewel; it is like taking care of a baby. And this investment is for life.

CSQ How do you analyze and select pearls for a custom strand like a pro?

RW Tahitian pearls are recognized to be among the finest gem in the world. To fully appreciate their beauty, it is necessary to understand the following criteria which are as rigorous and precise as those which hose determine the value of a diamond: Size, shape, color, surface (luster and orient) and matching.

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