Angelenos tend to feel that easy beach vacations close to home are limited to Hawaii and Mexico. More exotic places seem to take a bit more time, both time spent planning and time away. But thanks to direct flights from LAX to Papeete, French Polynesia does not need to be saved for a honeymoon or other special occasion. After just a few more hours in the air, you’ll touch down on a collection of islands with some of the most miraculous water on earth. And once you’ve packed a bag and boarded a plane, aren’t a few extra hours in flight worth it to experience somewhere utterly breathtaking?
If you’ve ever seen photos of French Polynesia, you’ve likely viewed the famed overwater bungalows that put Bora Bora on the map. Huts with steps directly into the sea are perched like luxury tree houses over light teal water that is as clear as glass. And while almost every resort in Bora Bora has overwater bungalows, there is only one resort that offers The Brando Suites.
After you fly to Papeete, you’ll take an additional short hop flight to Bora Bora. A boat collects you from the tiny airport and transports you directly to one of four new suites that officially debuted in December 2017 at The Intercontinental Bora Bora & Thalasso Spa. Each suite offers stunning views of well-known Mount Otemanu, as well as gorgeous décor. Your home for the next several days will be 3,400 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor living space, two bedrooms, and a fabulous infinity pool over water. Floor-to-ceiling windows stretching 22 feet high allow you to savor every moment while miki miki wood and native vegetal pandan leaf roofing remind you of the natural beauty and materials of the island. The two-bedroom villas are perfect for families or couples wanting more space and privacy.
Every detail has been thoroughly thought-out, from the built-in sound system to the large soaking tub with a picture window. Blackout curtains surround the largest bed you may ever come across and the sea is just a leap off of your balcony.
It is easy to make yourself at home at The Brando Suite, especially with all the amenities of the five-star Intercontinental at hand. Room service is available at the touch of a button and ranges from locally caught fish like the fabulous wahoo in a sweet vanilla marinade to gourmet burgers made with beef flown in every week from France.
If you feel like exploring Bora Bora, complimentary boats are available on a daily basis to and from the main island. Plan for an unforgettable evening at La Villa Mahana. Owned by a husband and wife team (the chef is French and his wife is Polynesian), the multi-course dinner features both local specialties and French delicacies. It was the only place in French Polynesia where we were able to taste coconut bread. Steamed in a banana leaf, warm and slightly sweet, it was quite a treat. Local tuna was barely seared in vanilla oil and served with a simple salad. Roasted beef tenderloin was excellent, served in a red wine vanilla sauce and perfectly cooked. What stood out the most was the love and passion of the family behind this establishment. Well worth the excursion, La Villa Mahana offers easily one of the best meals you’ll have in French Polynesia.
If you’re curious about other resorts in Bora Bora, book a private boat to the St. Regis for dinner at Jean Georges. The St. Regis is only a 10-minute boat ride from your Brando Suite. Be sure to arrive in time for sunset over Mount Otemanu, as it’s a different but equally gorgeous view of the mountain than from your suite. Champagne sabering and a lively crowd are a nice change of pace from the privacy of your room. Adding to the ocean feel, you can watch sharks circle below the restaurant’s glass bottom floor as you enjoy signature dishes crafted by the French celebrity chef.
An Island Hop, Skip, Jump Away
After spending a few nights in Bora Bora, head to Tetiaroa where the real vacation begins. Tetiaroa is located 30 miles north of Tahiti. An atoll composed of a dozen islands, Tetiaroa is home to a truly remarkable lagoon complete with active marine life and The Brando Resort.
Book a private transfer directly from Bora Bora to make the trip a breeze via Air Tetiaroa. Inspired by Marlon Brando’s vision for a resort that embraces the people and ecosystem of a place, The Brando is a sustainable development and the first and only project in French Polynesia to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certified.
The Brando brings new meaning to the term “all-inclusive.” The phenomenal resort boasts 35 luxury villas, each with its own pool, beach views, and mini-bar stocked with drinks of your choosing. From one to three bedrooms, the villas are designed to reflect the Polynesian lifestyle. Wooden walls and roofs are paired with modern luxuries like a sitting room, media space, and outdoor bathtub to make sure your every desire is met.
Enjoying a world-class spa, two restaurants, live music, a pearl shop, and a boutique are just a few of the ways to keep yourself busy at this heavenly paradise. Each morning starts with breakfast either in your villa or in one of the restaurants. Fresh fruit, smoothies, eggs, and handmade pastries were delivered poolside to our villa as we settled in with our coffee along with tea and honey gathered by the island beekeeper. A stroll along South Mermaid Bay was a lovely way to watch the marine life awaken in the atoll. Reef sharks are friendly and fast, while the array of fish is vast.
Sign up for one of the many activities offered mid-morning, from a wildlife tour to a workout. Gain real-world skills like peeling a coconut—which, as it turns out, is much harder than it looks. See tons of species of wildlife, many of which are native to the island. Depending on the time of year, you may be able to catch the hatching of turtles. Or tour one of the resort’s many energy-saving technologies, such as the air conditioning system, which uses sea water drawn from deep within the ocean both to cool the resort and create drinking water. After learning more about the island with one of the local guides, head back to your villa for lunch and a dip in your pool.
Villas come with one massage per day so be sure to make good use of it. The Varua Polynesian Spa is dreamlike, as therapy rooms are perched like a bird’s nest over the ponds, plentiful with lotus blossoms. A tea lounge, yoga room, and steam baths make this an all-day destination spa.
After relaxing at the spa, spend time at the tennis court or fitness center or take an afternoon nap on your deck in the ocean breeze.
Before dinner take advantage of one of the many ocean sports available from paddle boarding to kayaking, snorkeling to sailing. Return just in time for sunset drinks at Bob’s Bar. Culminate your day with dinner at the fine dining restaurant Les Mutinés. Supervised by Guy Martin of Le Grand Véfour in Paris, many of the dishes available at The Brando are exact replicas of what Chef Martin is serving in Paris. If you’re looking for something in particular, the staff is more than happy to accommodate any requests.
Ask the staff to draw a bath in your villa before you turn in for the night. Go to sleep with nothing but the sound of the ocean waves and nature on your doorstep, knowing you’ll get to wake up and do it all over again the next day. The hardest part will be heading back home, but The Brando even makes that easier by giving you warm chocolate chip cookies as you say your goodbyes.