Thursday, June 11, 2015


A true barefoot destination, writes Johan Paloheimo, who has just returned from French Polynesia. 

The hotels visited in this archetype of romance and barefoot luxury included St Regis Bora Bora, Le Taha'a Island Resort & Spa, and Pearl Beach resorts in Bora Bora and Tikehau.  The resorts were all beautiful but rather different ... here he gives tips and impressions...

French Polynesia - the big picture

I have been to quite a few paradise destinations but this island country has won my heart. The coral islands are picture perfect, with the water so blue, so clear, so radiant. And I found the people relaxed and smiling. They make you feel you are in a big family and that all the service comes from heart.

This is a true barefoot destination. You can dine in your shorts or barefoot most of the time, even in top luxury hotels. The prices of food and wine surprised me pleasantly. And yet the meals were out of this world. I highly recommend that you book and pay for half board before arrival as this costs less if paid for overseas due to taxes in French Polynesia.

Atolls as Johan flies in over French Polynesia

Getting around French Polynesia

This is an island hopping destination. Most people spend 3 or 4 nights at each hotel and fly between different islands. We had an Air Tahiti airpass. Our itinerary was: Papeete – Raiatea – Bora Bora – Tikehau (via Rangiroa) – Papeete. Everything worked like clockwork.  The aircraft from Papeete to Raiatea was brand new with a lot of leg room. Your mobile can be switched to flight safe mode and kept switched on during the flights.

Papeete to Raiatea was 45 minutes, Raiatea to Bora Bora 10 minutes, Bora Bora to Rangiroa 55 minutes, Rangiroa to Tikehau 10 minutes, Tikehau to Papeete 55 minutes.

Changing hotels and islands is not a problem at all.

Le Taha´a Island Resort & Spa 

I stayed three nights at this utterly sublime Relais & Chateaux hotel that is some 30 minutes scenic boat ride from Raiatea Airport. This is barefoot luxury, very Polynesian in style with bamboo, hardwood and palm tree leaf roofs. You really feel you are in Polynesia - marble bathrooms and chandeliers would be wrong in a resort like this.

Arriving by boat at Le Taha'a 
Palms waving hello

The island is picture perfect and I was totally blown away - never seen an ocean so blue or clear.

The hotel boat waits for all clients at the airport and the transfer was like a scenic sightseeing tour. You pass by local villages; gorgeous church, a local school and people are waving and smiling at you.  I will never forget how happy everyone was.

The lobby area is big and airy. There is a dive centre, a fantastic  SPA, swimming pool, one lunch restaurant on the beach, a bar on the beach, the main restaurant and of course their Relais & Chateaux fine dining restaurant.

The Relais & Chateaux fine dining 
The Relais & Chateaux restaurant has only 6 tables, but they never have more than 2 tables occupied at the same time. This is just to ensure the best possible dining experience for the guests.
The food at this resort is out of this world and the service is just spot on. The head waiter was the best that has ever served me in a restaurant. Technical skills, knowledge of the wines, the menu, in which order to serve what and when, the humour and the way that the service came from the heart.

You can order whatever you want from the menu. You can mix and switch courses without any charge or supplement. And there is no extra charge if you want to have your dinner in the villa; the only restaurant that needs to be pre-booked is the fine dining. Everything is so simple and easy.

The Beach Restaurant - between pool and beach
Breakfast and dinner restaurant

The resort has a coral garden located just left from the beach restaurant and the best time to snorkel is from morning to noon, when the tide is not so strong.

After sunset a wonderful scent of vanilla spreads all across the resort, Taha´a is the ultimate Vanilla Island.

¨Sunrise behind the island of Taha'a

Villas.  There are beach villas and overwater villas.  I would try to book the End of The Pontoon Water Villas or the Royal Beach Villa if you have a family with kids.

One of the jetties over the sparkling  turquoise water

Plunge pool Royal Beach Villa

Royal Beach Villa bedroom charm
End of Pontoon Villa - perfect relaxation point
End of Pontoon Villa bedroom

Who to stay
Clients who like Soneva resorts will love this one, as it is almost 100% barefoot. Shorts and flip flops for breakfast and dinner, lunch with your feet in the sand looking over to the blue horizon. The hotel is authentic, the food is delicious, service is superb and it is all breathtakingly beautiful.

Duo massage in heaven
View from the jetty

Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort 

After the amazing start at Taha´a it was time to head off to Bora Bora. After a short boat ride to Raiatea, a 10 minute flight to Bora Bora and a 15 minute boat ride I was finally at Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort

A divine lagoon

Here the lagoon is totally amazing, there is a beautiful beach and lovely gardens. The rooms were top notch and clean. The food was great, and staff extremely kind and friendly. Time and weather have made their mark here and they will be closing the resort totally very soon in order to renovate everything….

It will be interesting to see what this hotel looks like once the renovation is complete.

Swing bed In front of a beach villa

Overwater villa in a turquoise world

The spa

St. Regis Bora Bora 

This is a truly a Select Collection gem. The villas, the service, the food, the gardens…beautiful.

Iconic view from one of the jetties 

Everything you could ever need is here, wedding shop, Italian restaurant, Japanese restaurant, fine dining restaurant and one main restaurant with a bar that is open after breakfast until late at night. It´s called Te Pahu and also offers Polynesian dinner night every Wednesday.

Fine dining restaurant

Beach Club

The beach is attractive white sand though not very long, with sunbeds and umbrellas, free ice water all day long and beach guys like hawks - glasses never go empty. You can order your lunch from the beach guys and this was really affordable.

Watersports on one end of the white sandy  beach

Everything was very affordable and the quality was very high. There is a sunken bar in the main pool if you want to lay in the pool sipping drinks.

Easy step into the pool

All the non-motorized water sports are complimentary and the tennis is free as well. Snorkling - a swim through house reef with hand planted corals is on the spot - otherwise snorkel tours.

Snorkling trail - plenty of coloured fish

A nice touch was a bicycle parking with loads of cute white and pastel green bikes. Guests can take a bike for the entire day. Just leave the bikes outside your villa in the evening and the beach guys collect them around 18:00.

For all the guests - just pick a bike for the day

Everything works with razor sharp precision and yet it is so laid back. There is not even a dress code.

St. Regis has beach villas, water villas, royal oceanfront estate and the royal estate. Beautiful villas with rustic glamour.

Outdoor dining area on our villa deck
Our bedroom at St Regis Bora Bora 

And the spacious bathroom

Every single villa was booked when I was there, and yet the hotel felt empty. Every villa has a butler, I did not understand at first that the guy who greeted me was my butler.

There is buggy service, and free shuttles to Bora Bora, diving, snorkeling excursions etc. This resort is also very child friendly (kids club yes).

The staff are mostly French and  I noticed that the only Polynesian people working at the resort were the excellent beach boys…

Who to stay
Looking at other guests - the resort seems to be a hot spot for the French elite. It is a resort for those who want relaxation, beautiful scenery and style.

Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort 

Now to my favorite in many ways. Tikehau for me was the true South Pacific. It was like being in a documentary - the amazing ocean, the beautiful beach, the palm trees and the peace. You felt you were all alone there.

The hotel is not five star, it is just pure charm - a South Pacific dream.

Beach villas

Sunset water suite - an amazing place to be

Part of Tikehau island seen from the arrival jetty

Our sunset water suite

One of the beaches on the way to the sandbank

Sandbank in front of the hotel

The charming rustic restaurant

The area is full of amazing dive spots. Just take a snorkel and jump out from your water villa. This resort is THE place for divers and Tikehau is probably the best diving spot in French Polynesia (6 dives cost USD 500 per person).

The flight took about 55 minutes from Bora Bora via Rangiroa. Thanks to the pilots that are used to the weather patterns we landed safely in 50 km per hour winds. The boat ride from Tikehau should take 10 – 15 minutes, but it took 30 minutes due to the weather. The small boat bounced around in the middle of waves that were three times its height. The first two days the weather was really bad. But when the sun came out, the winds stopped and the clear blue skies revealed themselves -  it was like heaven.

Tikehau is called the pink island since the sand is tinged  pink. Walking on the beach you just see ocean and more ocean…and you are actually looking into a lagoon that is 14 kilometers wide.

The hotel itself is very tiny.  Breakfast is very French/continental with fruits, fresh pastries etc. Lunch was ok and between lunch and dinner you can order small bites at the bar. Tikehau is so far away from everything that they do not have the same possibilities when it comes to the food as they do around Bora Bora. But the service was great and super friendly and the dinner was lovely.

I recommend the sunset water suites: I stayed in that category. There is no room service and the wifi was not working, but still we were very happy.

The sunset overwater suites - our jetty

Who to stay
This island resort is not by any means Four Seasons nor is it St Regis. This is a four star resort for those who want to see the real deal French Polynesia and experience something very unique and very beautiful.

Some tips and surprises 

Booking with Select and using our ground agent will be a smooth experience. Upon arrival in Tahiti I was greeted by the airline staff who guided us to the arrival hall at Papeete Airport.. Our ground handling agent was waiting for me and handed over the travel documents, tour itinerary, e-ticket receipts and a small check-book with vouchers for  every transfer, dinner supplements and accommodation. Everything was in chronological order, very easy. You just follow the itinerary and tear off the vouchers upon check-in or check-out at each hotel.

If you do not want to pay with credit card: all hotels in this blog accept payment in EUR and in USD. All hotels can exchange money at the resort.

I got a real shock when I started looking at the first menu and saw the prices… It´s more expensive to have a decent lunch in Stockholm than at Taha´a or at St. Regis…
You can get a really decent wine at any of these four resorts around 40 – 50 USD per bottle.
Always book on HB since the tax on the meals is 9% if you book it outside French Polynesia. The meal tax is 17% in French Polynesia.

Bonjour, Bonsoir, merci etc are key words that bring out the best in these very kind, super service minded and also very proud as people as well as Ia Ora na (yo-rah-nah) (hello) and Mauruuru (mah-roo-roo) (thank you)

Drinking water at the resort: 1 litre water bottles are at additional cost.


Cathay Pacific
I flew with this sublime airline from London Heathrow – Hong Kong – Auckland // Sydney – Hong Kong – London, short haul flights were with BA.  The service is flawless, food and drinks are to die for and it seems that the service comes naturally.

All flights except one were with their Boeing 777-300ER. The configuration onboard the 777 is 1 + 2 + 1, so every passenger gets an isles seat.  Hong – Kong – Auckland was an Airbus 340-300 which was a slightly older aircraft, but the service and meals were exactly the same standard, and they have flat beds. Totally fully flat beds all the way through and those seats are so big, soft and spacious. You get a real pillow like at home and a huge big and fluffy duvet, not a synthetic thin one you get from many airlines. They are always consistent with the meals and service.
Passengers can choose the Chinese or the Western menu.

Air New Zealand

I flew Auckland – Tahiti – Auckland – Sydney with this Kiwi wonder and please do go and check their most epic safety demonstration video online if you have not seen it already.
The aircraft from Auckland to Tahiti is a Boeing 767-300ER, with leather seats in Business Class (but they recline surprisingly long way back). The legroom is tremendous. So sleeping during the 5 hour flight was not an issue. On the Auckland – Sydney sector they had a Boeing 777 with fully flat beds…they are really nice but the storage space is not so generous. I strongly recommend this airline especially if you book their 787 or 777. Boeing 767 from Auckland – Tahiti

For more on Tahiti hotels click HERE.

All images (c) Select Collection and Johan Paloheimo. Johan is a senior sales consultant at Select Collection.

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