When a friend invited me to go to the Tahitian island of Bora Bora with her a few years back, I declined. It felt like a long way to go for a beach vacation. When you live in Southern California, you have gorgeous beaches at your fingertips. If you want something a little different, you can be in Mexico or Hawaii in a few hours.
At the time, I was under the impression that the Tahitian Islands were a 12+-hour flight away. But this year, when our friends Jeffrey and Nadia Saad invited us to go to Bora Bora with them to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, they tipped us off that the flight was only eight hours. That was a game changer. We booked the red-eye flight on Air Tahiti Nui and started planning our nine-day trip.
We decided to split our time in Tahiti: the first leg at Conrad Bora Bora Nui and then join up with our friends at The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort for the second leg.
Above: A luxurious couples massage room at the Conrad’s Hina Spa | Small images: the open-air Upa Upa Lounge
Conrad Bora Bora Nui
You feel it from the moment your boat pulls up to the Conrad’s dock: a visceral release of stress and the general busy-ness of life. The resort manager is there to greet you, making it crystal clear that it is of utmost importance that your stay be everything you want it to be and that they are there to make it happen.
“What is there to do here?” I inquired. “R-E-L-A-X,” she stated confidently. I nodded but was secretly thinking, “Yeah, but what else?”
Located on the private island of Motu To’opua (just a 15-minute boat ride from the airport), the resort is nestled between the dramatic backdrop of Mount Otemanu and the ocean. The beach is the longest private stretch of soft white sand on Bora Bora.
Situated on 20 acres, with the entire resort facing the Pacific Ocean, the Conrad has an earthy vibe—one with nature. It seamlessly blends into the lush, vibrant scenery, minus the over-the-top, Disney-like vibe of some five-star oceanside resorts.
Architecture is traditional French Polynesian with an Asian touch. Koi ponds are scattered throughout the property.
Guests can choose from a multitude of accommodations including villas over the water, on the beach or nestled up in the hills. We stayed in an overwater villa with a large deck, complete with a small pool and a hammock, all facing the dramatic mountainscape. Sliding glass doors disappear into the wall, offering a seamless view of the outdoor beauty.
A beachside concierge provides toys—from snorkeling gear to stand-up paddleboards. Boats are available for rent. Bikes are on stands at several spots for the taking.
Guests can sit and relax at the resort’s expansive infinity pool or on the beach. Dual lounge chairs are nicely spaced out on the sand, allowing for privacy. Guests can also sit inside a comfy, cushioned wicker cabana for no extra charge—a feature I appreciated.
The Conrad offers five distinct dining spots. We enjoyed sumptuous breakfasts and lunches at the Beach Grill, served at the pool and on the beach. The staff aims to please—even politely lobbying a bit when you steer off course. Our breakfast waitress, for example, looked crestfallen when I declined the fresh-squeezed juice. I’m just not a juice person, I explained. Second morning, same reaction. But this time she just couldn’t stand it. “You have not experienced the fresh juice here!” she exclaimed, setting down a glass of fresh papaya juice. Just to make her happy, I took a swig. OMG! I ordered juice every morning from there forward.
We also loved our dinner at the plush, open-air sushi eatery Upa Upa Lounge, which overlooks the water. The meal was simple in the best way: unbelievably fresh fish that needed no adornment, served atop perfectly steamed rice. We also ate one night at the property’s terrific modern Chinese restaurant.
Above: The canoe breakfast
Conrad Bora Bora Nui recently revamped and upgraded its program at Hina Spa, kicking off a wellness program with four distinct retreat packages: sleep well and breathe, antiaging and longevity, reshaping and an immersive Tahitian experience. The packages include a consultation with a personal chef and a wellness guru, private coaching session, personally designed spa treatments, wellness and holistic activities, and in-room amenities.
The spa, perched dramatically on a hill overlooking the resort, recently adopted the entire high-end Biologique Recherche skin care line. The products boast “botanical, marine and biological extracts” as well as higher-than-average active ingredient concentrations (20% in most products). The company espouses some unusual practices, which for me is a positive; I like new experiences. For example, estheticians use ice water for facials, which they believe better stimulates blood circulation and permits deeper product penetration.
Whether you do one of the packages or opt for an à la carte treatment, I suggest visiting the spa. If you are with your partner, I suggest a couples massage right before sunset. Then luxuriate in a hot tub—infused with an exotic fragrance—and sip champagne while you watch the sun go down over the water. Oh, my. R-E-L-A-X indeed.
The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort
The St. Regis is more than twice the size of Conrad Bora Bora Nui. Getting around its 44 acres, though, is easy. The villas come with bikes, or you can ring anytime for a chauffeured golf cart. It is meticulously landscaped throughout with enchanting lighting that makes a bike ride home the perfect nightcap.
Each villa comes with a butler who is solely dedicated to making you happy. I recoiled at first. Is this guy gonna follow us around, constantly watching us? I like to disappear while on vacation. But our butler, Paul, immediately alleviated any concerns. With grace and an almost uncanny ability to know our preferences, he booked activities, excursions and reservations. Later he’d circle back at just the right time to make sure everything had been executed to perfection.
The St. Regis is the only resort in Tahiti with its own private, man-made lagoon—called the Lagoonarium. One afternoon we headed over for a tour with the naturalist who presides over the delicate ecosystem. The lagoon, roughly the size of a soccer stadium, is home to 23 varieties of fish and a stunningly beautiful array of coral and anemones. All predators, and anything else scary-looking, have been removed, so it is perfect for families.
Just as we were about to hop into the water with our snorkeling gear, butler Paul pulled up on his golf cart sporting fresh towels. “I’ll bet you forgot your towels!” Indeed we had. Another time we rode bikes to breakfast. We ended up running into the Saads and took off on foot with them, sans velos. When we got back to our villa late that afternoon, there were our bikes.
One morning we opted for the enchanting “hosted canoe breakfast.” The canoe arrives at your dock, and while the waitress arranges the flower-adorned feast on the outdoor patio table, the muscular paddler takes you out for a short ride. (“Want a paddle?” he quipped. Nope.)When you return, a sumptuous meal—which included the best banana bread I’ve ever had—awaits.
Above: A sushi dish at the resort’s signature eatery, Lagoon
Iridium Spa is dramatically situated on its own island in the middle of the lagoon, offering a selection of Polynesian and Asian treatments. My masseur intently listened to my preferences and fully delivered with his hands, complemented by premium, deliciously scented products.
Guests can check out a number of toys from the beach attendant without additional fees. My husband, Charlie, and our friend Jeffrey were like two teenage boys taking out the catamaran every day, laughing uproariously as they tried to make it go faster.
One day it was quite windy. From the beach Nadia and I watched them drift farther and farther out, struggling to get the sail up and catch the wind to bring them closer to shore. At one point it looked like they had it, and I went back to reading my book.
A few minutes later Nadia exclaimed, “Uh-oh!” Our boys had caught a lofty gust of wind that suddenly lurched the catamaran in the opposite direction. Charlie was propelled upward, ricocheting across the bow into the middle of the sail, slicing it half. While Nadia and I wondered if we’d be dining alone that night, we spotted the beach attendant in the distance. He swiftly boarded his tricked-out jet ski, rescuing the guys—and the boat.
With the catamaran out of commission, for our final day we chartered a boat with a Tahitian captain. He took us to a spot where you could “swim with the reef sharks and pet the stingrays.” After a quick “no thanks” from me (Anyone here ever heard of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin?), the guys and Nadia dove in.
Above: The white sand beach at the St. Regis
I did hop in the water, though, when we arrived at what our captain described as the “most beautiful coral reef in the world.” We were entranced by the vibrant fish and bright purple, pink and turquoise figure-8-shaped bivalves. At one point the captain dove deep, motioning for us to follow. Out of a cave snaked a 7- or 8-foot black eel. Incredible sight.
As far as dining goes, The St. Regis has several eateries, the most exquisite of which is Lagoon by Jean-Georges. It is a dramatic structure—suspended over the water with a glass floor. We’d been advised to have a cocktail first on the deck, simply telling the mixologist our alcohol preferences and offering an adjective or two—i.e., sweet, sour, etc. We did exactly that, and it was delightful to experience his creative concoctions. Similarly, we let our superb waiter guide us through the Asian fusion menu, which highlights local produce and fresh catches. In short, the entire evening was extraordinary.
As we walked out of Lagoon—the last guests to leave—my husband suddenly dove onto the glass floor. I thought he might have tripped, but instead—clad in his white dress shirt and loafers—he started doing a break dance-like spin on his back. Suffice to say, even for a guy well known as someone who likes to have fun, it was unusual behavior. I chalk it up to the intoxicating magic of Bora Bora. I hope we get to experience it again someday.