Island in the Sun: Where to Stay in Paradise
Believe it or not, fashion week is hard work. You may think that, as your intrepid editor-in-chief, I’m living it up at New York and Paris Fashion Weeks. But you’d be so wrong. Like, unspeakably wrong.
My typical day during fashion week consists of waking up around 5 AM, and opening up my phone and laptop, where a swam of emails, texts, Facebook and Instagram PMs — and other assorted bloops and bleeps — immediately fill the air. Beginning the day before New York Fashion Week, they will continue to come in nonstop, about 3 per minute, for the following 4 weeks of fashion month.
bloops will come in about 3 per minute for the following 4 weeks
But this isn’t the worst part. The worst part will be sitting in a hotel room while my team has fun. On most days, I’ll be posting stories (in HTML code, no less), editing photos, answering PR people, coordinating a team of 8 writers, updating the NYFW schedule, and monitoring social media accounts until around 1 AM.
Now, in case you think this deserves the world’s tiniest violin, I accept that. But I’m telling you: it’s exhausting beyond anything I’ve ever done (and I’ve waited tables, landscaped, and worked as a journalist), often demoralizing (which I won’t get into), competitive beyond belief (the goal is always to post everything first, nonstop) and sometimes I end up crying in the shower just to let off some steam. (TMI?)
it’s exhausting beyond anything I’ve ever done
All of which is why, when I need a vacation, I need a REAL vacation.
And that, my friends, is why this year, Christine (my brave and beautiful life partner) and I chose Bora Bora and Le Taha’a, with a little help from Pacific for Less.
You may have heard of Bora Bora (or, as it’s humorously and erroneously referred to in Orange is the New Black, Bora Bora Bora) spoken of in near-mythological terms. I decided on the location a couple of years back, after Googling extensively over a period of years for “world’s most beautiful island.” I read countless comparisons of Hawaii vs. the Caribbean, Seychelles vs. Zanzibar, Antigua vs. Anguilla, Cancún vs. Barbados … and on and on. But the one thing that seemed to come up in countless comparisons (from people who really had traveled the world), was Bora Bora.
I found it Googling “world’s most beautiful island”
One person described Bora Bora as “looking into nature’s soul.”
So, breaking in the noble tradition where I “go it alone” and book direct, I inquired with a number of travel agencies, finally contacting Pacific for Less, along with some other agencies. (I’d heard Pacific for Less mentioned over and over in TripAdvisor reviews, and thought it couldn’t hurt to give them a try along with the rest.)
Claudia Schnetz, the owner, contacted me quickly, and it was easy to see her rates were substantially lower than her competitors, with better amenities: free nights, excursions, etc. In fact, it almost seemed just a little too good to true. In my usual distrustful way, I even insisted on speaking to her by phone, and found a very charming person, eager to help and oblige. Now, make no mistake: “nature’s soul” or not, Bora Bora is well-nigh ungodly expensive. But chalking it up to a “bucket list” thing, I decided to plunk down the deposit.
After listening to me carefully, and hearing that Christine and I had been to Japan, the Caribbean, and some 20 countries between us, Claudia said she thought we might like something more “adventurous,” and recommended we split our trip equally between Bora Bora and Le Taha’a, another island across the way.
After giving it some thought, I decided to take her advice. And I’m thrilled that I did.
Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa
When the day arrived, we flew from Los Angeles to Tahiti.
Really the magic begins the moment you land in Tahiti. We landed at 6 AM, and there was already a ukulele trio serenading disembarking passengers in the airport terminal. They looked sleepy but happy. The happy vibe is everywhere, and seems so authentic, it’s both touching and inspiring.
the magic begins the moment you land in Tahiti
Next we met a representative from Pacific For Less who greeted us with leis, after which we took a plane to the island of Ra’iātea. From there, we caught a boat to Le Taha’a, also known as “Vanilla Island” (for the amount of raw vanilla that’s cultivated there). At first the water seemed disappointingly normal: like the kind of water you might see anywhere.
However, as we neared Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa, the water changed, and I began to know what that person online meant by “nature’s soul.” The water looked like food coloring had been spilled from some undersea spigot. And it changed: blue to green, to incredible jewel-like shades in between. In a world where I often tend to get my hopes up, this was an experience that was actually exceeding my expectations.
The water looked like food coloring had been spilled from some undersea spigot
As with much of this trip, the resort also exceeded my expectations. The manager Julien Bressolles knew who were were by name, our list of likes and dislikes, and immediately provided us with vanilla tea and a warm “sushi style” rag for our hands.
The resort base is structured a bit like a giant treehouse, making it a fun place to dine (it feels just a bit like you’re in Tarzan’s sanctuary). The staff is incredible, always greeting guests with a musical “ia orana” (“hello” in Tahitian), or “maururu” (thank you).
The only bad news was that the overwater bungalow were had been assigned was leaking, so we were upgraded to a beachfront villa with a outside bathtub, which was fine for us, as it was bigger and a bit nicer.
As you can see from the pictures above, what began as a windy day resolved into a day that was, simply, quite beyond belief. I can honestly say I have never seen water like that, or seen nature look so unfathomably amazing. (I would say the nearest I’ve come to this kind of beauty is on safari, at the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya.)
I have never seen nature look so unfathomably amazing
The stingray snorkerling experience was beautiful, and we even picnicked in the water on a table propped up in the warm shallows.
We ended our second night with an excellent fire dance, and I had a two-hour “vanilla scented” massage at the spa on our final, fourth day. We even happened upon a beach puppy, that we were dangerously close to taking home. (My cat would not have been amused.)
What makes Taha’a Island Resort and Spa special is the people, and the raw, natural beauty of this place. In a sense, it might have even topped Bora Bora, which is where we went next.
The main difference between Le Taha’a and Bora Bora is the sense of privacy. Le Taha’a feels like a little slice of heaven has been carved out and specially donated to you and the one you love.
Le Taha’a feels like a little slice of heaven
The St. Regis Bora Bora
It’s also fair to say the St. Regis Bora Bora was even better than we could have expected from photos. Personal butlers (yep, you heard that right) Marisela and Sebastian were assigned to us. They unpacked our bags (something I never would have thought I’d allow someone to do, but “when in Rome”), and studiously took care of our every need. (Including delivering coffee promptly at 6:30 AM. God, you can get used to that.)
Apart from the service, the best part about the resort is the beauty of the grounds themselves (modern tiki, anyone?), and the restaurants: Lagoon By Jean-Georges, Sushi Taki, and the Far Niente Ristorante. We ate at a different restaurant each night, and all were world-class. (Our in-room dining was a bit less exciting for me: Christine still talks about the delicious in-room pomodoro she had two days in a row, though.)
All the St. Regis restaurants were world-class
You can ride around the grounds on bicycles, or hitch a ride with any of the golf carts constantly buzzing about.
The snorkeling experiences from here are nothing short of incredible. Again, you should probably have a look at the pictures, as the words really fail when trying to describe this kind of experience.
In summary? Wow. And not just any old “I found rockstar parking” wow. BIG, once-in-a-lifetime wow.
And when it comes time to book, talk to Claudia at Pacific for Less (or any of the great people working there) .
If you’ve ever wanted to see how life can be — should be — i.e., nature at its most inspired, dazzling, pure, and good, go to Bora Bora and Le Taha’a.
Your 80-year-old self will thank you. (Although there’s really no reason to wait that long.)