Hotel Review: Four Seasons Bora Bora, Tahiti
TAHITI – My wife and I have had more great travel experiences than anyone on earth deserves. We’ve taken trips to Ireland, Australia, Hong Kong and Hawaii. We’ve somehow ended up in penthouse suites at posh hotels in Paris and five-star places in Beverly Hills.
But I’ve never seen the kind of look on my wife’s face that I did when we walked along the elevated pathway that took us to our thatched roof, overwater bungalow at the Four Seasons Bora Bora in February of this year. Incredulous is probably the best word to describe it, a slack-jawed, wide-eyed, “you’ve gotta be kidding me” look that I hope I never forget.
As we strolled slowly towards our bungalow we could see the ragged, jagged, ridiculously green peaks of Mount Otemanu rising above Bora Bora island, just across the sparkling, crystal-clear lagoon that separates the main island from its surrounding atolls, where you’ll find some of the top hotels, including the Four Seasons.
Bora Bora might be the most beautiful island on the planet, the subject of countless photographs, paintings and almost pointless descriptions by authors like me who can’t come close to capturing the serenity of those green, spiky mountains and the myriad, magical shades of water, which switch from turquoise to baby blue to navy and back again. Even the plane trip to get here is a visually intoxicating experience, with views that show the remarkable gradations in colour and texture before your plane lands on a thin strip of coral atoll with the South Pacific a stone’s throw away on one side and the Bora Bora lagoon just meters away on the other. If there’s an airport anywhere in the world with a better view than the one on Bora Bora, I’ve never heard of it. Or flown into it.
Even the boat ride to get to the hotel (the Four Seasons picks you up in a gleaming, luxurious ship for the short trip across the lagoon) is crazy good, with the sun glinting off the craggy peaks of the mountain and bouncing off the water.
It was a wondrous ride to the hotel. But I think it was when we walked into the room and saw the subtle Tahitian touches and the stand alone bath tub overlooking the water and how our bungalow was perched directly over the lagoon with a large deck and a ladder for clambering in that my wife went from extremely impressed to utterly gobsmacked.
“We can just jump in the water from the deck? Are you kidding?”
I think we were in the water within seconds, shedding our clothes and changing into our bathing suits in mere seconds.
Our bungalow featured a very spacious, beautiful living room area with a sofa and a comfy chair and table and a large TV, with a Nespresso coffee maker and mini-refrigerator off to one side. We had a super-comfortable king-sized bed and a large bathroom with two sinks, a big, soaking tub overlooking the deck and the lagoon and a wonderful shower. The hotel installed small glass panels outside the washroom so guests can peer down into the lagoon, and there’s a similar panel in the bedroom area, which featured large closets and another TV (not that we were ever tempted to touch it).
Our bungalow was beautifully decorated with soft tones, Tahitian artifacts and lovely, local art. It was beautiful inside, but we obviously spent as much time out on the spacious, two-tier deck as possible. We had two chaise lounges in the sun, which were perfect for gazing at the stars at night and for watching the sunrise in the morning. There also was a covered area for shade, with a table and chairs that made a great spot for typing out my notes each day. It can get pretty hot in Tahiti, so the shade was a welcome respite. I also figured out that I could swim in the lagoon and get some shade by swimming underneath the bungalows, rather than out in the full sun. Some of the bungalows have private plunge pools, as well.
The bungalows, which were recently given a splashy makeover, are spectacular. The surroundings on the atoll where the main hotel complex is located are just as amazing. Towering palms and a full rainbow of coloured flowers and shrubs are all around, and the grass is so green and so finely cut it would make the fellows at Augusta National Golf Course in Georgia envious. There’s a large lagoon with colourful fish, and, I was told, even an octopus.
There’s a kids club, of course, and also tennis courts, beach volleyball courts and a wide array of activities, such as stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and more.
Guests also can take an excursion on the Four Seasons Catamaran, where you can enjoy wonderful snorkelling and a traditional Polynesian barbeque lunch on a secluded private island or motu. The hotel also can arrange a Jeep tour of the island, where you can see the lagoon from a whole new perspective, admire the jagged mountains from up close and even check out the cannons left on the island from World War II.
We arrived on a Friday night and had reservations for the Arii Moana restaurant, which has indoor and outdoor seating in an upscale/casual setting. We could hear live music from the restaurant next door but couldn’t see the show. We did, however, luck out by having a seat next to a wide lawn, where a group of fire-jugglers came and performed some wild, whirling acts, including passing flaming logs under their legs and quite close to areas of the body one doesn’t want to subject to fire on a regular basis.
We had an excellent meal while we watched the fire show; very good mahi mahi with a vanilla sauce (the nearby island of Taha’a is famous for its vanilla) and magnificent spiny lobster and Champagne risotto. For dessert we enjoyed a tremendous tropical fruit souffle.
We chatted briefly with a couple at the next table, who live on Hawaii Big Island but make a point of venturing south every year to enjoy the Four Seasons.
“No offence, but if you live in Hawai’i, why do you vacation in Tahiti instead of someplace like California or Colorado, where they have mountains.”
The fellow at the table looked at us like we were crazy.
“We love it because it’s French” he said. “I mean, they cook everything in butter, right?”
(The man has a point. The food in Tahiti is mostly exceptional, with fresh local fish, perfect baguettes, tropical fruits all around and buttery croissants. What’s not to like?)
I wasn’t sure about the wine but the sommelier, who looked to be about 25, insisted I try a Sancerre from France. I’ve always enjoyed Sancerre in the past, plus I like that it was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite wines, so that’s what we had. It was from Sauvage, and I must say it’s hands down the best white wine I’ve ever sipped; crisp and dry with a wonderful, underlying mineral quality that really made it stand out.
Before dinner we wandered over to the Vaimiti restaurant and bar for excellent, craft cocktails (I had one with yuzu, rosemary, lemongrass vodka and honey) and a beautiful sunset.
As fine as our dinner was, I’m a guy who calls breakfast the best meal of the day. The FS Bora Bora breakfast buffet at Tere Nui restaurant is as good as anything you’ll find; a massive display that offers fruits bursting with flavour, tropical juices, sparkling wine, yogurt, bircher muesli, smoothies (some are an extra charge), breakfast meats, eggs, smoked fish, omelettes, croissants and even chilled coconut water served inside the coconut. I’ve been known to downgrade hotels for bad jam selection but the Four Seasons passed my test with flying colours by serving a selection of fantastic tropical jams with creamy butter and perfectly crunchy baguettes.
We had a fine lunch at Fare Hoa Beach Bar and Grill on our last day in Bora Bora, munching on very good chicken tacos, truffle fries and poke-style tuna that was done in something of a Mexican spice. You can sit by the pool or near the water or enjoy your lunch, or they’ll bring it you down at the beach overlooking the lagoon and Mount Otemanu if you like.
If you’re sitting on the beach and facing southwest you’ll spot a small island maybe 100 meters off shore. I didn’t quite know what it was for until I saw chairs being set up and a couple small boats heading out with palm fronds and other decorations. I asked around and was told a wedding was starting shortly, so I stuck around and shot some video, which I posted to YouTube. https://youtu.be/6X1HVqxbvLw
The resort’s Kahaia Spa is simply magnificent, and we were lucky enough to get a couples massage in a room overlooking the hotel lagoon, with glass panels below the massage tables so we could look down and see fish on a reef right below us. They have a variety of coconut oils you can have for your treatment, each with different additives. We went for the lovely scent of tiare flower, but they also have pineapple and other aromas, and they special lotions for sunburned skin. There’s even a coconut oil with flakes of real gold inside if you REALLY want to indulge yourself.
They have two post-spa relaxation areas with chaise lounge chairs and Jacuzzi pools; one overlooking the lagoon and the other overlooking the ocean on the outside edge of the atoll, where the water is the deepest of deep blues and where you can hear the waves pounding on the reef. Both are superb, as is the church-like design of the main building.
Sensational bungalows, fabulous food, sensuous surroundings and one of the world’s best views. I can’t imagine a more amazing and inspiring place to stay.
GETTING THERE: Most Canadians fly to Tahiti via San Francisco or Los Angeles. We flew Air Tahiti Nui’s new Boeing Dreamliner, which is a beauty. Bora Bora is about 50 minutes by air from Tahiti island and the main airport.
IF YOU GO: Rooms start around $2,200 CAD per night, but they sometimes have stay three nights and get the fourth night free packages. For folks who need a bit more room, the resort has two-bedroom bungalows as well as one-bedroom affairs like we had. They also have several large family villas (almost 5,400 square feet) on a beautiful beach.
HOTEL INFORMATION https://www.fourseasons.com/borabora/
TAHITI INFORMATION: https://tahititourisme.ca/en-ca/
About the Author
Jim Byers was travel editor for five years at the Toronto Star, which has the largest travel section in North America. “Canada’s Travel Guy” is a sought-after expert in the industry and has recently published his first e-book “Ontario Escapes, 19: Places to Visit Right Now.” Jim also serves as Senior Editorial Director for TravelPulse Canada.