French Poly­ne­sia is em­brac­ing its roots, tat­toos and all, mix­ing tra­di­tional ways with in­ven­tive hos­pi­tal­ity. This place knows how to en­joy it­self—while to­tally thrilling you

IN Magazine - - TRAVEL - By Doug Wal­lace

When you can wake up to main­line a per­fect espresso, pop a bon­bon into your mouth left over from the night be­fore, then plunge into a crys­tal-clear la­goon at your doorstep while you wait for break­fast to ar­rive via ca­noe, you know you’re in for a red-let­ter day. This is the essence of French Poly­ne­sia, a swath of 118 is­lands spread out over 2,000 kilo­me­tres in the south­ern Pa­cific Ocean.

While Mar­lon Brando and 1970s Hol­ly­wood cul­ture may have made Tahiti and her is­lands fa­mous, the French made it ex­quis­ite—and long be­fore Brigitte Bar­dot and Jac­ques Brel wan­dered its shores. With ties reach­ing back to the mid-1800s, the is­lands are au­ton­o­mous, but minded by France as a “col­lec­tive.” and the mix of an­cient Lapita roots and full-on French fab­u­lous­ness has cre­ated a rich and fas­ci­nat­ing cul­ture, right down to the dou­ble-cheek kiss­ing and the sub­si­dized French cheese. You can also thank France for mak­ing French Poly­ne­sia one of the most LgBT-friendly places in the Pa­cific: same-sex sex­ual ac­tiv­ity is le­gal; peo­ple can get mar­ried, adopt chil­dren and serve in the mil­i­tary; and anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws and laws con­cern­ing gen­der iden­tity are all on the books.

The deep iso­la­tion fac­tor is one of the top sell­ing points—some­thing Hawaii, its neigh­bour to the north, doesn’t of­fer. re­ally, if you took the amer­i­can-ness out of Hawaii and re­placed it with French-ness, added a dash of ex­otic class, then took away about a bil­lion tourists, you’d have French Poly­ne­sia. The key to va­ca­tion­ing here is to adopt is­land-hop­ping as your main ac­tiv­ity, in ad­di­tion to the snorkelling, swim­ming with stingrays and black point sharks, cruis­ing the la­goons and eat­ing ba­nana pudding by the buck­et­ful and just plain sit­ting on your rear.

no one ever stays in the cap­i­tal, Pa­peete: it’s “the city.” Every­one merely flies in, then hops on the 20-minute ferry to the neigh­bour­ing is­land of Moorea, a lush and un­hur­ried nirvana en­cir­cled by a small la­goon. and once you’re set­tled in your over-wa­ter bun­ga­low at the Ho­tel Sof­i­tel Moorea Ia Ora Beach re­sort, you can grab a cock­tail and stare at Pa­peete off in the dis­tance, twin­kling in the moonlight. The fa­mous over-wa­ter rooms are worth the money, even though they don’t look like much from the out­side; sun-bleached be­yond recog­ni­tion. Most are quite luxe inside, with air­con and all the com­forts of home (if your home has an espresso ma­chine, which it very likely does). With these bun­ga­lows, you have the best of all worlds—your room, the wa­ter, the shore­line vis­tas, pretty boats to watch. You can also glimpse the go­ings-on un­der­neath your room via a Plex­i­glas win­dow in the cabin floor.

While in Moorea, make time to walk the hik­ing trails, climb is­land peaks, dis­cover se­cret rivers and an­cient maraes or stone re­li­gious shrines, and trip to Belvedere Look­out for a stun­ning view of Se­cret Moun­tain, with Cook’s Bay and op­unohu Bay stretched out be­fore you.

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