A relaxing Vanuatu resort
Vanuatu, a chain of 83 tropical islands in the Pacific, has all the makings of an adventure tourist’s dream: rugged mountains, volcanoes, lush tropical rainforests and coral reefs full of marine wildlife. And this island republic, under joint English–French rule until independence in 1980, is easy to get to.
Air Niugini has two flights a week from Port Moresby to Vanuatu’s capital city of Port Vila, on the main island of Efate.
Vanuatu’s tourist brochures pulse with suggested activities. You can kayak, jet ski, parasail, snorkel, scuba, cycle, or ride a horse through a tropical rainforest or along a beach. Or take a 50-minute flight to the island of Espiritu Santo, inspiration for James Michener’s book Tales of the South Pacific.
There are also places for people who just want to loll in a hammock on a beautiful beach and read, getting up only to swim lazily through clear azure waters and admire the fish. The aptly named Paradise Cove resort, on Mele Bay, nine kilometres from the bustling Port Vila market, is one of them.
A coral reef teeming with colourful tropical fish begins about three metres from the table where you enjoy your breakfast of coffee, croissant and papaya.
Here, a snorkelling trip requires neither bookings nor boat journey. You merely stroll down a short jetty, descend a few steps and get into the water.
The resort’s restaurant is one of the best in the Port Vila area, with its Mediterranean menu drawing regular groups of locals. Guests stroll around the resort’s luxuriant tropical garden wearing the same blissed-out ‘I can’t believe I discovered this place’ smile.
It’s a facial expression that Paradise Cove’s owners, Constance Mackain and Marc Besson, know well. They were wearing it themselves in 2009 when they anchored in Mele Bay, sailed their dinghy up to a small jetty and walked up on to the beach. They had landed at a resort, but didn’t need to stay there.
The French couple and their two young sons were living on their 21-metre yacht. Having resigned from their high-powered London-based investment banking jobs in 2006, the duo were sailing around the tropics.
“We wanted to spend more time with the kids,” says Besson.
Mackain and Besson fell in love with Vanuatu’s beautiful landscape and its smiling, relaxed people.
A few years later, they bought the resort, renovating it and extending it to its current 10 EuroMelanesian-style villas. They also drew on their own wide experience of five-star hotel business travel to create a simpler, more personal style of luxury: one based on “space, tranquility and lots of staff ”.
Twenty-four local staff attend to a maximum of 30 guests who are served locally grown organic food and enjoy a complete absence of the constant receipt-signing that is a feature of conventional luxury hotels. Here, guests simply help themselves to beach towels, snorkel gear, bikes, or kayaks, while ‘check-in’ just means being welcomed and handed a fresh coconut drink. And there are no TVs in the rooms, or anywhere in the resort.
Accordingly, Paradise Cove tends to attract guests who relish the art of relaxed conversation. All the villas have their own cooking facilities and their own book collections. And, while many guests take tours and try other local eateries – such as the classic French L’Houstalet or the modern Melanesian The Watermark – most spend at least some part of their day lolling on a couch or bar stool in the giant Melanesianstyle thatched roof structure that houses the establishment’s restaurant/ bar and reception area. Called Nakamal, the name for the central meeting place in each village, it is the beating heart of the resort. Guests come here to use the Wi-Fi, to eat, drink, check out the books on the shelves and play board games.
The blackboard in the corner lists a dozen ‘ Top Things to do in Paradise’. It suggests the Tanna volcano tour: a trip, via air taxi and car, to the island of Tanna and its Mount Yasur volcano. Or a back massage. Or a 20-minute stroll to Honeymoon Beach. Many guests glance at the board and return their gaze to the garden and the water. They’re already in paradise. Why move?
Paradise Cove Resort ... the giant Melanesian- style thatched roof restaurant/ bar is the beating heart of the resort; (next page) one of the villas tucked into lush gardens.