A re­lax­ing Van­u­atu re­sort

Paradise - - Contents - Air Ni­ug­ini flies from Port Moresby to Port Vila twice a week. See airni­ug­

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.

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