the luxury hotels of Bora Bora

There are now five luxury hotels in Bora Bora and a sixth under construction. Each offers something distinctive to its guests. How to choose the best hotel for you? Begin with this question: What kind of experience do you want to have in Bora Bora?

If you want to stay right on the best beach in Bora Bora, Hotel Bora Bora is your choice. This was the hotel that opened up this destination. Built in 1961, Hotel Bora (as the locals call it) came up with the innovation of the overwater bungalow. However, this hotel has only 15 of them. Because they are off to one end of the property, away from the beach, they don't ruin the view, as is the case with every other resort in Bora Bora. I recommend staying either in a Beach Bungalow (474 sf) or a Premium Beach Bungalow (768 sf). Though the baths in this property could use some updating (they have square white ceramic tiles, and the shower has a curtain, not a glass door), you step right out of your bungalow onto a beach lined with shade trees, lounge chairs, and hammocks strung between the palm trees. Hotel Bora gives you an old-fashioned sand-between-your-toes experience!

If you want to snorkel, your best choice is the Bora Bora Lagoon Hotel. This fourteen year old resort was the first built on a motu (one of the outlying islands of Bora Bora). Situated directly across from the small harbor village of Vaitape (a free two-minute shuttle boat away), this resort offers a great sunrise view of Mount Pahia, the remnant of the volcano that formed Bora Bora. The snorkeling is great, due to the coral that lines the bottom of this area of the lagoon. You can slip right into the water from an overwater bungalow, but I would recommend booking one of three newly built One Bedroom Pool Villas that Orient Express has developed since acquiring this resort four years ago. You enter your villa through your living room to reach a large bedroom. The villas feature beautiful bathrooms with marble-countered double vanities, a soaking tub, and both indoor and outdoor showers. They also offer your own private swimming pool and, several yards beyond the pool, your access to the beach. For families, there is a single Two Bedroom Villa available. In my opinion, these Villas are stunning rooms that represent the best value for luxury accommodations that I saw on Bora Bora.

If you want to snorkel and want larger, newer, more luxurious accommodations in a very secluded location, consider Bora Bora Nui Resort. (Nui means "big" in Polynesian, and this is a large resort.) There are a small number of villas on land, but most of the villas are overwater (meaning there is a great chance of being upgraded, especially during low season). The rooms are large (900 sf), beautifully decorated in a Polynesian motif, and each has a separate living room, bedroom, and a huge bathroom with marble floors and counters, soaking tub, and separate shower. There is good snorkeling right off your deck. The staff here could not be friendlier; you are welcomed with a musical greeting both on your arrival from the airport and on the occasion of your departure, and I was surprised on returning to my villa after dinner on Valentine's Day to find a bath already drawn and the tub decorated with flowers.

Newer resorts have been (or are being) built on the east side of the central island. The lagoon water here is an incredible shade of light aquamarine, due to the shallow sandy-bottomed water of this section of the lagoon. However, sandy bottoms are not what attracts fish; coral reefs are.

If you want to experience stunning and luxurious contemporary accommodations at a reasonable price, I would recommend the InterContinental Resort and Thalasso Spa Bora Bora. This is a new resort, only eight months old, and chef concierge Jerome Palacoeur is committed to training his staff to provide exceptional service. The guestrooms have a cool, elegant sophistication. Small flat screen televisions are found both in the living room (whose sofa can be made up into a single bed, or become a pull-out for two) and in the bedroom. The bedroom's flat screen swivels so that a guest can also watch the telly from the soaking tub. All rooms are of identical size; the views are what differentiate the suites. Definitely book a room with a full frontal view of Mount Pahia from the king beds; the view is incredible. Thalassa is the first resort in French Polynesia to employ geothermal energy for its air conditioning system. Cold water from 2000 feet beneath the ocean is pumped up and run through a heat exchanger, and I can testify that this technology provides the most efficient air conditioning in Bora Bora.

If you want to spare no expense to enjoy immense upscale guestrooms that could easily grace the pages of Architectural Digest, the St. Regis is your destination resort. The basic Deluxe Over-Water Villa is 1,550 square feet decorated with exotic woods and marble. The rooms feature two large flat screen televisions and WiFi. The most popular room at the resort is the 1905 sf Premier Over-Water Whirlpool Villa. St. Regis also offers a number of two-bedroom villas (great for families or two couples traveling together) ... and a 13,000 sf 3BR, 2LR Royal Estate. But my favorite of all were the Premier Beach Pool Villas with direct beach access and a direct view of the dark blue ocean waters beyond the outer reef of Bora Bora.

And as if that were not enough, Four Seasons is constructing a resort just north of the St. Regis (see picture below). The locals expect construction to be complete in early 2008. Given Four Seasons' reputation, this resort should offer very upscale guestrooms whose interior decoration is informed by Polynesian cultural motifs. Because there are so many choices at the upscale end of the market, all six resorts will have to compete for your dollars, so expect to be able to find excellent values in the luxury market in Bora Bora, especially in low season; April and May are said to be the best months of low season to visit.

Contact a Virtuoso agent for the complimentary amenities (complimentary breakfast each morning, upgrades on arrival if available, and others) that are available for properties affiliated with Virtuoso.

[See these other posts from my trip to Bora Bora.]

what to do in Bora Bora? nothing atoll

sneak preview: Four Seasons Bora Bora

If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

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