WHY WE LOVE IT
Spread across five archipelagos in the South Pacific’s French Polynesia, the islands of Tahiti are truly paradisiacal—the romance is off the scale.
Sand islets and coral atolls dot the intensely blue, transparent waters, and the islands are verdant with palms and forests, vanilla farms and tropical blooms.
Thatched-roof overwater bungalows (farés) propped on stilts are the signature accommodations here—and many of them feature tropical-luxe furnishings and glass cutouts in their floors to watch the undersea life below.
Good buys: black pearls, vanilla beans, pareus, Monoi coconut oil scented with tiaré, aphrodisiacal noni juice—and tattoos!
WHEN TO GO
There's no high season, though the best, slightly cooler weather is during the May-to-October dry season. Bargains are rare, but newly opened resorts may offer introductory rates.
WHERE TO EAT
Intercontinental Tahiti Resort
This classic, romantic, overwater thatched-roof restaurant is in a secluded position at the end of the resort, with views toward Moorea. The unusual menu mixes local dishes with those from Alsace, where Le Lotus has an association with Auberge de l'Ill, which has three Michelin stars. On Thursday and Saturday nights, a piano player tickles the ivories during dinner.
Le Méridien Bora Bora
Motu Tape, Bora Bora
Themed buffet dinners are offered here, along with gorgeous views of the floodlit interior lagoon. Have a pre-dinner cocktail at the nearby Miki Miki bar, which is shaped like the prow of a ship and points toward Mount Otemanu.
Pahonu, Bora Bora
Yes, the bar-restaurant named after a character in James Michener's 1948 novel, Tales of the South Pacific, is full of tourists—but yacht folks, locals and the occasional celebrity all come here for the down-home festive ambiance. The food is good too, from the daily catch to one of the island's best burgers.
If Bloody Mary's is for a rowdy night out, this jewel is for savoring five courses over a bottle (or two) of champagne. Chef Damien Rinaldi-Dovio blends Polynesian and Mediterranean flavors (think mahi mahi with curry and banana sauce), and we loved the intimate villa setting—as if we were dining in someone's elegant home. Book reservations before the trip; there are only seven tables.
St. Regis Bora Bora
Motu Ome'e, Bora Bora
Jean-Georges probably won't be on island, but top chef Sébastien Le Gall flawlessly runs the kitchen in his absence, turning out dishes like rack of lamb with a chili glaze, and mahi mahi with sweet garlic-lemon broth. Though the dining room is sleek (and air-conditioned), you're missing front-row seats to quite a show—schools of fish and reef sharks flitting about—if you don't sit outside.
WHERE TO STAY
You're close (but not too close) to Tahiti's international airport—which means more time by one of the two infinity pools or at the Tiki Bar, which isn't just for tourists: Locals come for happy hour. Les Grandes Ballets de Tahiti, the islands' most famous act, perform the traditional dance show at Le Tiare. From $304.
If you must stay in an over-water bungalow on the main island, Le Méridien has the best, with huge, wood-paneled tubs and comfy beds. It's a toss-up, though: You might do better by booking a main-building room (caveat: they're mod, but not particularly Polynesian) and saving the cash for Bora. From $368.
Set between two aquamarine bays, this resort offers over-water-bungalows that rival those found on Bora (think claw-foot tubs) and garden bungalows with private plunge pools. At sunset, head to the crepe bar for a glass of wine and a show: The waiters feed tropical fish and the resort's resident eel. From $493 (with breakfast).
Here lies the islands' best spa, set in a garden with the heady scents of tiare (gardenia), vanilla, coconut, and sandalwood incorporated in the 100 percent natural oils. The local therapists, who've been there for years, are the real deal: All are trained in the art of taurumi, or traditional Tahitian massage, a ritual said to unblock bad energy. In another nod to local culture, there's a resident tattoo artist. From $715.
There will be space between you two and that other couple on the Sofitel's long, powdery beach, unlike at other Moorea resorts, where the beaches are teeny. The 39 over-water bungalows are also lovely (rain showers, glass-bottomed floor panels, a cool minibar behind the bed), and there's great snorkeling, right from your dock. Do dinner one night at open-air K, which overlooks twinkling Tahiti. From $402.
This sleepy Huahine beach resort is so remote, Sports Illustrated once chose it for one of its top-secret swimsuit shoots. The over-water bungalows are totally comfortable, with huge bathrooms, but the tropical décor is dated. Look past that. Those who get Te Tiare know that it's really about the end-of-the-earth setting. And the delicious food: The chef has been there for 20-plus years, and his poisson cru and tuna tartare are spectacular. From $455.
Carrie Underwood honeymooned at this private-island resort. Over-water bungalows come with canoe-shaped tubs; there's a flip-up panel to feed the fish at the foot of the bed; and the dinners for two, on a motu, or islet, though available on Bora, feel more remote and exclusive here—yet also more casual, thanks to the friendly stuff. The breakfast spread (French toast! fresh croissants! papaya!) goes on and on. From $780 (with breakfast).
The service is what you'd expect of a Four Seasons (attentive, intuitive), and frankly what you expect—but don't always get—at this price point. Every detail wows, from your bungalow's tub, strategically placed for prime lagoon views, to the spa suite's glass-bottomed floor panel, strategically placed for watching fish during a massage. From $812.
This resort is practically its own TV character after appearances on both The Bachelorette (the Roberto and Ali season) and Keeping Up with the Kardashians (the Kim and Kris Humphries breakup signs were there!). Though the 86 over-water bungalows have gotten the most air time, we actually preferred the 11 on the hillside, for the elevated island and ocean vistas—rare on Bora. From $720 (with breakfast).
A $12 million overhaul brought the bungalows up to honeymoon-worthiness (flat-screen TVs, sleek beds). The awesome, almost silver-white beach didn't need any changing, and neither did the turtle sanctuary, a protective lagoon where guests can interact with the green snappers. Or officially "adopt" one and take home a keepsake certificate—not the turtle, sadly. From $704.
A "regular" bungalow here is the size of our dream apartment, a whopping 1,550 square feet. (And don't even get us started on the 13,000-square-foot Royal Estate, where Nicole Kidman honeymooned.) The 44-acre resort is over-the-top jet set in every sense (butler service, a Jean-Georges restaurant), so prepare to talk fabulous-speak with Centurion members. From $1,355.
Mod, futuristic décor (white Starck chairs in the bar) meets Polynesian at this gem, which draws mainly twenty-and-thirtysomethings. The Thalasso spa, the only one in the South Pacific, uses mineral-rich ocean water drawn from the deep for the hydrotherapy pools. And the tea lounge and steam baths are so restful, it's worth it to skip out on the beach and show up early for your treatment. From $1,237.
WHERE TO GO
Collette Street and François Cardella Street
A couple of blocks from the docks, this 150-year-old market is truly the heart of the city. If you can, visit on Sunday morning (5 a.m. to 9 a.m.; open other days 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.), when local families shop for produce. Stock up on souvenirs like woven hats and baskets, oils and soaps, vanilla, shell jewelry and pareus—they're all better and cheaper here than on most other islands—plus tropical fruit and flowers for your room. Don't worry about haggling: It's not done here.
Over the past 40 years, Albert and his crew have pretty much cornered the market in quality tours, from lagoon sunset cruises to 4x4 Jeep safaris—and there's no point resisting. Having him customize something for just the two of you is the best idea.
Taha'a is the black-pearl capital, and this is one of three pearl farms open for touring. It's well worth it—you learn how oysters switch gender partway through their lives and other arcane bivalve facts. And, of course, you will see their beautiful fruits, which you can buy at wholesale prices.
Adventure-seeking couples get right on board with this tour company that offers shark and stingray feedings. The tour company picks up fearless visitors anywhere on Bora Bora in an outrigger canoe and supervises as they plunge into the water in close proximity to four-foot reef sharks. The snorklers are protected by a single rope, which the sharks apparently perceive as a dangerous net.