Whether you're on your honeymoon or not, French Polynesia is a marvelous place for romantic escapes. After all, romance and the islands have gone hand-in-hand since the young women of Tahiti gave rousing, bare-breasted welcomes to the 18th-century European explorers.
Back in those days, everyone here lived in a proverbial little grass shack by the beach. The modern resorts have elevated that concept into luxurious guest bungalows, many built on stilts out over the lagoons. I've never stayed anywhere as romantic as these thatched-roof overwater units, most with glass panels in their floors for viewing fish swimming below. If their indoor luxuries aren't enough, you can climb down the steps leading from your front deck and go skinny-dipping in the warm waters below. The overwater bungalows help make French Polynesia -- especially Bora Bora -- one of the world's most famous honeymoon destinations. Naturally, they are the most expensive accommodations here.
One caveat is in order: Many overwater bungalows are relatively close together, meaning that your honeymooning next-door neighbors will be within earshot if not eyeshot. ("It can be like watching an X-rated video," a hotel manager once confessed, "but without the video.") Therefore, if you're seeking a high degree of privacy and seclusion, these won't necessarily be your best choice.
The top resorts are variations on the same theme: a beachside central complex with a restaurant, bar, and other public facilities flanked by individual guest bungalows in a coconut grove. From the shoreline, piers reach out to the overwater units. I point out the top resorts island-by-island in the paragraphs below, but please read the reviews in the chapters that follow before making your choice.
- Tahiti: Most visitors now consider Tahiti to be a way station to the other islands, but the InterContinental Resort Tahiti has overwater bungalows that face the dramatic outline of Moorea across the Sea of the Moon. Some of those at Le Meridien Tahiti also have this view.
- Moorea: The units at the Club Bali Hai are among the oldest -- and the least expensive -- overwater bungalows in the islands, but they enjoy an unparalleled view of the jagged mountains surrounding Cook's Bay. Some overwater units at the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort actually face Tahiti across the Sea of the Moon, and they're built over Moorea's most colorful lagoon. The Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa has a few bungalows perched on the edge of the clifflike reef, making for superb snorkeling right off your front deck. You'll have more of these luxurious cabins at the InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea.
- Huahine: After a few days on Bora Bora, many couples today are opting to end their honeymoons by decompressing on Huahine or Tahaa . On Huahine, the American-owned Te Tiare Beach Resort is one of the smallest and most intimate retreats in French Polynesia. Its units have some of the largest decks of any overwater bungalows (one side is completely shaded by a thatched roof).
- Tahaa: The most charmingly Polynesian of all overwater units are at the Le Taha'a Private Island & Spa, a luxurious resort on a small islet off Tahaa. Some of these have views of Bora Bora on the horizon.
- Bora Bora: This most famous -- and crowded -- of French Polynesia's honeymoon islands has several hundred overwater bungalows. Some at the superluxe St. Regis Resort Bora Bora have swimming pools set in their overwater decks. Not only does the InterContinental Resort and Thalasso Spa Bora Bora have overwater units for its guests, but three treatment rooms at its extraordinary spa also extend out over the lagoon (you can watch the fish through a glass floor panel while getting a massage). The Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa has large, two-room overwater units, but only a few look out to tombstonelike Mount Otemanu, one of the most photographed scenes in the entire South Pacific. You will have that awesome view at the Sofitel Bora Bora Motu Private Island, most of whose bungalows directly face the tombstone mountain. Among the most private units are the garden units at the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort; you can cavort to your heart's content in their wall-enclosed patios, which have sun decks and splash pools. The smaller but well-appointed overwater units at the friendly Hotel Maitai Polynesia are the least expensive on Bora Bora. You'll be up on a hillside rather than by the beach, but the three units at the inexpensive Rohutu Fare Lodge are the most suggestively decorated in French Polynesia.
- Tuamotu Archipelago: Out at the huge atoll of Rangiroa, the Hotel Kia Ora has bungalows over the world's second-largest lagoon. It also boasts beachside units with Jacuzzi pools set in their front porches. On the adjacent atoll, the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort resides on its own small islet, affording more privacy than most other French Polynesian resorts. Some overwater bungalows actually sit over the riptides in a pass that lets the sea into the lagoon. Although its bungalows are all ashore, the charming Relais Royal Tikehau is a less expensive alternative. On Manihi atoll, units at the Manihi Pearl Beach Resort are cooled by the almost constantly blowing trade winds.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.