One of the best views of the island of Moorea is gotten from arriving at the ferry terminal in Vai’are. This is the South Pacific idyll captured in books, plays, and the musical South Pacific, where it’s said the profile of Moorea was the inspiration for the artists’ renderings of the fictional Bali Hai—that lurid silhouette of verdant peaks shaped liked needled wood burls or shark fins that serves as a striking emblem of the deep tropics.
As the ferry navigates a narrow opening in the atoll where the surf breaks on the coral heads and the water turns from deep emerald to brilliant shades of aquamarine and jade, it’s easy to notice a line of overwater bungalows toward the north. That’s the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort, just a few miles distant from the port.
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Driving off the ferry here is an effective antidote to the bustle of Tahiti (It’s curiously languid bustle, but bustle nonetheless.) Aside from a brief traffic burst around the port when the ferry arrives, country roads await throughout the rest of the island, winding past pearl shops and drive-up pizza joints, through marshy lowlands and coconut groves to arrive at the resort in similar serene languor.
Sofitel is one of the luxury brands of the French hotel group Accor. Sofitel touts itself as the first international French luxury hotel brand, with roots dating back to 1964, and the brand’s contemporary focus is on providing a distinctively French experience. This being French Polynesia, it’s not difficult to find a French experience, but the proliferation of large international lodging brands on the island suggests that guests at Sofitel are in for a pleasingly Gallic-tinted stay.
Welcome drinks and cold towels are proffered as check-in formalities are taken care of with heavy pens on thick paper presented in elegant leather folders; guests are then adorned with shell hei garlands and escorted to their bungalows in golf carts with their luggage.
The property is entirely palm-thatched bungalows, either overwater, garden, or ocean front, giving a sort of village aesthetic to the place—aside from the registration, spa, and restaurant buildings, there are only small huts dotting the property—no sprawling edifices with interior corridors to be found here.
Bungalows, whether perched over the lagoon or nestled among the coconut palms are generously sized and have reliable air conditioning plus ceiling fans, plus bathrooms with open-plan rain showers (the one in my luxury beach bungalow had glass doors that opened onto a charming private outdoor garden) and Lanvin bath amenities. It was tempting to spend the entire stay sitting on the shaded terrace drinking Hinano Beer or fruit juice and eating candy bars from the complimentary minibar, but there was more to be seen.
There are happy hour drinks to be had at the aptly named Bar Vue, where guests can sit on the terrace and watch the lights of Tahiti come out across the channel as the sun sets. For dinner there’s reasonably priced (for a resort) international cuisine at the restaurant, Pure (this is also where the twice-weekly Polynesian dinner show is put on), but the real French culinary treat is to be had at K Restaurant, the resort’s gastronomic eatery.
In utterly French style, the menu is a degustation, where diners choose the number of courses for a set price, and the kitchen does the rest. Toes in the sand, stars overhead, and the sound of the ocean lapping the sand nearby is the scene, and the food is the showpiece. During my visit I grazed on bacon-stuffed morel mushrooms floating in a foamy roasted corn risotto with asparagus and melted Reggiano; roasted scallops in a banana ceviche with tangy passionfruit and the tiniest dollop of caviar, Sea Bass in a seafood brandade with green peas and star anise, a selection of French AOC cheeses and an iced chocolate pudding infused with peppermint in a delicate latticework chocolate “box” atop a hazelnut brownie.
After a meal so good one cannot move (and in such fantastical surroundings, who wants to?), it’s a pleasure to stroll back to the hut with the chorus of the tropical evening for background music, but not before peering into the window at the pearl shop, located just adjacent to the restaurant, or the nearby sundry shop for souvenirs or necessities.
After an evening in the meltingly comfortable bed (I kept sneaking glimpses of the exotic row of overwater bungalows through my toes), mornings are made comfortable by the in-room Nespresso machines and the lavish European-and-American breakfast spread lain out in Pure. There’s a full buffet of hot items plus omelets cooked to order, an impressive selection of jams, preserves, and local honey to slather over fresh baguettes, and plenty of local fruit (the hotel sources locally to Moorea or French Polynesia whenever possible) and hot coffee to accompany.
The rest of the days are easily filled by snorkeling in the lagoon (equipment is available at the beach hut), walks along the expansive white sand beach, relaxing by the infinity-edge pool, or exploring the rest of the island, where the hotel is close to the attractions of the north shore. Visitors can help revitalize the island’s coral reefs by taking the eco-tour at Coral Gardeners in Cook’s Bay or arrange boat or land excursions via the resort concierge.
That is, if one can tear themselves away from their terrace. That minibar’s not going to empty itself.
For guests seeking a deliciously French luxury experience on Moorea, with warm Polynesian hospitality and some of the best sunrise views of Tahiti to be found anywhere in the country, the joie de vivre at Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort is as enticing as anywhere in the Pacific.
Rooms from $378 US per night plus tax, varies by availability and season.
Views from the terrace, the overwater bungalows, and Tahiti across the channel, plus the artfully presented gastronomic dishes at K are all certain to get engagement on social media.
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Good to Know
Free self-parking is abundant at the hotel.
A limited number of day passes for Moorea visitors not staying overnight is available and includes lunch, and use of the pool, beach, and bar—perfect for day-trippers wanting a luxury beach experience.
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Couples Resorts Implements Relief Plan for Employees
The company, which owns and operates a collection of four all-inclusive properties in Jamaica, has announced that each employee will be entitled to paid vacation, all of their benefits and a portion of their salary during the resorts’ closure due to the global impact of COVID-19.
“This brand recognizes the important roles each essential employee brings to the brand’s success and aims to help prioritize their health and safety during these challenging times,” the company said in a statement.
Couples Resorts also confirmed that its non-profit organization, The Issa Trust Foundation, has donated more than $238,000 of critical medical equipment and supplies such as ventilators, x-ray machines, hand sanitizer, beds and stretchers to assist Jamaica’s hospitals.
Couples Resorts is just one example of Caribbean resorts’ ongoing efforts to support the fight against COVID-19.
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