Io rana! I’m just back from spending a week and a half in French Polynesia. Tahiti and her islands are gorgeous – and definitely live up to all the hype! That said – and no matter where you’re coming from – this South Pacific archipelago isn’t somewhere you simply hop over to for the weekend. To make the most out of your time in paradise, here are a few top tips so you won’t have to hit the ground running but instead can assuredly stroll along in leisurely style to the beach.
Tropical islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a French colonial past? Think fish, fruit and baguettes!
If staying on the island of Tahiti, the Marche de Papeete (Municipal Market) is a smart place to shop for locally grown produce, freshly caught fish and more (it’s a wise one-stop for souvenirs and gifts too – lots of handicrafts, tikis, jewelry, clothing and more for sale). I say without a hint of hyperbole, you cannot beat the papaya! The grapefruit, bananas, mangos, rambutans, star fruit, etc – it’s all extremely yummy!
Of course, the fish and seafood in French Polynesia is amazing. You’ve gotta try local speciality, poisson cru (raw fish marinated in coconut milk and lime juice). Tuna sashimi is an island favourite too while a mahi mahi burger with a side of breadfruit fries offers a tropical seaside take on the American comfort food classic. If you’re visiting the island of Raiatea, be on the lookout for Le Fumoir for great smoked tuna served in fresh baguettes or with French style salads.
With its close cultural ties to France, visitors can expect fresh baked bread and pastries of surprisingly good quality. For a budget lunch with local style, try a tuna-frites or chow mein baguette.
Looking for something a little more upscale and nice reason to ditch your t-shirt and flip flops where that fantastic floral print ensemble? One of the best meals I had during my trip was at three Michelin star restaurant Le Lotus, at the Intercontinental Resort Tahiti. Situated over the lagoon (check out all of the colourful fishies below nibbling on the crumbs from your table) with a stunning view of nearby Moorea (book a table for sunset and enjoy Mother Nature’s light show), Le Lotus offers haute cuisine in an “oh my god” setting. Fancy a cold drink? This has got to be the only three star restaurant in the world with a swim-up bar set on the edge of an infinity pool.
The local beer is Hinano, a light and crisp lager. If you go more than, say, 15 minutes without seeing a Hinano bottle or its logo while visiting the islands, then you’re either far out to sea, in the middle of the jungle or you haven’t peeked inside your mini bar’s fridge yet. Of course, it’s not too difficult to find your favourite North American brewskis and European faves such as Trappist ales like Chimay while in Tahiti either. Beyond the beer, there are a few different varieties of locally produced rum and even Tahitian wine. Obviously, plenty of fresh and delicious juice is always at hand, whether you’re pouring a glass for breakfast or mixing up another tropical cocktail.
I actually stayed on a chartered yacht during most of my visit. But when on land, I had the good fortune of relaxing at the Intercontinental Resort Tahiti. I’d be more than pleased to lay my head down there again. Despite its lush lagoon setting, this four star resort is only a few minutes’ drive from the airport. Service is top notch, the amenities list is a long one (I loved the free access to sea kayaks!), and there’s plenty of entertainment and great food (see my above mention of Le Lotus restaurant). If you can book yourself one the resort’s “Overwater Motu Bungalows” you’ll be glad you did. Idyllic!
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Photo: Chris Osburn