A long and eagerly awaited destination resort in French Polynesia finally opened its doors on July—and I was lucky enough to visit the property late last month.
The Brando, located on Tetiaroa, an atoll just north of the island of Tahiti, has been talked about, written about and discussed so much over the past few years that it quite literally has become almost mythic, in line with the great American film actor who made the island his home for so many years.
But The Brando is now finally open and stands poised to be a top destination for celebrities and the rich and famous for years to come. In fact, such celebrities as Leonardo DiCaprio and Barbara Streisand have already spent significant time at the resort.
More than 50 years ago actor Marlon Brando fell in love with Tahiti and its people while filming "Mutiny on the Bounty" in Moorea and ended up marrying Tarita Teriipaia, a Tahitian actress who costarred with him in the movie, and having two children with her, Simon Teihotu Brando and Tarita Cheyenne Brando.
In 1964, Brando purchased his own private island, Tetiaroa, in French Polynesia for what today would be a few hundred thousand dollars. The reclusive actor made it his personal retreat, an oasis where he could get away from the paparazzi and the spotlight of Hollywood. He even built his own small hotel with several bungalows to house his visiting friends and family.
Nearly 15 years ago Brando decided to turn his island into an exclusive, eco-resort in partnership with Richard Bailey, chairman of Pacific Beachcomber resorts in Tahiti and now Paul Gauguin Cruises. But Brando died in 2004 before the project was fully realized and it took nearly 10 years to complete it after his death.
The Brando family still owns the island as part of the trust, and two Brando family members, his son Teihotu and his granddaughter Tumi still live and work on the island. Indeed, I caught a glimpse of Tumi when we passed a group of naturalists whom she was escorting on one of the motus that make up the atoll.
PHOTO: Bob’s Bar at The Brando offers complimentary drinks and light fare for lunch. (Photos by James Shillinglaw)
One of the most intriguing aspects of The Brando is its isolation. The only way to get to the resort is by a dedicated private airline, Air Tetiaroa, from Papeete in Tahiti in less than 30 minutes. So far the mini-airline has just one eight-passenger aircraft, but it is planning to add a second plane in the next few months. So one of the resort’s most appealing features for celebrities is that no paparazzi can get anywhere near the place.
Of course, that’s not the only reason to visit The Brando. This resort is exclusive and inclusive. It also has 200 staff, overseen by General Manager Silvio Bion, to serve a maximum of 80 guests. During my short stay staff members were always available, quick deliver on requests and always friendly and conversational with guests.
The Brando also is certainly one of the most expensive all-inclusive properties in the world, a minimum of just over $3,800 per couple per day. What services and amenities do you get for that seemingly steep price—at least for those of us who aren’t celebrities?
The answer is quite a lot indeed! The resort features 35 oversized villas, including 30 one-bedroom villas (suitable to house up to four); four two-bedroom villas; and one three-bedroom villa. All villas are located directly on the beach with their own private patios, plunge pools and outdoor dining areas.
Interiors are spacious with oversized king beds; designer bathrooms, including an outdoor tub and separate shower; a media room (there are two very large big-screen TVs in every villa); and large living room (with dining room and nearly full kitchens in the two- and three-bedroom villas).
PHOTO: Every villa comes with a private plunge pool, outdoor dining area, patio and beachfront.
Obviously dining is included (I mean where else are you going to eat?). And to call it just food service undervalues the exquisite quality and variety of the meals served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and at almost any time during the day or night, based on your whims.
Meals are prepared to order by executive chef Antoine Soots, who is also a sous-chef for Guy Martin of the Michelin two-star Le Grand Vefour, a consultant for the resort’s two restaurants, the more formal Les Mutinés and the more casual Beachcomber Café. Or you can simply have breakfast, lunch and dinner delivered to your room.
The cuisine is certainly very French, but is also accented heavily with Tahitian flavors and local produce. There’s even honey at breakfast made by a dedicated beekeeper from hives on the island. Drinks, wine and beer are also included throughout the day. There are some high-end wines that do carry a price, but the wines that are included are great selections themselves.
What’s unusual even for an all-inclusive is that there is one spa treatment per day per villa included in the price as well. And the Varua Polynesian Spa itself, which is spread out in separate bird’s nest-like huts and other buildings in the interior of the island, is one of the most serene and pleasurable that I’ve ever experienced. Not surprisingly, it specializes in treatments unique to Tahiti, many of which are available complimentary as part of the resort experience.
One other thing that’s included is one excursion per day per guest. I took what’s called the Ultimate Island Tour where you take a large, narrow draft speedboat to visit different parts of Tetiaroa, including a motu featuring thousands of birds, coconut crab, hermit crabs and other species.
PHOTO: One part of the lagoon on Tetiaroa has been dubbed the “billionaire’s pool” by a famous guest.
We spent time snorkeling in the shallow water and then sailed over to a cove inhabited by small sand shark. In that same cover, we basked in a special mud that softens the skin and later swam in what Leonardo DiCaprio has already dubbed the “Billionaire’s Pool,” a shallow, light blue water part of the lagoon that’s indeed one of the most exquisite “pools’ you’ll ever swim in, surrounded by the motus of Tetiaroa.
There’s so much more to The Brando that I can’t include it in this column, so look for my full inspection report in the November issue of Vacation Agent magazine. The Brando’s opening has been anticipated for such a long time, but it’s certainly wonderful when a luxury resort truly delivers on its promise—and it’s still working to raise the bar further for the future.