Why Hollywood Flocks to French Polynesia: “The Most Magical Place”

Why Hollywood Flocks to French Polynesia: “The Most Magical Place”
Apr 2023

With $15,000-per-night estates, incredibly attentive service, and water so turquoise it's surreal, the islands of Tahiti draw everyone from Barack Obama to Jennifer Aniston.

When it comes to the postcard-perfect destination of French Polynesia -- just an eight-hour flight from Los Angeles -- Sienna India, CEO of ultra-luxury travel concierge Sienna Charles, recommends going "to the smaller islands, like Taha'a, where [Tahitian] vanilla is from."

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello have done just that, staying at Le Taha'a Island Resort & Spa (from $895 a night). Guests of the overwater suites and beach villas can swim with sharks, take helicopter or yacht trips, and drift snorkel through a spectacularly crystalline coral garden channel with rainbows of tropical fish. The resort has recently implemented a sustainability agenda that dramatically reduces plastic waste plus completed renovations of its two $2,886-per-night Royal Pool Beach Villas, with plunge pools and not one but two outdoor bathtubs and showers.

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Island hopping is a popular pursuit in French Polynesia's 118 South Pacific atolls and islands -- as Diane von Furstenberg has done, gathering Bradley Cooper, Irina Shayk, Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper and Allison Williams for a spin on her yacht.

The first time she visited the islands, Chelsea Handler (who has a new Netflix special, Revolution) chartered a yacht -- "which I'm sure is very relatable," she jokes -- for a scuba diving trip with nine friends to Rangiroa, Fakarava, Nuku Hiva and Tetiaroa islands, diving twice a day at different spots, often with white and blacktip reef sharks. "They would take us to cool places, like one where four o'clock is like rush hour and all the sharks pass. The same thing for dolphins where they all swam through this channel at a certain time of day. It was one adventure after another," Handler tells THR.

Handler later returned to French Polynesia for the World Surf League contest at Teahupo'o where she and her friend, then-WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt, hung out in a beachside shack. "From there we went to the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, and that was probably the best vacation of my life," she says. "It was just the most magical place I've ever been. I cried the day we left." One possible reason: the "ridiculous" service. "They would give us jet skis and we'd go off to another island, have lunch, swim around and come back, and as soon as we pulled up they brought us the last drink we were drinking, which in my case was always a frozen mango margarita," she says.

The resort's Three-Bedroom Beachfront Villa Estate (from $15,945 a night) is the most popular with entertainment-industry folks, who over the years have included Jimmy Kimmel (who survived the most elegant tsunami scare ever and wrote about it for HuffPost), and Jennifer Aniston with Justin Theroux, who buddymoon-ed with pals including Courteney Cox and Jason Bateman.

Handler says the water around Bora Bora has "seven different colors going from light, light aquamarine to this deep, deep turquoise and then to navy blue. My girlfriend and I went snorkeling, albeit we were on edibles, but we didn't come up for air for two and a half hours because it's so beautiful." She's already plotting an occasion to return. "All I could think was, "I need everyone I love to be at this place and see this place and experience it."

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban reportedly occupied the 13,000-square-foot Royal Estate Villa at The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort (from $931 a night), the same resort where Kristen Bell, Vince Vaughn and Bateman filmed the 2009 film Couples Retreat. Justin Bieber spent his vacation in the resort's Overwater Royal Otemanu with a giant suspended pool. The Ultimate Bora Bora Reset is a $20,000-a-night package including accommodations in The Royal Estate Villa, daily private yoga, a personal chef, spa consultation, private Polynesian performance, bespoke wellness program, coral planting and a sunset sail on the catamaran complete with champagne sabering. Also occupying that iconic vividly turquoise lagoon: Conrad Bora Bora Nui, where Paris and Kathy Hilton stayed in 2022. It has a floating helipad, decorated new French executive chef, and Manta Trust partnership with a resident marine biologist.

There are also true private islands such as Nukutepipi, owned by Cirque du Soleil's Guy Laliberte, and the ultra-exclusive getaway spot that's the legacy of Marlon Brando, the wildly sustainable and A-list loved The Brando (from $3,625 a night). Located on the private atoll of Tetiaroa, it's surrounded by at varying times manta rays, sea turtles and even humpback whales. It's where Barack Obama escaped post-presidency to write his memoir, and the likes of DiCaprio, Jay Z and Beyonce, Pierce Brosnan, Ellen DeGeneres and Winfrey have holidayed. Kim Kardashian spent $1 million on her 40th birthday there mid-pandemic.

The Brando's 35 villas have serious eco credentials, such as a zero-impact air-conditioning system that cools with deep sea water, an organic garden, scientific marine research lab, and even an ice-cold deep-water bath experience. In 2021, Rebel Wilson celebrated her birthday at the resort, which was a filming location for 1962's Mutiny on the Bounty. She dubbed it Rebel Island for the week, while hanging with friends including Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Arielle Kebbel. The group had a shipwrecked mermaid dinner, '80s-themed pool party and swam in a secret lagoon, explored remote islands and snorkeled. She told Page Six at the time: "Rebel Island was something I dreamt up years ago and The Brando made all my dreams come true. It was beyond epic and inspiring. This place is absolute heaven -- no wonder Marlon Brando worshipped it."

A versino of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.