The Brando: Marlon’s paradise island

Ultra Travel/The Telegraph Luxury – Turquoise, deep blue, light blue, indigo blue, cobalt blue, royal blue, robin’s egg blue, aquamarine. I’m not surprised that when Marlon Brando wrote his memoirs he struggled to find words to describe the bewitching colours of the lagoon at the heart of his private atoll.
After discovering the myriad charms of French Polynesia while filming Mutiny on the Bounty (which co-starred the 19-year-old Tarita Teriipaia , who duly became his third wife), the actor bought Tetiaroa, 30 miles north of Tahiti, in 1966.

After discovering the myriad charms of French Polynesia while filming Mutiny on the Bounty (which co-starred the 19-year-old Tarita Teriipaia , who duly became his third wife), the actor bought Tetiaroa, 30 miles north of Tahiti, in 1966.
It cost the star $200,000, and it was his intention that this ring of 12 deserted motus (islets) remain unspoilt. Tetiaroa was where Marlon escaped the battlefield of Hollywood, chatting with the world on his ham radio using the pseudonym “Jim Ferguson”, kicking back with friends and family in a castaway landscape of white sands, coconut palms and green turtles waving a friendly flipper from clear waters.
Now, following lengthy negotiations between his heirs and Richard Bailey, a friend of Brando and President of Pacific Beachcomber, we can get a taste of his desert island dream. The Brando has opened its doors – or rather its airstrip. The only way into this hyper-exclusive pancake of sand is by helicopter or aboard the resort’s plane, which departs from a dedicated terminal at Faa’a International Airport  in Tahiti.
Only one idyllic motu has been used in the making of this 21st-century paradise, which comes with an eco-station and ingeniously sourced energy: 4,000 solar panels line the airstrip, while a 3,000ft pipe drops deep into the ocean to draw up cold water to cool the air conditioning. Thirty-five monumental villas march along its pristine beaches, built with the massive trunks of ironwood trees and embellished with an outdoor bath, infinity pool and a rocking chair for two. Every guest gets a bicycle in a chic café-au-lait livery.The sands are raked with the precision of a Zen garden. Hidden in the coconut palms, and fringed with lily ponds, the Varua Polynesian Spa  includes a dreamy double suite suspended in the trees like a large brown ball of knitting wool.

The massages, using sensual monoi  oils and long, flowing movements like the ocean waves, are exceptionally good. Dinner is served by the beach, in your villa, or at the calm, cream Les Mutinés  restaurant, which is overseen by Guy Martin , chef at the two-Michelin-star Le Grand Véfour  in Paris. Everything is included: champagne, meals, a daily spa treatment per villa, excursions – even coral-friendly sunblock.
The Brando is not a party place, but providing the sun shines (May to October is driest) it is easy to love and ideal for some South Pacific lotus-eating. It also marks a step-up for the traditional Tahitian holiday. For once, there are no over-water bungalows. No predictable breakfast buffet served in a pandanus-thatched hangar, no rip-roaring jet-skis, no still-in-the-Stone Age charge for Wi-Fi . Here the French and Polynesian staff are neither jaded nor brainwashed, while the guests are, frankly, a better class of honeymooner. The resort will work best at the start or end of a tour – chill out here after that long flight, or cap off your island-hopping with some deliciously deluxe downtime.
All this is good news for French Polynesia, which deserves a higher prominence in our holiday plans. Tahiti and her 117 islands lie sprinkled across a blanket of blue ocean the size of Europe, and include mountainous Moorea  (pineapple central), loved-up Bora Bora  (honeymoon central), the vast constellation of the Tuamotus  (diving central) and the far-flung Marquesas  (not at all central), where Paul Gauguin ended his days. In my experience, these are all worth your time, and it’s a bonus that the indisputable joys of the tropical holiday – balmy warmth, incredible stars, gorgeous waters – also come with a French dressing. Baguettes, pétanque, yellow postes boxes – and, of course, good grub.
While there are rewarding inland hikes and excursions on many of these islands – up to the viewpoint, round the vanilla plantation, down to the pearl farm – it’s worth remembering that at least half your sightseeing will be done on or under the water. You don’t need to be a diver (although this is a fine place to learn), because the snorkelling is equally sensational, with richly coloured corals and fashionista fish galore. Since 2002, the whole of French Polynesia has been a marine mammal sanctuary – a fact brought home to me in spectacular style as I sample The Brando’s impeccable breakfast croissants. For three days in a row I spy humpback whales from the shore. And they’re not just blips on the horizon. A humpback is the size of six elephants, and they regularly pass by Tahiti from August to October. When one breaches, it’s like watching a zeppelin  do a belly-flop, with an ensuing thunder-splash that makes you wonder if the French have started nuclear testing again.

The natural wonders don’t stop there. Out on “The Ultimate Tour of Tetiaroa” we see stingrays, three-month-old lemon sharks and perky flocks of brown and red-footed boobys. But, of course, it’s the hypnotic blues and greens of the lagoon that seduce most. Looking down into the honeycombs of sunlight that dance in its crystal waters is like getting a sneak preview of heaven, and while Tetiaroa doesn’t have a monopoly on such mesmerising sights, it’s certainly a treat to have a whole atoll to yourself.

“The Billionaire’s Pool” is how Leonardo DiCaprio  described these enchanting waters when he checked in a few weeks ahead of me. That’s a name that will surely stick, as another great actor falls for the peace and beauty of Tetiaroa. Marlon once explained: “It’s very elemental here. You have the sky, the sea, the trees, the crabs, the fish, the sun… the basics.”
And if we can now also get unlimited champagne, sublime Polynesian massages and filet mignon de veau aux truffes  – well, that’s civilisation, n’est-ce pas? Tetiaroa Essentials
Air Tahiti Nui (0844 482 1675) flies to Papeete  from Paris, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Auckland. A return flight from London costs from £4,450 business class, £1,551 economy, flying the LA sectors with Virgin Atlantic. Flights from Papeete to Tetiaroa with Air Tetiaroa cost from £235 return.
A one-bedroom villa at The Brando (00 689 4086 6366) costs €3,421/ £2,687 per night (minimum stay three nights), including all meals and drinks, one daily spa treatment per villa and a daily excursion. Turquoise Holidays (01494 678 400) offers seven nights at The Brando from £11,525 per person, including flights from London, domestic flights and transfers, travelling from April 1 2015. More information:

The Brando
French Polynesia

by Nigel Tisdall

15 November 2014