A contemporary bathroom at The Brando // © 2015 Tim-McKenna.com
Feature image (above): After five years of construction, The Brando opened July 2014 on the private island of Tetiaroa. // © 2015 Tim-McKenna.com/TahitiFlyShoot
Tell folks in French Polynesia that you have stayed at The Brando, and you’ll immediately have their undivided attention.
“The Brando — really?” they’ll ask. “What’s it like?”
There is a lot of curiosity about this ultra-high-end resort on the private island of Tetiaroa, a 20-minute flight from Faa’a International Airport in Tahiti. Part of it has to do with the island’s previous owner, actor Marlon Brando, who bought it in 1967 after filming “Mutiny on the Bounty” there and falling in love with its untouched beauty. And part of it has to do with the five years it took for the resort to be constructed.
But no small part of the fascination with The Brando comes from the fact that most mere mortals will never get to stay at the property, which finally opened in July 2014. The rate for a one-bedroom villa at the resort, meals and drinks included (with a few exceptions), is 3,000 euros a night; double that rate for a two-bedroom villa and triple it for a three-bedroom. And don’t expect a discount in the off season — the same rates are in effect year-round.
Obviously, that limits the clientele to the well-heeled. But what you get for your money is an experience that’s hard to match in a setting that’s almost too stunning to be real.
Flying into the island, it looks all but uninhabited — a forest of palm trees ringed by white sand and turquoise water.
It’s only as the plane is on its final approach that you can pick out the thatched roofs of the villas set well back from the beach. It’s like discovering a hidden Polynesian paradise.
Once you have checked in, you might decide you never want to leave your villa. All 35 villas have sleek contemporary furnishings, vaulted ceilings and decadent bathrooms with indoor showers and outdoor tubs. One-bedroom villas are open-plan, with the living area flanked on one side by a raised bedroom and bath and on the other by a media room with a desk and pull-out sofa bed. Two-bedroom units have a dining area; a kitchen complete with a dishwasher; a microwave and a cooktop; and a detached bedroom wing with each bedroom on a different level.
Outside, each villa has its own private plunge pool, covered outdoor dining area and direct access to the white-sand beach. Well-placed groves of trees mean you’ll never see your neighbors, indoors or out. It’s easy to imagine that privacy-seeking celebrities — there have been some, but no one will say who — would order room service three times a day and never have to budge.
But you really should get out and explore the island, on and off the water. To make it easy to do just that, The Brando supplies each villa with bicycles for cruising the paved trails or just pedaling to the restaurants or bars if you don’t feel like walking or waiting for a golf cart to pick you up.
The resort offers a range of excursions, and one per day is included in the room rate. The Tetiaroa Ultimate tour is the ideal introduction to your stay. The half-day boat tour takes you past a protected bird sanctuary, with a bird-watching stop on another uninhabited island and another at a freshwater lagoon that’s being used as a nursery for young lemon sharks. Before you head back to the resort, there’s also a stop to snorkel in a pristine coral-filled lagoon that’s earned the nickname of the “billionaires’ bathtub.”
You can also take a guided tour that focuses on the resort’s eco-friendly initiatives, which follow Marlon Brando’s vision for Tetiaroa when he considered building a resort there before his death in 2004. Before the technology existed to do so, it was his idea to use deep-sea water for air conditioning; it’s now pumped up from the ocean and cycled through a $6 million plant to provide cooling for the entire resort.
Brando also had the idea to use coconut oil as a source of biofuel, which the resort uses to supplement the power from 2,800 solar panels set along the airstrip. The Brando is hoping to achieve platinum LEED certification for its sustainability efforts, which would make it the first resort in the world to do so. All of these measures have merited The Brando a spot in National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, a recently established collection of boutique hotels that exhibit commitment to both sustainability and quality.
Treatments at the resort’s Varua spa are also included in the daily rate — one-bedroom villas get one per day, two-bedroom villas get two and so forth. For an additional charge, couples can take get a customized three-hour treatment in the spa’s Fare Manu suite, a wood-latticed cocoon set high up in the trees.
The resort’s two restaurants, the more formal Les Mutines and the casual Beachcomber Cafe, both feature dishes created by chef Guy Martin of Paris’s two-Michelin-star Le Grand Vefour restaurant. It’s light French cuisine with a Polynesian influence, leaning heavily on seafood and locally grown fruits and vegetables. For drinks and small bites, you can sink your feet into the sand at Bob’s Bar or get a view of the pool from the second-floor Te Manu Bar.
Throughout the resort, the service is faultless. It only took half a day for the wait staff to remember that I liked sparkling water and that my companion preferred flat — even when we changed restaurants between dinner and lunch. Our Tahitian guide on the boat tour switched easily between English, French and Italian to answer guests’ questions, and the rest of the staff made it seem like no request was an imposition. We thought of testing their good graces by asking for ice to cool down our plunge pool on a blazingly hot day, but we couldn’t bear to see a brigade of ice-bucket-wielding staff show up to indulge our diva-like whim.
You can’t help but sigh when you step on the plane to leave Tetiaroa. It’s easy to see why Marlon Brando fell in love with the island, and equally easy to see why the resort named after him has generated such a buzz. You won’t soon forget The Brando.