Review: The Brando (French Polynesia) – PHENOMENAL resort

the brando french polynesia book

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

I recently enjoyed an incredible holiday in French Polynesia (Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora). Read my trip reports here:


Today: Review of The Brando Resort (French Polynesia)

The Brando is the ultimate luxury resort in French Polynesia and one of the most exclusive resorts in the world. The ultra-polished property is located in the magnificent atoll of Tetiaroa, which is comprised of a dozen idyllic islands surrounding a spectacular lagoon. With access provided by private plane, the resort offers carefree luxury in the midst of pristine nature and is a special place of rare biodiversity and a natural sanctuary for birds and marine life. The all-inclusive resort features 35 deluxe villas each with its own private beach area and plunge pool, restaurants showcasing Polynesian and French cuisine, a luxurious Polynesian spa, a beach bar & pool, organic garden, library, boutique, water sports, and an environmental research station with guest programs.

The Brando features in my top 10 list of the world’s most exclusive private island resorts.

Have you ever stayed at The Brando? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

In this review (more info and photos below my YouTube video):


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • The Brando is located in the insanely beautiful private atoll of Tetiaroa. Located about 50 km (30 mi) north of Tahiti, Tetiaroa is over 4 km (2.5 mi) wide and comprised of twelve motus (coral islands or islets), one of them – called Motu Onetahi – being home to The Brando. With its white sand beaches, swaying coconut palms, colorful birds, and sparkling lagoon, Tetiaroa is a dream paradise. Beyond its breathtaking beauty, Tetiaroa’s motus are a study in rare biodiversity and a natural sanctuary for birds and marine life. Motu Honuea boasts superb white sand beaches; Tiaraunu, the largest motu, wears a dense mantle of coconut trees. A nursery of lemon sharks makes its home in the very north, where the three motus Tauini, Tauroa and Hiraanae are separated only by small hoa, or channels. On Oroatera you will find paradisiacal beaches and a natural watering place in the shape of a seahorse. The birds come to nest on Tahuna Iti and Tahuna Rahi, true sanctuaries. Aie is the smallest motu and Reiono is the only islet that has preserved its primary forest. Finally, it is on Rimatu’u that the first Europeans settled, establishing a coconut plantation, a village and a landing stage.
  • Tetiaroa has always been a place of stunning beauty, tranquility and rejuvenation — first for Tahitian royalty, who chose this island above all others for their summer retreat, and later for Hollywood actor Marlon Brando who fell in love with it during the filming of “Mutiny on the Bounty”. Enthralled by the Polynesian way of life – and the leading lady Tarita, the love of his life – Marlon Brando bought this piece of paradise in 1967 and made it his personal home. Brando was passionate about preserving Tetiaroa’s natural beauty, biodiversity and cultural richness and was determined to find a way in which it could be a center for research and education, and a model of sustainability. In 1999 he asked Richard Bailey, a long-time resident of Tahiti who shared Brando’s passion for the environment and who had created some of the region’s finest resorts, to help him conceive a plan that would help Brando achieve his dream. Together, Brando and Bailey pursued a vision of creating the world’s first and foremost post-carbon resort—an island where innovative new technologies would enable a self-sustaining luxury environment for hotel guests, residents and scientific research. The Brando – opened in 2014 – is the legacy of that shared vision.
  • The only way to get to The Brando is by private flight – either from Tahiti or Bora Bora – which underscores the exclusivity of the destination. Air Tetiaroa – the exclusive provider of passenger service to the island – operates a fleet of two 6-passenger Britten-Norman aircrafts and two 14-seater Twin Otters. Charter flights via Ecureuil bi-turbine helicopter are also available. For guests departing from Bora Bora, the flight departs from Bora Bora’s small airport terminal. Travelers departing from Tahiti have the advantage that they can make use of Air Tetiaroa’s private airport terminal, which comprises a check-in desk, security checkpoint and a nicely decorated lounge exclusively available to guests of The Brando. The Air Tetiaroa private lounge opens one hour before departure, and offer complimentary WiFi, snacks and drinks. Flight time to The Brando is one hour from Bora Bora and 20 minutes from Tahiti. The landing is spectacular as the plane flies over the stunning lagoon on its way to The Brando’s private airstrip. Upon arrival in Tetiaroa, guests are greeted on the runway by a Brando representative, welcomed by a traditional Polynesian dance, and whisked off to their villa in comfortable electric carts.
  • The Brando offers 35 private villas, with one to three bedrooms, overlooking either Turtle Beach (sunset side) or Mermaid Bay (sunrise side), and the private residence Teremoana on Prince Square. Conceived by architect Pierre-Jean Picard in collaboration with designer Gilles Leborgne, all villas have in common the space and references to Polynesian traditions. The wooden walls and roofs covered with pandanus leaves are inspired by traditional techniques and materials. Large bay windows offer a divine view of the lush garden planted with coconut palms and «miki miki», as well as the private swimming pools and the azure blue lagoon. Nature gently insinuates herself into the sober and serene interiors, while studied comfort and purity of line reflect the refinement of the property. During my holiday, I stayed in a one bedroom villa which comprised three rooms: a spacious bedroom, a living room, and a media room. The bathroom was accessed via a dressing room and offered an outdoor bathtub nestled in the heart of a tropical garden. The roomy wooden terrace had lounge chairs, umbrellas and a freshwater shower, a covered dining area and swimming pool, all leading out onto the white sandy beach.
  • The Brando itself sits on Motu Onetahi, a rather large islet of 78-hectares or 193-acres. For ease of navigation, guests have bicycles to get around the resort, or can be driven by a team member in electric carts to explore the islet. The resort itself only occupies the lower half of the islet, while the airstrip and staff village is located on the upper part. The entire islet is surrounded by a magnificent white sand beach, backdropped by lush tropical vegetation and overlooking the ridiculously clear lagoon. On the southern tip of the islet, where the beach is at its widest, are the resort’s communal facilities, all conveniently built in one spot. Here, at the entrance of the complex, are two shops: a Tahitian jewelry store (called Hinerava) offering an exclusive jewelry line by the fashionable young designer Kelly Bailey, and a hotel boutique offering a selection of sunscreen, toiletries, beauty products, home and fashion accessories, swimwear, books, local crafts, music, souvenirs and postcards. From the shops, a long wooden walkway leads to the concierge area, restaurants & bars (more on that below) and the infinity pool on the beach. The latter is equipped for relaxation with deck chairs, tables and parasols (although most guests prefer the relax at their private plunge pool).
  • The Brando serves some of the best food of any resort in the world. There are three restaurants and two bars:
    • Les Mutinés, the gastronomic restaurant open only for dinner, hosts a maximum of 20 guests in an elegant venue whose shape evokes the impression of an inverted canoe. Chef Pierre Lecorne and Pastry Chef Anthony Lestriez offer refined dishes and desserts with amazing flavors. The restaurant also includes a world-class wine cellar in a carefully climate-controlled glass enclosure.
    • The Beachcomber Café is The Brando’s all day dining restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in a relaxed beach atmosphere and with a lovely view on the lagoon. The menu is inspired by Polynesian, French and international cuisine.
    • Nami teppanyaki, headed by Chef Kaito Nakamura, offers a culinary voyage through the subtle and refined flavors of Japan. Two menus, as well as a selection of sake, are available to enjoy a real Japanese experience. Dishes are prepared in front of the guests on a traditional teppanyaki cooking table.
    • The Brando also offers an innovative and sophisticated vegan menu, incorporating fresh vegetables handpicked from the resort’s own organic garden. The vegan menu is available at Les Mutinés fine dining restaurant, the Beachcomber Café, and for in-room dining.
    • Bob’s Bar, whose name makes tribute to Marlon Brando’s longtime friend, is a funky-chic beach bar on the white sand beach next to the main swimming pool. It serves light fare and drinks during the day.
    • Te Manu Bar, and its small lounges suspended above the beach, offer a breathtaking view of the lagoon and the starry sky. Guests are seduced by its lounge atmosphere, cozy and comfortable, with sofas and intimate spaces, some literally in the treetops. It is the perfect place to take in the sunset or enjoy a game of billiards.
  • The Brando features one of the most beautiful and serene wellness centers I’ve ever seen. Called The Varua Te Ora Polynesian Spa, the complex is a destination in its own right where beauty and well-being, deeply rooted in Polynesian culture, are the key words. The treatment rooms are located on an island surrounded by a freshwater lake that is covered with lotus flowers. In the middle of this sanctuary of century-old pandanus is also the Fare Manu (bird’s nest) treatment cabin; perched in the trees 6 m (20 ft) above the ground, this cabin offers a beautiful view and guarantees unforgettable memories. Couples can come here to discover the art of the traditional massage, «Taurumi». Therapeutic and spiritual, it maintains and restores internal harmony and balances relationships with others. Other spa facilities include areas for relaxation, energy (Fare Mana), a hammam, a fresh water cascade and an herbal tea room at the water’s edge.
  • The Brando offers a wide variety of activities to make each stay a succession of unexpected moments which will remain engraved in the memories. A concierge service, located at the entrance of the resort, organizes personalized itineraries for each travel party and informs them about the activities of the atoll:
    • With naturalist-guided boat tours and excursions, guests can discover the different motus and observe the fauna and flora that inhabit the primary forest and the lagoon.
    • Various sports equipment are available. The lagoon can be explored by traditional outrigger canoe, kayak, paddleboard, or simply with a mask and snorkel. Scuba diving outside the reef is another option the resort offers. On land, each guest can jog in the lush vegetation or maintain a workout routine in the fitness room. It is open 24/7 and offers a wide choice of workout equipment. A tennis court and all the necessary gear are available to guests, who can also request a partner.
    • The Lagoon School offers young guests from 6 to 12 years old a place to meet and relax. Children can participate in educational activities on Polynesian life and more through workshops, treasure hunts and mini-conferences prepared by Tetiaroa Society. Younger will visitors have fun while learning about our environmental efforts and the biodiversity of Tetiaroa.
    • The Explorer Center is both a place for discussion with the cultural activity leaders and naturalist guides and a library that provides books on Polynesian culture. Conferences are regularly organized here.
  • The Brando offers two types of room rates: the bed & breakfast rate (which includes an American breakfast) and the all-inclusive rate. Although extremely expensive, I highly recommend the latter since it includes an impressive range of amenities & perks:
    • All meals in the restaurants and in-room dining
    • A wide selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, without quantity restriction (e.g. beers, wines, spirits, Champagnes)
    • A minibar replenished once a day
    • One excursion or activity per person per day of your choice from the list offered by the concierge in shared tours
    • Treatments at Varua Te Ora Polynesian Spa: a spa treatment (50 min) for 1 person per day per one-bedroom villa; a spa treatment (50 min) for 2 people per day per two-bedroom villa; and a spa treatment (50 min) for 3 people per day for the three-bedroom villa or the residence Teremoana.
    • Permanent access to the fitness room and the tennis court.
    • Beach equipment: stand-up paddle, kayak, outrigger canoe, snorkeling equipment.
    • One bicycle per person in the villa or the residence (children’s bikes are available).
    • Unlimited access to a selection of newspapers and international magazines on the in-room tablet.
  • Wishing to preserve the atoll in its original state and wanting to set an example to the rest of the world in terms of luxury, The Brando has taken a focused approach to the entirety of design, materials and services. The property has implemented numerous innovative programs and use state-of-the-art technologies to achieve its objectives of carbon neutrality, while ensuring optimal comfort. Here are some examples:
    • The SWAC (Sea Water Air Conditioning) draws deep sea water (930 m or 3,000 ft below sea level) to cool the air and provide thermal comfort in all the resort’s buildings. It results in the reduction of energy consumption by almost 90%.
    • The Brando ensures reasoned use of its freshwater resources. Rainwater feeds swimming pools and laundries ; desalinated sea water is used in the bathrooms ; and an ingenious wastewater recycling system is used to irrigate gardens and the vegetable garden. Along with its water conservation policy, the hotel has also implemented a major waste recycling and composting program.
    • Solar energy, produced by 4,000 photovoltaic panels located along the island’s runway, covers 75% of the resort’s energy needs. These panels demonstrate how productive an unused space can be. Solar water heaters, meanwhile, satisfy almost all hot water needs from the hotel. Rechargable batteries of solar energy are produced using recyclable materials and are able to provide thousands of complete charge cycles.
    • The hotel has a vegetable garden and a organic orchard, using ancestral methods to produce exceptionally high-quality fruits and vegetables despite a coral soil. Thus, the resort’s restaurants offer a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables, all grown just footsteps away: papayas, bananas, lemons, tomatoes, beans, edible flowers, lettuce, uru (breadfruit), vanilla, eggplant, zucchini, green onions, radish, and basil.
    • The Brando proudly produces one of the best honeys from around the world, made from coconut blossoms and other species endemic to the atoll. 70 beehives are spread over three motus and produce 1,200 kilos (2,600 lbs.) of honey per year on average. Tetiaroa honey is harvested regularly by the beekeeper and used to enhance the resort’s cocktails, dishes and pastries.
  • Tetiaroa is fringed with coconut palms, paradisiacal beaches and islets with primary forest. Populated by native species (eagle rays, parrot fish, lemon sharks, turtles and many others) and an exceptional coral reef, Tetiaroa is a natural paradise that is looked after by the Tetiaroa Society, a non-profit association dedicated to the protection and conservation of the atoll, as well as to the understanding and management of marine ecosystems, is involved in various conservation and research programs:
    • To make Marlon Brando’s dream of a working ocean laboratory come true, the hotel hosts an ecostation dedicated to research and managed by Tetiaroa Society. The ecostation, which can accommodate a dozen researchers from around the world, includes aquariums, bookstores and, above all, a laboratory where scientists conduct research in order to protect and safeguard tropical atolls and their wildlife.
    • Carried out in collaboration with the association Te Mana o te Moana, the Tetiaroa Society monitors and protects green sea turtles, who come to nest on Motu Onetahi. During the egg-laying season, the guests can wake up in the wee hours of the morning (if they wish) to watch nesting activity.
    • Conducted with specialists in invasive species from around the world, the Tetiaroa Society has succeeded in eradicating rats from the atoll to protect endemic species.
    • An innovative project carried out with the Louis Mallardé Institute of Tahiti, which consists in releasing sterilized males on the atoll, has succeeded in controlling the mosquito population on the island.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

  • The Brando’s private islet is surrounded by a pristine white sand beach, but there are a lot of seashells on the beach and the quality of the beach depends on the location. The most beautiful beach is the one on the sunrise side of the island. Called Mermaid Bay, it features softer sand, looks out of over the ridiculously blue lagoon, and the waters are shallow (perfect for wading & swimming). Nonetheless, it can be extremely windy here during the drier and cooler winter months (June to September). For sunset views, great snorkeling and less wind, Turtle Beach on the island’s other side is best, though it features more rocky coral and wading shoes are recommended. Regardless of these minor differences, The Brando is beautiful and breathtaking in either location, and the island is not that big, so you can easily walk from Mermaid Bay to Turlte Beach or vice versa.
  • Whilst The Brando has done a brilliant job at eradicating mosquitos from the island, be aware that there might be some flies around, which have a tendency to hover around the dishes during breakfast and lunch (the flies miraculously disappear after sunset). I hope that The Brando might find a way to control these flies in the near future since they can be pretty annoying.
  • Traveling to The Brando can be a long journey depending on where you are coming from. And there’s only one carrier – Air Tetiaroa – that flies into and out of the Tetiaroa Atoll, either from Bora Bora (once a week; a one hour flight) or Tahiti (two times a day; a 20 min flight). The flight schedule of Air Tetiaria (during day light hours only) is not always in tune with the arrival and departures times of international flights, so most stays at The Brando will involve a layover of a few hours or a full day, either prior to or after your holiday. For a better experience during a layover in Tahiti, the resort offers a ‘Transit Package’ at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort (subject to availability) including accommodation & shared ground transfers between airport & hotel.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 10/10
  • Design: 9/10
  • Pool: 9/10
  • Rooms: 9/10
  • Food: 9/10
  • Breakfast: 9/10
  • Spa: 10/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Overall experience: exceptional 9,2/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: get complimentary VIP perks at The Brando when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 Euro food & beverage credit).
  • Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like The Brando (and/or receive many free perks).
  • Room tip: For sunset views and great snorkeling, though with more rocky corals, the villas on Turtle Beach are the best. If you prefer a soft sandy beach and calm shallow waters, the villas at Mermaid Bay are much better.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

French Polynesia is best visited between June and September when the climate is at its driest and the weather is balmy (but windy). However, this is high season, so it will be busy and the hotel rates are skyrocketing. The months on either side of this period (May & October) are known as the shoulder season and offer comfortable weather too, but with lower prices and less wind. Although French Polynesia can be visited year-round, the months of November to April bring more humidity and cloudy days, with tropical showers passing at greater frequency than other times of the year. However, they are often interspersed with periods of sunshine. This is a humid time of year, though, which can be uncomfortable and I recommend choosing a hotel with A/C if visiting during these months. The islands rarely suffer from tropical storms except during years when El Niño affects ocean currents.


HOW TO GET THERE

Airlines from around the world offer direct flights to Faa’a International Airport in Papeete, Tahiti. From Tahiti it’s a short but spectacular 20 minute flight to Tetiaroa onboard Air Tetiaroa; the flight from Bora Bora takes one hour. The resort’s reservation agents will arrange this portion of the trip with you.


PHOTOS

Below is a selection of my photos of The Brando. To view more photos (including breakfast and dinner), click here.

THE BRANDO
AIR TETIAROA PRIVATE LOUNGE AT TAHITI AIRPORT
THE BRANDO
AIR TETIAROA FLIGHT TO THE BRANDO
THE BRANDO
AIR TETIAROA FLIGHT TO THE BRANDO
THE BRANDO
AIR TETIAROA FLIGHT TO THE BRANDO
THE BRANDO
WELCOME AT THE BRANDO
THE BRANDO
VILLA: TERRACE & GARDEN
THE BRANDO
VILLA: TERRACE & GARDEN
THE BRANDO
VILLA: TERRACE & GARDEN
THE BRANDO
VILLA: LIVING ROOM
THE BRANDO
VILLA: STUDIO ROOM
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VILLA: BEDROOM
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VILLA: BATHROOM
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VILLA: BATHROOM
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RECEPTION PAVILION
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RECEPTION PAVILION
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MAIN COMMUNAL AREA: ENTRANCE
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WALKWAY TO CONCIERGE AREA
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CONCIERGE AREA
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THE BRANDO EXPLORE CENTER
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TE MANU BAR
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TE MANU BAR
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TE MANU BAR
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LES MUTINES RESTAURANT
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BEACHCOMBER CAFE
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BEACHCOMBER CAFE
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BEACHCOMBER CAFE
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BOB’S BAR
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BOB’S BAR
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MAIN POOL
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MAIN POOL
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MAIN POOL
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BEACH IN FRONT OF THE MAIN POOL
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BEACH IN FRONT OF THE MAIN POOL
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BEACH AT MERMAID BAY
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BEACH AT MERMAID BAY
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BEACH AT MERMAID BAY
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TURTLE BEACH
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TURTLE BEACH
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TURTLE BEACH
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TURTLE BEACH
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TENNIS COURT
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SPA: RECEPTION
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SPA: RECEPTION
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SPA: TREATMENT AREA
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SPA: TEA LOUNGE
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SPA: JACUZZI
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SPA: BIRD’S NEST TREATMENT ROOM
THE BRANDO
SPA: BIRD’S NEST TREATMENT ROOM

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