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The paradise islands of Tahiti are the ultimate destination for spa goers. The crystal-clear lagoons are 'thalassotherapy-warm' and the occasional tropical afternoon rains are naturally invigorating.

Heaven on Earth

Described as ‘the world’s definition of paradise’ – the islands of Tahiti are the ultimate destination for spa goers. The crystal-clear lagoons are ‘thalassotherapy-warm’ and the occasional tropical afternoon rains are naturally invigorating. Anna Selby visits two idyllic islands for some authentic Polynesian spa treatments.

Volcanic peaks and coral reefs, the heady smell of tropical flowers carried on a soft breeze, island music and dancing into the night, pristine white beaches and warm waters . . .The Caribbean? No, I’m talking about the South Pacific, a place that’s how the Caribbean used to be 20, even 50, years ago before the beaches got crowded and when visitors were rare enough to be treated like VIPs. Tahiti, Bora Bora. The very words conjure jewels of islands scattered through an immense ocean, shimmering turquoise lagoons teeming with iridescent fish and smiling people with a dance that sways like the palm trees. Among the last inhabited places on the planet to be discovered by Europeans they were thought to be an earthly paradise.They still are – and their very remoteness promises to keep them pristine and secluded for years to come. They are not so remote, though, that they lack the finer things in life. If you are looking for barefoot luxury and the ultimate desert island escape, look no further. This is a place when relaxation and an awakening of the senses go hand in hand.

The spas of French Polynesia combine the riches of the ocean with those of the tropics. There are the marine vitamins from the sea, the volcanic sand of the islands, oils from coconut and other Tahitian fruits and the sensational fragrances of these islands – ylang ylang, gardenia, frangipani. Massage has been a way of life here for centuries and it starts from the moment a baby is born and continues throughout life. This local wisdom is called Hei Poa and a Polynesian massage is guaranteed to induce tranquillity and a sense of wellbeing.My introduction to Hei Poa came at the Deep Ocean Spa in Tahiti where I sampled their signature treatment, known as Tahitian Wave. It starts with an exfoliation using the local black volcanic sand mixed to a paste and applied with strong sweeping strokes. There is also a marine salt-based alternative but the sand was judged to be more appropriate for my delicate English skin! After a shower, my skin is already feeling soft and smooth. Then the massage begins.

There are some similarities with lomo lomo massage – after all, Hawaiians are Polynesians, too – notably in the long, deep strokes. There is a certain amount of rolling the skin and at times quite a lot of pressure but there is none of the kneading or cupping you find in Swedish massage.

There is indeed a wave-like sensation to this profoundly rhythmic massage and my therapist, Loana, used her forearms as well as her hands, later bringing in the hot volcanic stones that you find on the beach here, worn smooth by the sea. The predominant scent in the oil was monoi, Tahiti’s flower, better known to us as gardenia. It is the headiest of perfumes and seems able to put you immediately into a relaxed state of mind – perhaps by the simple means of so overwhelming your senses, it puts all worrying thoughts out of your mind!

Afterwards, I relaxed in the spa’s tea room (herbal, of course!), which has a verandah with daybeds looking out across the lagoon to the spectacular silhouette of the nearby island of Moorea. You can spend more time here either in the gym (though I suggest you go there first) or in the steam room, plunge pool and shower experience – choose refreshing if you need a burst of energy or rainstorm if you’re feeling strong!

The Tahiti spa is the little sister of its much bigger neighbour in Bora Bora. Here, the element of water comes right into the spa and the treatment suites are built over the water of the lagoon so you can admire the stunning coral and fish during your massage. The reflections from the water create a special light and induce an atmosphere of deep calm.


The water itself is part of the treatment. Deep Ocean Spa Bora Bora lives up to its name, using water from the depths of the surrounding South Pacific in its thalassotherapy treatments. Deep sea water shares exactly the same mineral composition as blood plasma and is used in the French company Algotherm’s products to remineralise the body. So you can choose the Relaxing Pearl Rain Massage – a gentle massage under a deep sea water shower of fine warm rain. This is particularly beneficial for those with sleep problems. Or there’s the Deep Sea Hydromassage Bath, which oxygenates the tissues, relaxes the muscles and stimulates the circulation. There is a wide range of other treatments from slimming and beauty treatments to reflexology and facials. There is a special treatment for recovering from over-exposure to the sun and one for jetlag – that could be quite helpful as this is a very long journey from just about any starting point. There are also special packages for couples – this is a prime honeymoon location.


Tahiti and Bora Bora must, in fact, be among the most romantic places on earth, like a Gauguin painting come to life. Bora Bora, in particular, ranks among the world’s top destination spas. It helps, of course, that it’s located in Paradise. Its lagoon moves through every nuance of colour from opalescent blue to turquoise to deepest emerald. Beyond, the ocean is the darkest blue of all until it crashes white and foaming against the reef. Relax and awaken your senses? How could you fail to?

Anna flew to Tahiti with Air France and Air Tahiti Nui.Flights to Tahiti (Papeete) take approximately 5 hours from Chile, New Zealand, New Caledonia and Hawaii, 8 hours from Los Angeles, 11 hours from Japan and approximately 22 hours from Europe (via the US).For further information on the islands of Tahiti visit www.Tahiti-Tourisme.comwww.tahiti.intercontinental.comwww.deepoceanspa.comAerial image of Tahiti courtesy of www.Tahiti-Tourisme.com
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