Pearls of the South Pacific

Inspiring artists and writers throughout the years, French Polynesia is a virtual paradise found with its enchanting islands, enticing turquoise waters, and balmy breezes fragranced with the sweet scent of bougainvillea, gardenias, and a bouquet of other tropical blossoms. From Paul Gauguin to Robert Louis Stevenson to James Michener, these South Pacific islands have long beckoned creative souls with a taste for adventure and stirred the emotions of all those who visit. Today, that sense of romance is alive and well and continues to captivate couples flocking to French Polynesia's idyllic islands. In addition to the stunning setting, intoxicating tales, and inviting overwater bungalows, visitors will also find a wealth of healing traditions that date back to ancient days. Two Pearl Resort spas are giving guests an experience to remember by combining those traditions with a bit of island indulgence.

 Bora Bora's stunning lagoon proves to be the biggest competition when it comes to keeping guests from the spa.
Bora Bora's stunning lagoon proves to be the biggest competition when it comes to keeping guests from the spa.

The Blue Lagoon

There is certainly something to be said for a place that requires a boat to get to and from the airport. When that place is Bora Bora, there is no shortage of adjectives to describe the island's many attributes. Its reputation alone was enough to convince the husband-and-wife team of Anthony and Kamala Nayeli to forego an opportunity to manage a spa in the U.S. Virgin Islands for a chance to develop a new one in this island paradise.

Manea Spa in Bora Bora features an open-air design that embraces its lush surroundings.
Manea Spa in Bora Bora features an open-air design that embraces its lush surroundings.

It was while the couple was working at Canyon Ranch SpaClub on the Queen Mary 2 that their paths first crossed with Laurent Bessou, president of South Pacific Management, which owns and operates Pearl Resorts & Spa. Tired of the standard massage and body treatments found at most spas, Bessou approached Anthony, who was working the front desk at the time, and explained that he was interested in experiencing something different. After confirming that he really was up for anything, Anthony booked him for a Watsu treatment with Kamala for the following day.

An outdoor Vichy shower  helps spa-goers take advantage of the tropical locale.
An outdoor Vichy shower helps spa-goers take advantage of the tropical locale.

It was that treatment that put Anthony and Kamala on the short list of contenders to develop a new spa brand for Pearl Resorts. "We believe Mr. Bessou was looking to bring something extraordinary to his hotels and spas in French Polynesia," says Anthony. "With our combined background and experience in health and wellness, he recognized the opportunity to develop the Manea Spa brand as the first of its kind to offer such unique services." According to Anthony, Bessou's first Watsu experience left him considering the idea of an aquatic massage performed in a lagoon setting. "Since that time, we've noticed some similarities to the lifestyle of living on the ship and living in Bora Bora—to a certain degree they're both living in the middle of the ocean," says Kamala. "That's not a lifestyle that everyone can sustain, so maybe our shipboard experience suggested a certain adaptability that we shared."

Plants are also grown in the spa to help bring the outdoors in.
Plants are also grown in the spa to help bring the outdoors in.

Although the brand had been established for a couple of years, it wasn't until nearly a year after that auspicious meeting that Bessou contacted the couple with the proposition of opening the Bora Bora spa. They were two weeks away from moving to the U.S. Virgin Islands when they got the invitation to visit, and it wasn't long after that that they heard the island's siren call. While the destination itself was certainly a draw, so too, was the opportunity to bring the spa to life.

A double massage treatment room encourages couples to spa together.
A double massage treatment room encourages couples to spa together.

According to Kamala, general director of South Pacific Management Thierry Buttaud was responsible to a large degree in developing the concept for Manea. "He envisioned a spa brand that would fulfill the dream of an authentic Polynesian spa experience, just as the Pearl Resorts do on the hotel side," says Kamala. In developing Manea Spa at Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort, the Nayelis sought to capture the island's unique sense of place. "The Manea Spa brand is certainly the most Tahitian spa brand in the world, owing to the fact that the therapists, treatments, and materials used in construction are all locally sourced," says Anthony.

Manea Spa at Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort (French Polynesia)
Manea Spa at Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort (French Polynesia)

To help create an authentic experience, the spa was built using native materials. For example, the stones used to fill the walls are from Moorea, and some are even believed to be sacred and placed for protection. Aito, Polynesian ironwood trees, support the roof and were sourced from the construction site. Wall coverings and the thatched roof were made of woven pandanus, a plant that hails from the nearby Tuamotus.

In developing the product line and treatment menu, it was also important to keep both as true to the islands as possible. According to Kamala, the spa sells a lot of Monoi, a massage oil that has been used by Polynesians for generations. "The two most popular are scented with vanilla from the neighboring island of Taha'a, or tiare, the Tahitian gardenia, which is also the national flower," says Kamala. "Tamanu oil is actually our best-selling oil, however. Pressed from the sacred nut of Polynesia, the healing properties of this oil make it a perfect after-care for those guests who get a tattoo at our spa or for anyone with a sunburn."

Manea Spa on Manihi offers a much more intimate setting.
Manea Spa on Manihi offers a much more intimate setting.

Having a tattoo artist on staff is just one of the ways the spa incorporates Polynesian traditions. "Our intention was to develop treatments that are unique to Polynesia, use local ingredients, incorporate Tahitian traditions and history, all provided by Tahitian therapists to give our guests an authentic and unforgettable experience," says Anthony. Even the spa's name, Manea, which describes the beauty of nature, hails from the nearby Marquesas Islands.

The spa's signature service is a massage using a string of black pearls.
The spa's signature service is a massage using a string of black pearls.

Although Bora Bora's scenic beauty adds to Manea's appeal, it can also keep guests from experiencing the spa. According to Anthony, the biggest challenge in managing the spa is competing with the most beautiful lagoon in the world. However, that doesn't keep the Nayelis from enticing spa-goers every chance they get. As for the future, the couple plans to work with the community of healthcare providers to offer more wellness-oriented offerings. They've dedicated at least one weekend a month as a Wellness Weekend, with classes and lectures open to the general public, staff, and the guests of the hotel. Protecting the environment is another major concern. Says Kamala, "As the only Polynesian spa chain, it behooves us to be good stewards of our lands and lagoons, so we're currently developing treatments that will allow our guests to participate in the preservation of Polynesia's ecological heritage."

Black Pearl Island

While Manihi may not garner the same accolades or attract anywhere near the number of visitors as Bora Bora, it is no less charming than its sister island. With only about 800 residents, most of whom live in Turipaoa village, this hidden gem is home to the Manihi Pearl Beach Resort, the island's only hotel.

Manea Spa at Manihi Pearl Beach Resort (French Polynesia)
Manea Spa at Manihi Pearl Beach Resort (French Polynesia)

Akin to being stranded on a deserted island, a visit to the sparsely populated atoll is an experience to cherish. There, guests can snorkel and swim in the inviting lagoon, visit a black pearl farm, and explore the island at will. There is also the unprecedented opportunity in this era of increased airport security to stargaze while lying on the island's runway. Guests can also get their spa fix at the resort's intimate Manea Spa, which offers a host of island-inspired treatments.

Drawing on the fact that Manihi is the largest pearl producer in French Polynesia, the spa offers Monoï Poe ($175, 50 minutes), a treatment that relies on a string of genuine black pearls to massage the body and an application of macerated tiare flowers, a type of gardenia, in refined coconut oil to nourish the skin. Guests who want to take in their surroundings can opt for the Monoï Pape Miti ($175, 50 minutes; $243, 80 minutes), which is a body massage performed alfresco on a table located in the lagoon. For spa-goers who can't tear themselves away from the crystal blue waters, it's the perfect compromise.

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