Our picks for the most romantic but affordable inns in the islands
- Hiti Moana Villa P.K. 32, Papara, 011-689/57-9393, papeete.com/moanavilla, bungalows without kitchens from $85, bungalows with kitchens from $115
- Papara Village Family Resort B.P. 12379, 011-689/57-4141, from $100
- Punatea Village P.K. 4700, Afaahiti, 011-689/57-7100, punatea.com, room $55, bungalow $90
- Taaroa Lodge P.K. 18, Punaauia, 011-689/58-3921, taaroalodge.com, room $50, bungalow $106
Removed but not too remote or rustic, Moorea is a heart-shaped island fringed with sandy-bottomed lagoons and languid resorts where honeymooners swim with stingrays and dissolve into mai tais.
At first sight, Moorea evokes a storybook illustration of Peter Pan's Neverland. The interior is a jagged jumble of cloud-crowned crags, while the coastline is encircled with placid coral reefs ideal for snorkeling and lazy boating. Just 30 minutes from Tahiti by ferry, Moorea is the easiest of the outlying islands to reach. A car ride around the coast takes about an hour.
The Kindynis daughters are gone. Learn that now, because when you tell any male Moorean that you're staying at La Baie de Nuarei, the first thing he'll ask is if you've seen the owners' beautiful offspring. To the frustration of single men across the island, the girls are attending college in Europe, leaving French-born papa Tamagna and mama Tamara (a beauty herself) to pour their energies into their inn. They've spared no expense. Liberally embellished with whimsy-full-size mermaid frescoes in bathrooms, metal dolphin sculptures springing from showerheads-the lush enclave of three secluded wooden homes feels more like an artist's retreat than a pension. Each home comes with a kitchen, TV, and a cozy sitting area. Guests can borrow boats and books or indulge in a treatment at the best-equipped spa outside the resorts, operated by the Kindynises as a sideline. The gated property is on a clear, shallow lagoon a few feet from Moorea's most popular public beach, Temae, and a 10-minute drive to the excellent restaurants at Cook's Bay-and it faces the same massive, underwater coral garden fronted by the Sofitel Ia Ora, which charges $230 more a night.
For more than a decade, Patrice Coucuret ran a popular B&B in Provence. In 2002, he tired of unexpected midnight appearances by weary road-trippers and, with his wife and his poodles, decamped to a hillside in southwest Moorea, where guests always arrive announced and excited. At first glance, Fare Arana is très tahitienne: Each guest gets a furnished patio and deck overlooking a lagoon, with the fragrance of flowers wafting about. But Patrice brought the French bonheur and pastis cocktails with him, which he uses to fuel lingering conversations in a poolside cabana. Faraway Provence, precious and countrified, fills the rooms. Each bungalow has a crockery-stocked kitchen with lace curtains and sea views, wood and wicker decor tastefully accented with dried flowers, trim painted in periwinkle and cinnamon, and-most unusual-air-conditioning. It's adorable and inviting. The inn's name should have been the first clue: In parts of French Polynesia, arana means "nest."
On the north coast's Opunohu Bay, Fare Vaihere is a tiny outfit that strives for the dignity and service of a large resort. Cyril and Florence Morize, the French owners who opened the place 18 months ago, can even be spotted chauffeuring guests in their Land Rover on free restaurant runs each evening. Their five smart bungalows, looking barely used, come with porches, electric kettles, little fridges, and towels monogrammed in orange and white, the house motif. The one waterfront bungalow can be windy, but three others are safely inland on the clipped lawn.
A fifth bungalow, with three bedrooms, has a full kitchen for do-it-yourself petit-déjeuner (the four smaller rentals include continental breakfast). The Morizes' three good-natured kids periodically scamper by with their goofy family dogs. Just off the slender, 130-foot beach are the waters where Captain Cook anchored when he first landed in 1769; today you'll see mega-yachts and boutique cruise ships. Kayaks and snorkels are free, and you can fish off the private wooden pier. Or sneak into the pools at the fancy Sheraton, a short walk up the road. (Everyone does it.)
Village Temanoha is one of the few Polynesian hotels-at any price range-to colonize the bush. Just a five-minute drive from the tourist zone down an unpaved track, Temanoha's six low-slung cabins have kitchenettes, terraces, wooden furniture, and bathrooms walled with rustic stone. They're scattered on a plant-studded lawn with a central swimming pool, trees dripping fruit and flowers, and fern fronds the size of shower curtains. The Castellani family, who owns the property, keeps a few chickens running around to gobble up intruding centipedes (a stinging pest that visitors may hear called "hundred legs").