Ecology meets luxury at Brando Island
To understand the true meaning of paradise, one needs look no further than The Brando, an island where crystal aquamarine waters, pristine white-sand beaches, tranquility and luxury rule the day.
First of all, a little history lesson is in order. Brando Island—yes, named after the Oscar-winning actor Marlon, who needs no introduction—is an atoll nestled on the private island of Tetiaroa in French Polynesia just 30 miles northeast of Tahiti. Discovered by the screen legend while filming the 1962 classic Mutiny on the Bounty, the island captivated Brando with its beauty, and he made it his home, purchasing it in 1966. At the time, the actor’s vision was a lofty, albeit prescient one: He dreamed of the island as a center for research and education and a model of sustainability to be enjoyed by residents, scientists and guests. In 1999, he partnered with longtime Tahitian resident and hotelier Richard Bailey, and the result was the world’s first post-carbon eco-luxury resort, a five-star haven where the natural beauty is preserved through innovative technologies.
The resort’s core philosophy—in which harmony, simplicity and luxury coexist with authenticity and the environment—is predominant throughout the island. Designed by French architectural firm Pierre-Jean Picart and decorated by French interior architect Gilles Lebourgne of AIC/Gilles Lebourgne, the 35 one-, two- and three-bedroom villas (private homes for sale are in the works) are located on the lagoon with their own plunge pool, living and media room, and outdoor tub and dining pavilion.
“The idea, evident when you visit the atoll, was to increase the view, to be in a nest to see the birds, the sky and the sea … hidden in the trees. The aim was to feel [as if you were in] in a new paradise,” Lebourgne says. “For me, the luxury is the space, and the communication between each room must be obvious and clear, and [must] try to reach a kind of floating space,” as depicted by the various levels of living spaces. Contemporary sensibilities with a nod to Polynesian heritage contribute to the designer’s idea of a “smart hut” that is elegant, classic and devoid of trends.
The selection of materials keeps with the island’s credo and, as Lebourgne explains, “preserves the natural reserves of the earth.” This translates into woven reconstituted oak for the walls, bamboo for the flooring, and pebbles for the bathroom and shower surfaces. For the color palette, Lebourgne kept it as simple as possible: “As Mies van der Rohe says, ‘Less is more,’” he notes. “Colored spaces are too boring for me and fight with the environment.” Blonde, off-white and beige color tones in the furnishings provide a contrast to the custom furniture made of exotic sucupira woods as the indoors seamlessly meet the outdoors.
The Brando’s two restaurants and bars also echo the aesthetic. With its curved ceiling arc that resembles a boat, the fine dining restaurant Les Mutinés gives the sensation of dining on a lagoon while enjoying East/West fusion and French cuisine. The designs of the Varua spa are one with nature as weaves of driftwood make up the individual spa “nests,” perfect for a Tahitian tamanu oil scrub treatment or coconut oil massage.
With an amazingly attentive staff ready to tend to your every need, it’s the perfect spot for a romantic anniversary or honeymoon (Pippa Middleton just spent the first leg of her post-wedding holiday there); to write a book (former president Obama was recently seen working on his memoir); or, if you are a celebrity, to unplug and unwind (a close friend of Brando’s, actor Johnny Depp, was spotted at the resort’s Bob’s Bar this summer).
Activities are as varied as the island’s flora and fauna and range from bike riding (breathe in the scenery and clean air, as only golf carts—no cars— are allowed), paddleboarding, snorkeling and sailing to visiting nearby Bird Island for an up-close and personal look at the lesser birds, the noddies and the majestic frigate birds of paradise. Lucky guests can catch large sea turtles laying their eggs under the palm trees during nesting season. You can also turn your day into a learning experience with Polynesian language lessons or take a class on how to tie and paint your own pareu.
For the ecologically minded, a tour of the island’s facilities offers a fascinating look at the world’s first resort to achieve Net Zero Energy Use—turning renewable resources such as coconut oil, solar and biofuels into energy and piping seawater to land to use for air conditioning, among other sustainable practices.
While experiencing the feeling of being on a desert island after a day spent on “island time,” it’s easy to see the allure that captured the actor’s attention five-plus decades ago. At The Brando, luxury is unplugged,” says Bailey. “It is a place where indulgence lives hand in hand with respect for the environment.”
Ticket to Paradise
How to Get There
Depending on where you live, traveling to The Brando can be a long journey. It’s best to fly to Los Angeles and take the night flight to Papeete, Tahiti, via Air Tahiti Nui airlines. From there, Air Tetiaroa will take you to the island on one of its private, eight-passenger planes. (Be sure to sit on the left side of the plane for panoramic, postcard-worthy sea views.) If time is on your side, spend a day or two taking in the local scenery in the nation’s capital at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa, or take an excursion and stay in an overwater villa at the Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa. In partnership with The Brando, be sure to book the resort’s newly designed Brando villa with unparalleled views of Mount Otemanu.