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World's most incredible overwater bungalows

The Property Addict / Travel

Nov 01 2017

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From private islands in Cambodia and Belize to luxury properties in the Maldives, these chic retreats offer gorgeous accommodations right on the sea. There was a time when travelers seeking the ultimate island paradise in places like Fiji, the Maldives, and Tahiti had only one option: a hotel room or avilla on the beach. It's almost hard to imagine now, when the plane descent into one of these destinations betrays a full spectrum of bungalows lined up along long pontoons, jutting out over the unreal crystalline cerulean waters that made these places famous. In 1967 on the island of Raiatea"�which, without a sandy beach, was proving a challenging sell for tourists"�a trio of Californians known as the Bali Hai Boys conceived the game-changer of a dream accommodation: the overwater bungalow. At the time they assured the government that, like traditional Tahitians' fishing huts, they would not harm the coral with their pandanus leaf"thatched roof structures, and that edict still holds true. Their trio of bungalows at Bali Hai Hotel became a craze that spread to Bora Bora and beyond; after all, the charming stilted cottages offered immersion into the magic of the sea, sans snorkel mask or air tank. Now 50 years old, the iconic honeymoon hideaways, sought-after spots for not just romance but easy access to throngs of Technicolor sea creatures below, are looking better than ever. In the last half-century the overwater bungalow has gone from simple to over-the-top opulent in some cases, although there are also plenty of very affordable, basic versions around the world. Its homeland, the Islands of Tahiti, lays claim to nearly 900 of them, from Moorea (where the Sofitel forbids motorized activities to protect its pristine lagoon) and Tikehau (by night, sharks swim beneath Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort's charming perches) to Rangiroa (Hotel Kia Ora's ten bungalows boast some of the best views of all the islands) and Bora Bora, where Le Meridien's Mount Otemanu"facing bungalows have the largest glass floors of all. Of course, other destinations have done their best to catch up, and now there are whopping numbers of thatched-roof villas standing over not just the Caribbean Sea, the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean, but lakes, too. Wherever it stands, the quintessential overwater bungalow tends to comprise similar elements, with design hallmarks tending to stay consistent. Thatched-roof systems made of natural, indigenous materials (which must be replaced every couple years) are standard, as is the layout of bungalows attached to a wooden pontoon walkway. Of course, it's hardly worth sleeping over the water if there's no peekaboo window set in the floor. Panoramic views of the countless shades of blue outside are another requisite element. More recently, what's really stepped up the game are private overwater pools, jacuzzis, and suspended hammocks, along with two-story versions that dwarf not just a Manhattan studio apartment but a typical American single-family home. In celebration of the revolutionary structure's major birthday milestone, we look at some of the most spectacular modern incarnations.

the110Photo: Moeava de Rosemont

Four Seasons Bora Bora, French Polynesia While all the overwater bungalows at this impeccable property epitomize the genius of the genre with their celebration of the gorgeous environs, the four Otemanu Overwater Bungalow Suites are truly awe-inspiring. Whether you're in the airy living room, noshing at the dining table, bathing in the sculptural tub, lounging in the palapa, or swimming at the edge of the infinity pool, the lagoon's beautiful blues are staring back, truly the star of the scene.

the111Photo: Courtesy of Song Saa Private Island

Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia Cambodia might not be the last place you'd expect a breathtaking resort of overwater bungalows, but it's probably surprising. In 2012, the Koh Rong Archipelago became home to this sustainable Robinson Crusoe"chic property with, among other layouts, a two-bedroom overwater Royal Villa of rough-hewn timber, with a vast glass floor in the living room (alongside driftwood furnishings), a half-moon infinity pool with an expansive terrace, dual oversize sunken bathtubs, a personal chef, and a private jetty complete with a boat for the guests' exclusive use.

the112Photo: Laucala Island Photographer

Laucala, Fiji The Overwater Villa on this private island property is more like an overwater estate. It's distinctive not just for its split-level design, but its dramatic outdoor spaces"�massive terraces and a large pool carved directly into the rocks on the shore. Guests of the $8,800-per-night two-bedroom stunner are transported to and from the main resort facilities by private yacht (or they can walk on a wooden pathway), but with 3,000 square feet of flawlessly curated luxury and the emerald lagoon at their feet, there's not much reason to go anywhere at all.

the113Photo: Mel Yates

One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives There are hundreds of overwater bungalows in the Maldives, but these have the distinction of being some of the most private, since only a couple connect to each pontoon, each facing a different direction in the unbelievably turquoise Indian Ocean for an edge-of-the-earth feel. Lofty wood-beam ceilings keep things light and airy in the Grand Water Villa, but understandably extras like the long infinity pool (complete with built-in submerged chaise), separate jacuzzi, draped outdoor daybed and lounge areas minimize time spent inside. (It's also worth booking a visit to one of the spa's overwater couples'-treatment suites.)

the114Photo: Courtesy of Cayo Espanto

Cayo Espanto, Belize As island paradises go, this one"�featuring the first overwater bungalows in Belize"�is up there. While all the villas are luxe, Casa Ventanas, at 1,100 square feet and more than 150 feet of privacy, goes above and beyond with custom-crafted furnishings and a new glass floor featuring a light that can be switched to different colors to filter the sea-creature-filled waters below.

the115Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Palafitte

Hotel Palafitte, Switzerland The overwater craze is not confined to tropical climes. This Swiss bolthole became the first and only hotel in Europe built on stilts when it was constructed as part of the National Expo 2002 as a "Å?surprising work" by architect Kurt Hoffmann with a group of students. Actually, the stilts reference ancient Swiss construction techniques, but also give guests of the 26 overlake bungalows (each with a private terrace) the sense of being on a remote island, complete with access to stand-up paddling, boating, and waterskiing to make up for the lack of tropical fish.

the11Photo: Courtesy of St. Regis Hotels & Resorts

The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, French Polynesia At a low-season rate of more than $5,000 per night, the Overwater Royal Otemanu Villa with Pool"�it's worth noting the 20-by-16-foot infinity edge pond is the largest suspended pool in the South Pacific"�is one of the more extravagant ways to vacation. Crafted of exotic noble woods with vibrant accents, the nearly 3,000-square-foot bungalow is a prime place to watch neon lagoon fish either behind glass portholes or in the flesh via private ladder access.

the117Photo: Courtesy of Six Senses

Six Senses, Ninh Van Bay, Vietnam

One of the beautiful things about overwater bungalows is that, to a large degree, they allow nature meld with the indoors, and tend to act as frames for their postcard-perfect surrounds. An ideal example is this destination on the bucolic coast of Vietnam, where excessively private 1,600-square-foot Water Pool Villas overlook the bay's coral formations and give way to flawless sunset vistas, not to mention boasting plunge pools, outdoor showers, handcrafted wooden bathtubs, and steps into the water for snorkeling.

the118Photo: Courtesy of Conrad Hotels

Conrad Bora Bora Nui, French Polynesia

The just-opened resort (formerly the Hilton Bora Bora Nui) is set on arguably the most spectacular part of Bora Bora, and is home to the only two-story overwater bungalow in French Polynesia. With a palette that reflects their azure surroundings, the Presidential Villas (there are two)"�outfitted with a well-being room with sauna, three bedrooms, a private sundeck, a pool, and a bar"�are like the ultimate playgrounds in one of the planet's prettiest neighborhoods.

the119Photo: Courtesy of Rosewood Hotels

Rosewood Mayakoba, Mexico

There's something special about a water arrival, and the boat trip through verdant mangroves to the private dock of a Deluxe Overwater Lagoon Suite at this ultraluxe Riviera Maya paradise sets the right tone. The peaceful over-lagoon villa is a couple minutes from the crashing waves of the Caribbean, but presents several opportunities to cool off, with attractive amenities including a plunge pool and shower in a lush garden.

the1191Photo: Victor Romero / Courtesy of Jumeirah

Jumeirah Vittaveli, Maldives

This Maldivean bastion of luxury's Ocean Villas are the definition of opulent, giving a pair of guests their own 2,000 square feet in which to enjoy the gentle aquamarine lagoon below. Two stories with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, large glass floors, and split-level verandas mean every single angle of the show-stopping sea is visible. Despite the high-tech amenities (mood lighting, interactive LCD TV, sunken bath and rain shower with infinity pool off the bathroom) it's all about what's outside, like the unbeatable sunset view from inside the infinity pool.

by Kathryn Romeyn. Originally published in Architectural Digest. Save



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