“Welcome home.” It’s an odd expression to hear at a resort several times over. It’s more unusual when it’s your first time at a resort, too. But at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, an eco-chic Fijian luxury “village” found at the very end of a road marked by rummaging chickens and massive trees dipping in the ocean, it’s absolutely fitting. This is a place where the general manager’s dog roams around, greeting guests with lazy tail wags, where nannies (one per every child under five years of age) bounce infants up and down on walks along the pier, and where the staff hop in the pool to play a very serious version of waterpolo with teenage boys and grandpas, all from the same family on holiday. It’s inviting and casual, just like home. Though unlike any home I know, the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort is an enchanting haunt that offers the essence of Fiji right from its doorstep.
Fiji is known for its leading conservation efforts, and the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort couldn’t be more on brand for the island nation. The 20th-century French explorer, Jacques Cousteau, left a legacy within the global conservation community by protecting oceans from nuclear waste and whaling and pioneering the industry of scuba diving. His son and fellow environmentalist, Jean-Michel Cousteau, opened the resort in 1995 to prove superb hospitality could co-exist with conservation. Nearly 30 years later, the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort remains a front runner in sustainable luxury tourism.
Conservation is such a hallmark of the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort that I took the property tour specifically devoted to the resort’s sustainability efforts. There’s an extensive garden that provides more than 20% of the resort’s food, a gray water pond that recycles water for the landscaping, and a composting site among other standard fare conservation assets that dot the 12 acre property. What’s more compelling is the resort’s efforts beyond its 25 room or Bure (the Fijian term for the traditional wood-and-straw hut) footprint. The Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort employs not one but two marine biologists. Both plant mangrove saplings, restore clam populations, and farm delicate coral year round while giving lectures to guests and developing curriculum for the “school under the sea” program for kids who stay at the resort. Take any one of the property’s daily snorkeling trips and Johnny Singh, the energetic lead marine biologist, will fervently find (and spell out on his underwater erasable whiteboard) species of plump sea cucumbers, shy Nemo-like clown fish, and translucent squid.
Speaking of Nemo, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Pixar staff stayed at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort more than 20 years ago to gain inspiration for its blockbuster feature. It doesn’t take four hours on a speed boat to uncover the splendid coral reefs of more than 1,500 species of fish Fiji is renowned for when staying at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort: the coral reefs fit for Nemo are literally a short swim away, right from
the pier of the property. I am still gobsmacked by this. But then, a stunning waterfall is a five minute walk from the road as well. A mature mangrove forest teeming with hundreds of starfish, including the bright indigo starfish the diameter of a soccer ball, is a two minute boat ride during low tide. These are simply the wonders at the doorstep of the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort once you hop on a seamless and direct Fiji Airways flight from LAX.
Back at home, meaning the property, of course, relaxation is not undersold. Though the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort has just one Bure reserved for spa treatments, the treatment menu is elaborate, on par with what one expects at mega spas like Miraval or Canyon Ranch. The two hour Fufunu scrub, for instance, seems aspirationally transcendent and includes a nut and seed scrub reserved for soon-to-be-brides in traditional villages. Now that I’ve had a massage by Viri, the long standing matriarch of the spa who trains every spa therapist, I am a believer. She gave me a massage I’ll probably be dreaming about for the next 10 years, from the face cradling to the calf punches. Like many of the resort’s staff, Viri has become a fixture of the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, a sought after healer who contributes to the enchantment of the property and Fiji overall.
For any traveler, the adage eventually proves true: there is no place like home. But in Fiji, a great place to call home for a little while, there is no place like the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort.