I was fortunate to have an opportunity to experience Hélène Spa in Mo’orea on a recent press trip, the very same one that is home to the first spa in French Polynesia.
Truth be told, we love spa experiences with a deeply rooted cultural or ancient wisdom connection….where the heritage of the land is connected to each healing session, whether that be at a spa, during a ritual or another environment. Tahiti and Mo’orea both have a strong connection to the Earth and it doesn’t just come out in conversations about wellness and spirituality.
Mo’orea’s Hélène Spa
Nestled in the tropical gardens of the InterContinental in Mo’orea, Hélène Spa has been around since 1999. It is recognized by international press for more than ten years as the quintessential authentic Tahitian Spa. That quintessential and authentic part is exactly what I wanted to explore I thought soon after I heard about some of their massage and body treatments. What exactly does having a Tahitian Spa experience feel like? Look like?
Hélène Spa offers nine private rooms across 1,500 square metres with treatments for individuals as well as couples. The spa features a traditional river bath, ideally situated facing the sunset. My treatment was in the morning, so I missed the sunset, but the lighting was amazing nevertheless.
Below is the seating area towards the entrance, which is where you check in.
They have rain showers for one or two people, and a floral bath filled with fragrant petals that offers a lovely view of Mo’orea’s mountains. For a truly natural experience, they also have four outdoor private tropical showers.
Hélène Spa Treatments
Spa founder Hélène Sillinger has created a range of Tahitian therapies using authentic local healing ingredients.
Respecting time-honoured holistic secrets passed on to her by tahuas – Polynesian healers – Hélène uses natural ingredients from the local gardens: virgin oils, plants, fresh flowers and fruits such as wild miri, noni rea, sacred tamanu, pure ancestral monoï, Tahitian vanilla, coconut and fresh banana tree leaves, as well as pineapple, red papaya, tropical grapefruit and lemon.
Their virtues, understood by Polynesians and applied in tandem with traditional massage – Tahitian taurumi – are all designed to help heal the body and enhance the spirit‘s vitality.
Hélène Spa’s traditional ritual treatments are made up of 100% natural and local products: all come from plants picked right at maturity and soaked slowly under the Pacific Sun. Nuts, flowers, and fresh plants are tailor-made at the last minute in order to preserve at best their medicinal virtues.
I had been on the French Polynesian islands for no more than 24 hours when I first heard the word Mana. Our driver used it and as a man with many symbolic tattooes on his body, all with a unique and personal story, he explained that Mana is probably as important as their tattoo culture, because it is so deeply rooted in their culture.
The mana energy of Mo’orea and the surrounding islands is a physical, sensory and auditory journey back in time. Polynesia and its mythical islands symbolize inner peace and intact nature; one of the last heavens on Earth that wowed artists like as Paul Gauguin and Marlon Brando.
Remoteness has helped preserving treasures like the Polynesian traditional knowledge and the virtues of a generous nature, the best part of human wealth.
Positive attitudes and energy contribute to a sense of balance, serenity and well-being. Hélène Sillinger believes in a philosophy of harmony with nature and with oneself, where thought and lifestyle play a crucial role. Hear hear — this is very instrumental to our beliefs around the true meaning of wellness as well.
Drawing their inspiration from ancestral recipes, the Polynesian treatments take place in one of the 11 locations, mostly outdoors. You can choose “A la carte” or a combination of treatments called “Polynesian Rituals.” The latter come in four packages and four themes, which differ by their length and their virtues.
They offer something called the « Taurumi Ma’ohi », which traditionally is a holistic massage that is both soft and deep, adjusted to your needs. The movements used help to boost the circulation of vital energies, and restore the fundamental balance between the body and mind.
You can also sign up for body treatments, including traditional scrubs to rejuvenate your skin, natural wraps to nourish your skin and facials to replenish your skin.
They offer a four different authentic holistic rituals.
- Herenui: Tenderness of the Fresh coconut
- Maeva: Purity of the Tiare flower
- Moe Moea: Peacefulness of the soft Tahitian vanilla
- Mahana: Fountain of youthfulness from the sacred Tamanu
- HERENUI is known as an eternal love ritual. This ancestral ritual is dedicated to unconditional love. After a purifying “river bath”, a soft scrub with fresh coconut pulp prepares you for a fresh coconut milk wrap. After a rain shower, your Polynesian massage is done with virgin coconut oil.
- MAEVA is a purity ritual. Symbolized by the TiareTahiti flower and its softening virtues, you start off in their river bath. They then apply a body scrub with fine lagoon followed by a body wrap with Tiare monoï balm. After a rain shower, your Polynesian massage begins using their sweet smelling monoï, which is made from fresh Tiare Tahiti flowers.
- MOE MOEA is a peace ritual. As the others, you start with a river bath and a scrub, in this case with vanilla powder. Remember that vanilla beans are found throughout the islands. They then apply a vanilla balm body wrap, followed by a rain shower and a massage using fresh vanilla oil.
- MAHANA is a fun youthfulness ritual. This ritual of harmony and healing uses the protective, regenerating and anti-aging virtues of the sacred tamanu nut. Known by all the Polynesians for its balancing powers on the skin, you receive a scrub after the rain bath dip, to remove all impurities. Thereafter, your body is wrapped in a sacred tamanu balm with authentic fragrances. Then, you dive into a rain shower followed by your massage using sacred tamanu oil. This is also useful for those who have damaged skin from the sun over the years.
The Helene Spa was renovated in 2016, so there’s more fine touches in outdoor spaces and they have incorporated cultural artwork into the decor as well as shown below.
Hélène Sillinger also founded the School of Polynesia Wellness Arts in order to transmit the precious know-how of Polynesian wellness masters to others. I love the constant weaving of authentic French Polynesia culture into everything they do, including their wellness and spa rituals.
What I loved about their treatments and approach is the seamless nature of it. You didn’t feel as if there was a clock ticking for your treatment and the pressure was perfect: a combination of firm for releasing muscle tension and relaxing at the same time. I often find that I’m not relaxed when I have a massage, especially in larger properties — the structure of it all gets in the way.
Like so many of the South Pacific massage therapists do, she always had a hand or two on me, looping each movement to the next, so there was always body contact. I found this style to be used in some other parts of the world too, like the Caribbean, but rarely do you find that connection during a traditional American spa treatment. Human touch is so important for our well-being.
Did I mention the sunsets in Mo’orea? While the sunsets may not be “part” of the massage experience per se, they can be. Book a treatment right before the sunset so images like this is what you face as you’re walking back to your bungalow. Time with the sky, trees and sand can be so healing — be sure to incorporate nature into all of your well-being rituals.
See our Spas & Retreats section for more spa reviews around the world.