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  • A guide to Overseas France: Tahiti

    Middle school geography textbooks taught us that there is more the French République than the hexagon in Western Europe, because France also have overseas collectivity in place far removed from the Parisian chic. French Polynesia, for example, started out as a protectorate and then as a colony, and now it has more or less been smoothly integrated into France’s list of territories, albeit its relative autonomy.

    The best known island of French Polynesia is Tahiti, a strange combination of French and indigenous culture, language and lifestyle, spiced up with some Chinese influences as well.

    tahiti beachTahiti is truly an island paradise, and it is easy to see why Gauguin and many other French from the mainland choose to abandon metropolitan France in favour of this little corner of heaven. Visiting Tahiti can sometimes seem like visiting a gritty version of the French Riviera. In most places, the architecture and the general ambiance is so similar that it feels like you’re on the Cote d’Azur.

    The official language is French, but a large portion of the population speaks Tahitian, and many people will speak English as well. With the native Tahitians, the descendants of the French colonists, emigrated French and East Asians (especially Chinese), Tahiti is a really interesting mix. You can enter a bakery in Papeete and see a woman in traditional garb serving French baguettes and croissants, or you can enter a restaurant owned by a typical French monsieur who will serve you up delicious Tahitian dishes.

    roulette in tahitiTahitian cuisine plays a big part in the culture of the island. Tahitian dishes tend to be sweet, and local fruits are used generously in almost every dish. Fusion cuisine is at its best in Tahiti: you can eat traditional Chinese foods with a Tahitian twist, dainty French dishes spiced up with some tropical produce, or foods which naturally evolved from the cultural mix on the islands. Buy a serving of poisson-cru (raw fish marinated in lime and coconut milk) from a roulette, Tahitian restaurants housed in vans.

    There isn’t much n the way of busting urban areas in Tahiti, with the exception of Papeete and Faa’a, but then again, Tahiti is a tropical paradise, not an urban paradise.

    The capital of Papeete will be a bit disappointing if you are come bearing in mind the image of French cities. It is not large and not glamorous, but the locals will have their tree-lined boulevards and street-side cafes – and the effect is altogether charming.

    There are plenty of things to do in Tahiti, in addition to lounging on the beach with a Pina Colada in your hand. The Papeete market, Le Marché, is a two story affair where you can find anything from enticing fruit to handcrafted jewelry, straw hats, pareu (traditional shawl which can be used as a cover-up, a dress or shorts) and tons of other things. The Botanical Garden and the Gauguin Museum are a must-see, and so is the Pointe Venus Lighthouse, or the amazing Arahuahu Marae, a restored religious site.

    Arahuahu MaraeIf you want a typical island paradise with beaches, resorts and palm trees, Tahiti will be a dream come true. And if you want an exciting place to explore, and natural wonders to see, again, Tahiti will leave you fully satisfied.

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