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The Overwater Bungalow Was Invented 50 Years Ago

By Ann Abel

Jan 20, 2017

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The overwater bungalows at Four Seasons Bora Bora
Courtesy of Four Seasons Bora Bora

The overwater bungalows at Four Seasons Bora Bora

The icon of a dream vacation turns 50 this year—here are some of our favorites.

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It’s been 50 years since the “Bali Hai Boys” built the first overwater bungalow at a resort in French Polynesia. In their honor, here are five resorts where you can feed the fish through your floor, hear the waves as you sleep, and plunge into the water straight from your terrace—from the atolls of the South Pacific to the foothills of Switzerland. 

Four Seasons Bora Bora

A full 100 of this resort’s villas are built on stilts above the turquoise lagoon and have prime views of the majestic Mount Otemanu and shimmering sea. Measuring up at more than 1,000 square feet (some a lot more), each has a separate bedroom and living room that opens onto a terrace. Their bathrooms have giant soaking tubs. Decorated with Polynesian artwork, teakwood furnishings, and thatched pandanus roofs, they exude gentle island style.

Soneva Jani, Maldives

The world’s most fun overwater villas are probably the ones at this new eco-minded luxury playground. All 24 of them have private pools and retractable roofs for stargazing in their master bedrooms, and some have adult-size slides that curve down from the upper deck into the lagoon beneath.

Pangkor Laut Resort, Malaysia

The Sea Villas at this tranquil private-island resort off the west coast of mainland Malaysia sit on stilts above the poetically named Emerald Bay in the Straits of Malacca. They have wide decks with sun chairs and bathrooms with oversize tubs and showers with views of the sea. Inside, they’re rich in Southeast Asian touches, such as triangular silk pillows and intricately carved, geometric woodwork. 

Hotel Palafitte, Switzerland

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Who says overwater accommodations have to be in the tropics? The owners of the Palafitte didn’t let being near temperate freshwater in Switzerland stop them from building their hotel on stilts, making it the only one in Europe. With movable partitions and large windows, the architecture of the 24 freestanding Lake Pavilions is aimed at giving guests a view of Lake Neuchâtel and the Alps from every part of the room and a sense of being on a remote island. While it was intended as a pop-up for the Swiss National Expo in 2002, it was so successful that it has remained open ever since.

Laucala Island, Fiji

It doesn’t get much more lavish than this resort. There’s no villa that’s not impossibly luxurious, but it’s the Overwater Residence that is the stuff of South Seas dreams. Its two bedrooms and expansive living area are built on stilt-raised platforms at land’s edge so that the view from inside is nothing but emerald-green lagoon. Its indoor and outdoor spaces are spread over multiple levels, and a large private pool has been carved directly into the rocks of the shore. Guests arrive at the villa via a private yacht.

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