A hotel in the tropics without a pool is about as much fun as a room service menu without a club sandwich.
But while I love a dreamy, Instagrammable infinity pool or a well-stocked swim-up bar as much as anyone, a recent stay at the Intercontinental Tahiti Resort and Spa in Papeete in French Polynesia has, in my mind, rendered all other purely picturesque pools obsolete.
Because one of the pools here has a genius detail: it’s filled with live corals and thousands of multi-coloured reef fish.
Forget boating out to a distant reef somewhere off the island to see underwater wildlife, here you can roll out of bed, do a few laps with a bunch of triggerfish, bannerfish, tang and rainbow coloured parrot fish, and all before your croissants and coffee.
The Lagoonarium, or Fare l’a Reserve in French, was built in 1992 and contains more than 200 aquatic species.
You’ll see goofy-faced striped Picasso fish cruising around the edges, and pairs of neon-striped angelfish picking their way among the corals.
There are even a few crustaceans busying themselves in the pale jade green waters: pistol shrimps and tiny crabs.
The corals themselves are as pretty as a birthday bouquet: fan-shaped violet and golden Acropora, lettuce-like Povona and smooth, bulbous Porites.
On each morning of my two-day stay I’d grab a candy-striped towel and head down to the Lagoonarium as the peachy sunrise broke over the distant mountains of Moorea and danced off the tops of the surrounding palm trees.
Usually on my own, I’d have my own private swim session with this thriving aquasystem. Like a real ocean, the surface is rocky and sandy and uneven, which added to the sense that I was swimming in the wild.
If I didn’t feel like getting in, I’d just wander the edges watching the endlessly amusing machinations of the fish world: these two swimming around in their funny tag-team formation, this guy having a little snippy snipe at someone bigger who got in his way.
Sometimes I’d see parents with small kids standing at the water’s edge entertaining their little ones with the crystal-clear views of the underwater world.
A much easier and more fuss-free way to let them get a sense of Tahiti than trying to get them out onto the real reef.
The 800sq m Lagoonarium is monitored closely to make sure it stays healthy and that its finned inhabitants are happy.
Fresh seawater passes through it constantly, via its two tiny entrances that lead straight into the ocean surrounding Tahiti.
And every month, Yann Lacube, an aquariology engineer from the CRIOBE research centre in Moorea visits to check that everything’s still in good shape.
He also runs twice-yearly coral grafting workshops in the Lagoonarium to teach staff, guests and local schools about corals and their importance to a healthy ocean.
If you’re not into the idea of hanging out so closely with fishy friends while you work on your backstroke, the hotel also has two more conventional, fish-free pools – the 1200sq m sand-bottomed Tiare pool that has waterfalls and a jacuzzi.
There’s also the Le Lotus pool that has its own swim-up bar. In other words, every pool base is covered – and then some.
Sorry, other hotel pools, you have your work cut out for you to beat this.
This place is a pool paradise.
This article originally appeared on Escape and was reproduced with permission