Let’s face it, a fair number of us are sniffy about cruises. Unless we’re doing it in the misguided hope of keeping over-energetic kids occupied during school holidays or can blame someone else, we would think twice about admitting planning a cruise in sophisticated company. Chartering a private yacht on the Adriatic is one thing, but declaring a penchant for cruising is entirely another. We know why: the tacky décor and even tackier entertainment; bored retirees adhering like glue or brash passengers braying about something that only confirms that you’re trapped with a shipload of tourists, not travellers…
But maybe it’s time for a rethink. Precisely because cruising is the fastest growing sector of the travel industry, cruise lines have upped their game. Or vice versa. Today’s cruising offer includes far more options, more destinations and, indeed, vessels to suit picky tastes.
Le Ponant are a boutique French cruise line that, in their own words, are committed to “the spirit of yacht cruising.” Nothing could be more in keeping with this spirit than the flagship that shares her name with the line (perhaps that’s a little confusing given that “her” linguistic gender in French is masculin). In fact, you could even say that the line shares its name with the vessel: she was the first ship with which the company set sail in 1991.
Le Ponant is a stunning 88m, three-mast vessel; a true sailing ship. Limited to only 64 passengers, there is one crew member for every two passengers – though you yachties know a fair few of those will be kept busy with that impressive rigging.
In keeping with her French character, there are no less than three restaurants and two lounges on board, despite her relatively small size. And evening dining in the Karukéra Restaurant is an elegant affair with the best French cuisine served with Gallic flair in its wood-panelled salon. In true gastronomique tradition, the chefs often change the menu at short notice after chancing upon the freshest local ingredients in the vibrant markets of ports of call. Le Ponant doesn’t do catering by numbers.
Staterooms are decorated in a palette of deep blues and dark wood veneer with a maritime version of contemporary comfort. On-board activities also reflect the style and tastes of the well-heeled, urbane clientele attracted to this kind of boutique cruise; hedonistic massages and spa treatments, cleansing on-deck yoga classes, or relaxed cocktails in an intimate lounge bar. There’s no pool. But with its substantial ‘marina’ wet deck, who needs one? Just go straight over the side to enjoy a swim or a spot of snorkelling in the crystal waters of the Med or Caribbean.
Le Ponant sails on various routes: four-day Med breaks to recharge or a more leisurely circuit of Corsica, stopping at secluded ports you’d miss travelling by land. It even offers specialist golf cruises of the Mediterranean offering a new course each day. Who could complain about being a golf widow/er if they get to explore the sights and shopping in Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Malta while you work on your handicap on the most memorable courses in the world?
Above all else, Le Ponant is the option for lovers of sailing and the sea. For example, one run is from Martinique across the Atlantic without stop until making land in Malaga. The line proudly informs potential passengers on this voyage that no special entertainment will be laid on, and that there are no planned ports of call. Unlike some other lines, they actively encourage you to explore the vessel “behind the scenes” and learn about the skills of those who live by the sea, much as you would on a private yacht. It’s a fitting philosophy for a labour of love set up by three former merchant seamen. And probably the best trip choice for anyone who has ever dreamed of running away to sea.