SAILING WITH FRENCH STYLE
A journey from Venice to Istanbul is given a chic Gallic touch by Ponant.
Iam standing at the ship’s polished wooden rail trying to channel my inner Madame. We’ve just sailed out of Venice with the sun glinting on the dome of St Mark’s and already I am aware that this is no ordinary vessel. This ship has style, this ship has class – this ship is chic. And so, it seems, are all its passengers. Le Soléal sails under a French flag and it shows.
The crew looked impossibly handsome in naval whites or navy jackets so wellfitted they could have been designed by Yves Saint Laurent. My fellow passengers all seem to be adhering to an unwritten dress code that demands fresh cream linen or nautical stripes, with the odd Panama hat. It is all très élégant.
Compagnie du Ponant has recently changed its name to Ponant to give it a more international appeal but that doesn’t mean all the good things about the company’s French connection don’t hold true. The French have a feel for the finer things in life – which is exactly what you want from a luxury cruise operator. French wines and French food are on offer and even the entertainment has some Gallic flair with can-can dancing as part of the repertoire.
Le Soléal (the sun) is Ponant’s newest ship, christened last year. We are on our own personal Voyage to Byzantium sailing from Venice to Istanbul down the Adriatic coast. About 60 per cent of those on board are French; there’s a smattering of couples, as well as some families. Lectures and announcements are in French and English as there are also Australians, Americans, South Africans and other Europeans on board.
Designer delight One of our fellow passengers is the ship’s interior designer Jean-Philippe Nuel (he
also created interiors for Ponant’s other opulent offerings including Le Boréal and
L’Austral). Nuel has an impressive résumé encompassing the new MGallery Hotel Molitor in Paris, and InterContinental’s flagship hotel in Marseille.
The idea behind Nuel’s work for Ponant has been, he says, “to evoke the spirit of a private yacht” and without doubt he’s succeeded. Le Soléal’s slick, sophisticated style, even its dove-grey hull, whisper luxury in the most understated way. Cool cream, beige and white give the interior a light, spacious feel. In our suite the bedhead is hand-stitched white leather and the leather drawer handles remind me of a steamer trunk. Our bathroom has a glass wall so we can see the sea while we shower, or close it off should we choose.
This has to be the perfect voyage to undertake by water because the history of this region is all about the sea. From the Doges of Venice, to the conquering Greeks and the seafaring Turks, naval power and exploration have shaped the destiny of the region. I begin to understand the ebb and flow of history. It helps that we stop at some of ancient world’s most well-known sites: Mycenae, Corinth and the windswept island of Delos with its temple dedicated to Apollo and Terrace of Lions.
It is not all archaeology and amphitheatres. Kayaking beneath Dubrovnik’s medieval walls helps shift a kilo or two gained eating too much French food, a few more disappear cycling past the olive grove and vineyards of the Konavle region.
We also go ashore at Hvar, Croatia’s answer to St Tropez, and the party island of Mykonos. We don’t envy the Euro-cool types staying longer than us because there is something very special
about taking the last tender back to our own personal ‘superyacht’. “This is the life I always thought I should lead,” says my companion as we sip bubbles on the bar deck one evening while the setting sun turns the water the colour of pink champagne.
I swear the crew is mine alone, too (despite the 260 other passengers), or at least that’s how they make me feel. Take breakfast, for example. We start the day with room service and eat our boiled eggs on our own private balcony with the morning light turning the coastline into a shimmering blue ribbon on our port side.
Our butler gets so adept at knowing our breakfast choices that he even notices when I slip up on the order we leave on the door at night. “I don’t think Madame has ordered what she really wants,” he says with a charming smile. And indeed he’s right, I haven’t. In less than a week he now knows me better than I know myself. Quelle surprise.
Our cruise is charmed. We live in a world of blue and white: our sleek white ship, cottonwool clouds and a sapphire sky that melts into the aqua Aegean Sea.
By the end of the voyage I feel I may finally have got in touch with my inner French woman. As we walk down the gangplank in Istanbul I am understated and uncreased. But now we’re in Turkey’s exotic melting pot the people are dressed with more flamboyancy, so it doesn’t matter anyway.
There’s a lesson there somewhere.
Cruise www.ponant.com/en Getting there Emirates flies from Australian capital cities to Venice via Dubai. Turkish Airlines flies directly to Istanbul and Venice from airport hubs in Asia. www.emirates.com | www.turkishairlines.com
01 Le Soléal at sea. Image by Eva Robert 02 Even her passengers are chic 03 Charm of Dubrovnik’s Old Town 04 Exceptional cuisine. Image by Eva Robert 05 Whites of Mykonos. Image by Eva Robert 06 Sculptural style in the restaurant 03