SAIL­ING WITH FRENCH STYLE

A jour­ney from Venice to Is­tan­bul is given a chic Gal­lic touch by Po­nant.

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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.

His­tory afloat

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.

Travel file

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

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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

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