Comfort and charm


Compagnie Du Ponant’s latest luxury cruise ship L’Austral blends elegance, intimacy and well-being harmoniously together

AFTER 20 years of creating yacht cruises, French company Compagnie du Ponant recently launched its fifth vessel which is described as ‘a ship like no other’.

With 132 opulent staterooms and suites, two restaurants, lounges, a library, a theatre and a myriad of intimate nooks and alcoves, L’Austral is designed for sailing to extreme destinations and has been awarded the Comfort Class 1 ranking by Veritas as well as being officially designated a ‘green ship’.

With its pure silhouette and the discreet elegance of its design, the ship is fully equipped with cutting-edge technology, fruit of the most far reaching research.

L’Austral pictured by Philip Plisson (above) and one of the staterooms by François Lefebvre

Veronique Saade, deputy managing director of Compagnie du Ponant, explains: “It all began in 2007. We were in the office of Jacques Saade, the chairman of our parent company, when he asked us to imagine the ideal cruise ship and the challenge was set in motion. A few days later we presented him with a three-year business plan to design and build two atypical state-of-the-art ships.”

Compagnie du Ponant managing director Jean-Emmanuel Sauvee says: “The project and a new innovational strategy were created. We analysed and appraised only the best.”

Saade says that L’Austral embodies the yachting spirit by ‘blending elegance, intimacy and well-being harmoniously together, creating a perfect non-excessive elegant atmosphere in the style of a boutique hotel’.

Jean Philippe Nuel designed the yacht’s interiors in collaboration with Saade.

“My initial task was easy, add a modern touch while perpetuating the nautical mood, working with the creativity and refined luxury of those transatlantic cruises of the beginning of the 20th century yet without ever reproducing or forging the designs of the period. Each of the ships has its own personality, a personality that, first and foremost, is based on the harmonies of the colours we have chosen,” explains Nuel.

L’Austral Restaurant Gastronomique showcases the ship’s French heritage

The first of the two luxury mega-yachts, Le Boréal, was launched last year, while L’Austral made its maiden voyage in April this year.

L’Austral’s grey-tinted interior mirrors the elegant grey hull, leather-padded dressers and wardrobes display an array of elegant topstitching and framed photographs dot the corridors portraying a polar theme in keeping with the ship’s planned itinerary.

The paintings in the staterooms and suites are all original masterpieces and there are personal touches with vases, shells and objets d’art by leading designers.

Dining on board invites passengers to savour another journey, into epicureanism and haute cuisine created under the watchful eye of head chef Philippe Tremel who is proud of the ship’s very French heritage and cites the foie gras, duck fillets and truffles as examples.

“Even if our lunch menus pay tribute to other countries such as Italy, Greece and the Nordic countries, French gastronomy is our reference, our underlying theme,” he adds.

But since these ingredients are specialised, the preparation of the menus requires a great deal of forward planning to ensure they are available.

Tremel explains: “We have to plan beforehand the quantities we are going to need, we have to charter planes to make sure that we can be supplied during the cruise if necessary.”

And for the ultimate in relaxation, L’Austral even offers a spa at sea with soft lighting, sweet music, subtle perfumes and the exclusive Sothys professional skincare range.

Renowned for the quality of its cruises, Compagnie du Ponant has dreamed up a programme for L’Austral which it describes as a ‘harmony of exceptional and extraordinary’.

Weaving its way from continent to continent, the ship will sail across all the seas of the globe, offering its passengers the privilege to make their dreams reality, the company says.

The first port of call through the summer months is the Mediterranean followed by the Antarctic this winter with polar expert Nicolas Dubreuil on board as expedition leader.

“These ships are so comfortable that cruises, even when they include cold and severe countries, lose nothing whatsoever of their elegance and charm,” says Dubreuil. “These are a very far cry from sports expeditions, why? Because the ship is flexible, stable, doesn’t vibrate, doesn’t make any noise, is designed in a warm, convivial style that is in total contrast with the severity of the extreme seas.”

Later L’Austral will sail on to the Pacific journeying to Easter Island, Moorea and Bora Bora.

And though L’Austral can accommodate up to 246 passengers the emphasis is very much on personal experience.  “Yacht cruises mean making our guests feel that they are sailing their own private yacht where they can drift from cove to cove and moor in the immediate vicinity of sites to be discovered,” Saade concludes.