Edwina reviews Ponant's Le Boréal

Trip Reports

The only French cruise line, Ponant is an integral part of France's great shipping tradition. Established in 1988, Ponant is now owned by the CMA CGM Group, the world's third largest container shipping group and heir to the renowned Compagnie Générale Transatlantique French Line.

The line started off with a single vessel, the original Le Ponant of the company name (the French word Ponant means the setting sun), a 64 passenger sailing yacht which still commands a very loyal following. In the late '90s Le Levant (the rising sun) was built in St Malo - a 100 passenger yacht which more than doubled the capacity of the fleet. Following the purchase of the company by the CMA CGM group, a third ship joined the line - the much-loved Song of Flower, formerly the flagship of Seven Seas Cruises. She was renamed Le Diamant.

The company enters a new period in its development with Le Boréal (the North Wind) and L'Austral (the South Wind). The launch of these two identical 260 passenger yachts, built in Italy, has marked the start of the development of Ponant from a French line to an international one. I joined Le Boréal in Hamburg for a three day journey to Copenhagen, which gave ample time to get a feel for how she operates.

The ship itself is very beautiful - I liked the understated grey themes with scarlet accents throughout, and there was a good use of a variety of high quality fabrics and leather. Very sophisticated - and I wish them luck with the task of keeping it clean! It was refreshing and a complete delight to see something so different. The accommodation is comfortable and spacious, and ranges from sea view cabins with portholes to a selection of suite accommodation. A whole set of cabins on Normandie Deck can convert to suites, and the capacity of the ship changes depending on how many of these are taken. The bathrooms have a rather extraordinary design with a separate toilet. The beds are comfortable, linen good and the cabin service excellent.

The food was of good quality and beautifully presented, and the menus were well-planned - but they were rather limited, when compared to the full menus of other luxury vessels. The choice was limited to a fish or meat dish for the main course, with some basic staples on offer every night (steak, chicken breast and so forth). Casual dining at lunchtime was superb - in particular a good barbecue selection and a mouthwatering dessert buffet. The evening al fresco option worked less well, but it is early days… Pouring wine is included with lunch and dinner. The included wines were of good quality, and the paid for wine list very good value also.

She is a dual language ship, so you do need to consider whether you would actually be as happy in this environment as in an equivalent ship with English as its prime language. They do offer some incredible itineraries for which it is definitely worth compromising, especially since so few operate voyages in these regions in such a luxurious manner.

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Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina

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