Ponant is a French cruise line, founded in 1988 and operating out of Marseille. It has a five ship fleet: a small sailing yacht Le Ponant, and four near-identical sister ships, L'Austral, Le Boreal, Le Lyrial and Le Soleal, each of around 10,000 tons and 240 guests capacity. This is certainly a "boutique" fleet, but with major plans for continued expansion (4 new ships will be added to the fleet by the end of 2019), Ponant is a cruise line to watch.
In a word, Le Lyrial is stunning. She boasts a sleek, super-modern, almost "edgy" design both externally and inside. The super-cool ambiance of blues, greys and cream, alongside the extensive use of chrome, leather, glass and wood, creates the atmosphere of an exclusive private yacht. The public areas and the suites are filled with light and one is always conscious of being surrounded by the sea.
My regular guest suite was a generous 226 square feet, without balcony but with a large picture window. All but eight of the 122 suites have balconies. Unsurprisingly, the ambiance is overwhelmingly French, and this proves to be one of the great charms of sailing on Ponant: the word "chic" describes so much about Le Lyrial. This five-star ship is a tasteful melange of intimate Parisian restaurant, elegant soirée, and culture hub of the high seas.
All announcements are in both French and English, and all printed materials are made available to Anglophone guests in English; all the staff are bilingual, and the service they offer is gracious, impeccable in fact. In addition, for this music festival cruise, Ponant had engaged a native English-speaker especially to lecture to the non-French guests on board.
As you might expect, the food on Le Lyrial is very good, and always well presented, but not fussy haute cuisine. The main "gastronomique" restaurant operates a mix of à la carte and buffet at lunch, and at dinner is à la carte. The informal "Grill" restaurant on the pool deck is buffet-style for every meal, with by far the best breakfast offering I've had at sea. In both restaurants the selection and quality of bread - all baked daily on board - is outstanding, and the range of desserts and cheeses on offer is overwhelming. The style of cuisine is generally French, but there is always something from the region the ship is visiting: for example, at lunch one day there was Greek spanakopita that was so good that guests were lining up for it, waiting for a fresh one to appear from the oven.
On this cruise, the music was the centrepiece, with six concerts given over seven days, featuring a wide repertoire from Bach to boogie-woogie from French, Georgian and Russian pianists. These included renowned interpreters such as Anne Queffélec, Khatia Bhuniakashvili and Yves Henry, and for every performance the theatre was packed. A commentary was provided by distinguished French music critic and litterateur Alain Duault, his remarks being translated into English and relayed to Anglophone guests by personal audio.
For a civilised and stylish experience, I thoroughly recommend the ships of Ponant as an attractive alternative within the ultra luxury category I am accustomed to enjoying.
Find out more: Request a Ponant brochure