Small ship cruising with Ponant

Ponant’s La Boreal may be a tiddler among ocean liners but attentive service and top-notch gastronomy with a French twist makes cruising on this luxury ship a distinctly intimate affair.

It was the small card on the bar that caught my eye as I ordered my first glass of Champagne. ‘A box of caviar can be consumed as a snack at any time of the day.’ Ooh la, la! How decadent. And with Champagne on tap, my cruise aboard Ponant’s luxurious Le Boreal was shaping up to be very chic indeed.

I’d missed the €30 tagline in the corner – but as I soon discovered, caviar, fine wines and spirits and excursions were the only items that cost extra on this cruise. Everything else was included in the price, from gourmet gala dinners with duck foie gras and the melt-in-the-mouth rack of lamb to French wines with meals, unlimited cocktails and room service.

As one would expect from a French cruise line, gastronomy was delivered with flair and a Gallic twist. Think Breton buckwheat crepes with gooey egg, ham and melting cheese served on deck one sunny lunchtime in Stavanger. Oeuf parfait 65C (perfect egg 65C) came with lemon butter sauce and truffle brisure (fragments) – creamy but delicious. And the 100 per cent cacao desert was pure chocolate heaven.

The cheese table groaned with all manner of cheeses: Comte, Reblechon, brie and more – all French naturellement. As in France, cheese was served before desert with fresh bread, never crackers (zut alors), as our French host frequently reminded us.

Yummy macarons served one afternoon (and placed in my cabin one night) were light, crispy mouthfuls of chocolate, caramel and pistachio gooeyness. They melted in my mouth.

Afternoon tea, however, was a less elaborate affair than on British cruise lines. But many other things were different too. With only 132 cabins (264 passengers), La Boreal is a tiddler among ocean liners which average 3,000-5,500 guests.

More sailing yacht than liner, cruising on La Boreal is a distinctly intimate affair. So, the service is attentive, the lounges and deck areas are uncrowded and disembarkation is swift, with no queuing or hanging around for late comers on excursions. Admittedly, the ship on my cruise from London to Bergen was not full – there was a single-cabin promotion on – but the self-service Grill Restaurant was well laid out so there weren’t the bottlenecks often experienced on larger ships.

La Boreal is quite a looker, too. The elegant exterior is all sleek lines, the nautical-themed interiors contemporary greys and signature reds with gorgeous sand artworks and exotic shells on display. The cabins – all with balcony – are fairly compact but well designed with oceans of storage space, handy shelves and mirrors. Bath robes, delightful Hermes toiletries, Nespresso machine, and unlimited minibar provide a luxurious touch.

Its small size does come at a cost, however, as facilities are few. They focus mainly on a Sothys beauty area with hairdressing salon, hammam and small fitness room with treadmills, cycles and weights machine. My massage with essential oils was sublime, the well-trained therapist providing the perfect blend of pressure and pampering. There’s a theatre and library too.

The crew speak excellent English – and announcements are made in both languages – so you don’t have to brush up on your GCSE French before you set sail. Fellow passengers were largely French and English-speaking – mainly lively Americans and Australians who sprang onto the dance floor as soon as the music started.

English-speaking excursions are available too. Our tour of charming Stavanger, Norway, included a fascinating visit to the Oljemuseum (Petroleum Museum), where interactive exhibits, models of oil rigs and objects such as drill bits (including the world’s largest) brought the industry’s engineering feats and importance to the Norwegian economy alive. Afterwards, we peeled off from the group and strolled through the town’s narrow cobbled streets past pretty white clapboard houses and quirky cafes.

Earlier, we had sat around the fire at the recreated Iron Age farm of Jernaldergarden (AD350-550), where a guide dressed in costume showed us how to produce flame from flint and spin yarn. The farm’s long houses and burial mounds were recreated following excavations conducted by the Museum of Archaeology in the 1960s.

Afterwards, back on board La Boreal, we found ourselves transported firmly back in the 21st century where free WiFi, fancy cocktails and another multi-course gastronomic feast were the order of the day. Bon appetit!

More information

Ponant offers cruises on 11 small ships to destinations worldwide including Africa, Alaska, Antarctica, Australia, South Pacific, Indian Ocean, Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Prices start from £2,947pp for a seven-night Treasures of the North Sea cruise and include accommodation, meals, open bar, mini-bar and 24-hour room service.

Visit Ponant or call our Silver Travel Advisors to book your holiday: 0800 412 5678

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Kathryn Liston

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