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Why We Should All Be More French About Cruising

News Jun 17, 2024

The century-old plane trees scattered across St Tropez’s renowned Place des Lices added a charming splash of green to the square, their dappled shade creating an intricate patchwork of shadows on the ground.

The focus, however, was firmly on another activity. The task at hand involved curling fingers around a plum-sized metal ball and sending it soaring into the air with a flick of the wrist. Surrounding participants, mostly locals, engaged in the same activity with much more flair.

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In this region of France, the game of pétanque is not merely a pastime but a cherished tradition.

Experiencing such a Provençal custom was a fitting activity during a voyage along the Côte d’Azur with a premium French cruise line. The journey commenced aboard a three-masted schooner, a standout among the more ostentatious mega-yachts in Nice’s harbor.

As the journey began, the captain ordered the engines to be cut and the sails to be unfurled, catching the strong sea breeze.

This was sailing in its most authentic form, yet life on board came with a distinctive French flair.

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French cruise lines, and their passengers, have perfected the art of holidaying at sea, making it a refined experience filled with sophisticated service, chic fashion, and varied intellectual pursuits.

Though the cruise line's fleet attracts an increasingly international crowd, it remains an excellent example of this elegant seafaring tradition.

Built in 1991, the schooner is the oldest vessel in the company's lineup, yet its pristine condition is a testament to meticulous maintenance and a comprehensive refurbishment completed in 2022.

Onboard, passengers find immaculate teak decking and elegant interiors in muted shades, with bleached woods, leather, and sophisticated artworks carefully placed throughout. The majority of the crew is French, and sailings are completely bilingual. In 2023, it became the first sailing yacht to join an esteemed network of luxury properties.

The revamp reduced the number of staterooms to 16, limiting guests to just 32, creating an exclusive atmosphere more akin to a floating house party than a commercial cruise. It’s no surprise that the yacht is often privately chartered by wealthier guests seeking a luxurious family holiday base.

This sense of camaraderie was evident during the recent sailing, especially as guests cheered on those who opted to plunge off the yacht’s marina deck into the early-summer Mediterranean waters. Others enjoyed kayaking, paddleboarding, or using the yacht’s snorkeling and scuba-diving equipment.

Gastronomy is a highlight, with fine wines largely included in the price. For a more exclusive experience, guests can choose from a wine list dominated by French varieties, led by five types of champagne. The most expensive option was a floral Bordeaux, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, priced at €835 a bottle.

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The food onboard was exquisite, with chefs trained at a renowned culinary school. While some might shy away from experimental French cuisine, the comforts of afternoon crêpes suzette and a variety of macarons provided delightful alternatives.

Evenings on the sun deck were a time for pre-dinner drinks, with guests enjoying cocktails, champagne, and delicacies like freshly carved Iberian ham.

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In St Tropez, the walking tour concluded with chilled glasses of French rosé and a plate of cheese, served amid the town’s flower market. Earlier, a visit to the fish market offered a glimpse into the town's rustic origins, where fishermen still sell their catch each morning.

As the journey drew to a close, a visit to the yacht’s spa offered a relaxing massage without the usual pressures of tipping or product sales. This unexpected and welcome experience highlighted the many advantages of cruising with a French touch.

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Oliver Hughes

Oliver has over 15 years of experience in travel journalism. He focuses on European travel, providing expert reviews of vacation rentals and cultural experiences across Europe.