Voyage Of Discovery

Le Commandant Charcot delivers fantastical experiences in remote realms for travellers wanting unique itineraries and splendour.

By Natasha Dragun, Photography: Olivier Blaud, Nath Michel 10/03/2022

At a time when space amid nature is the world’s greatest travel luxury, expedition sailing may well be the most exclusive way to see the planet.

This is the ultimate means to enjoy adventures in far-flung frontiers, places that most ships can’t reach—like the literal ends of the Earth.

Where once sailing to Antarctica or traversing the Northern Hemisphere’s polar regions meant jumping aboard an icebreaker with few comforts, PONANT is flying the flag of change. Nowhere is this more apparent than its latest addition to the fleet, Le Commandant Charcot. The French line has never shied from life’s finer elements, though Le Commandant Charcot dials up the attention to detail—in both style and sustainability.

Making her maiden voyage at the end of 2021, the 123-room vessel is the world’s very first hybrid-electric polar exploration ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas. Given the destinations Le Commandant Charcot explores, it’s apt that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to protecting the planet. The vessel is also
the world’s first passenger ship fitted with a Polar Class 2 (PC2) hull rating, providing an ability to sail between sheets of drifting sea ice (a vital habitat for marine life) to reach isolated polar regions normally reserved for TV nature documentaries.

It was these same regions that enthralled French explorer, doctor and scientist, Jean-Baptiste Charcot, a century ago, his discoveries inspiring PONANT to name
this new vessel in his honour.

The fine print

In polar regions, distances between destinations can be vast. And yet guests won’t want for distractions aboard Le Commandant Charcot, many of them housed within the calming cocoon of
either a stateroom or suite. Wherever check-in is made though, passengers are guaranteed a private balcony to watch nature’s drama unfold outside—Duplex Suites and the alluring Owner’s Suite boasting a spacious terrace with enough room for entertaining. Call upon a butler to deliver a bottle of historic Heidsieck to enjoy as the sun sets over the chocolate-box fishing villages of northern Norway, perhaps. Or a cognac as the last rays of the day glint off Antarctic glaciers, transforming them into twinkling gems. Top-shelf champagnes, rare wines, artwork by French creatives and in-room Diptyque amenities add to the sense of luxury.

Other French flourishes come courtesy of two applauded Gallic architectural firms: Studio Jean-Philippe Nuel (behind five-star Grand Hôtel-Dieu and La Clef Champs-Élysées Paris) and Wilmotte & Associés, whose diverse projects range from the Cheval Blanc hotel in St-Tropez to the stunning reimagining of Paris’s Gare du Nord.

Their combined design brief for Le Commandant Charcot was to create a meaningful connection between internal spaces and the outdoor world—because calming spaces featuring natural materials and earthy tones are grounding when at sea. But, of course, the real eye-candy on any expedition voyage lies outside the window.

As a homage to some of the destinations the vessel passes, many of Le Commandant Charcot’s public spaces take Inuit names. It’s a small gesture, but one that runs much deeper; the company considers sustainability in a context broader than the environment. For them, it’s also about the preservation of customs and the communities its vessels are visiting.

On-board diversions

While most days are spent snow-shoeing around fjords or kayaking with humpback whales, there are a myriad of ways to wind down on board. Like wandering the promenade deck of Le Commandant Charcot, uninterrupted save for warmed benches and two Swarovski Optik telescopes. Or perhaps soaking adventure-weary limbs in the indoor and outdoor pools, the latter heated using the ship’s recycled energy. Dry off beside the giant firepit, with cocktails delivered from the Blue Lagoon Bar.

Architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte makes his mark again in the Wellness Lounge, its sauna offering unobstructed ocean views; adjoining are a snow cabin and massage suites. The only thing better than being rocked to sleep by the ocean is drifting off with not a single tension in the body—retiring to your suite having just eaten some of the most sophisticated food at sea also helps.

French-Monégasque chef Alain Ducasse is a busy man—he oversees 20 restaurants worldwide, across a portfolio coveting 17 Michelin stars. It’s safe to say his standards are as unwavering as his flavour combinations, which make an appearance at the ship’s Nuna restaurant. Ducasse personally crafts every menu here, including signature dishes from some of his most applauded establishments.

And thanks to the vessel’s almost one-to-one guest-to-staff ratio, impeccable service is guaranteed, whether in the dining room, bar, theatre or suite.

When adventure calls

As easy as it is to linger, the real allure is stepping off the ship. Zodiacs—there are 14—glide close to otherwise impenetrable shores, affording a front-row seat to polar bears, seals, an embarrassment of penguins and more. As do guided kayaking expeditions; imagine a whale breaching close by as you paddle. Follow naturalists across Arctic tundra on a hike, spotting puffins and reindeer along the way— eagle-eyed sightings may even contribute to PONANT’s citizen science projects.

Drop in a line for unbeatable ice-fishing; slow paced, but exhilarating when catches are being reeled in. Traverse land, water and ice in a futuristic hovercraft. And muster the troops to go dog-sledding to remote Inuit communities. To really get the heart started, take the polar plunge—a quick but invigorating dip into freezing waters.

These are the kind of one-off experiences that put life into perspective. And when it’s time to retire to Le Commandant Charcot at the end of an action-filled day, the hardest decision to make is spa or hot tub, cognac or champagne?

Learn more about Le Commandant Charcot and its various itineraries via le-commandant-charcot.com; 1300 737 178 (AU) or 0800 767 018 (NZ) or email reservations.aus@ponant.com.

au.ponant.com

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