From this spring through the fall, Compagnie du Ponant, the world’s only French-flagged cruise line, will offer unusual voyages to some of the hidden corners of Europe’s most popular destinations: Italy, France and Spain.  From May 17 through October 23, guests aboard the luxury cruise line’s stylish Le Ponant will enjoy visits to some 12 lesser-known island gems including Porquerolles, Minorca, Lipari, Gozo, Hvar, Mljet and through the Kornati archipelago.  Sailing on mostly seven-night itineraries, the three-masted Le Ponant will sail along the French Riviera, Costa Brava and the Ligurian and Dalmatian coasts.

Le Ponant is an elegant 290-foot sailing yacht that accommodates 64 guests in 32 outside staterooms.  Two restaurants, one with panoramic views; two lounges and a library provide plenty of entertainment options.  Relaxing outside on the expansive 4,300-square-foot deck – especially when the ship has its 16,000 feet of sails unfurled – is particularly appealing.  Aboard the yacht, guests enjoy the best France has to offer: delicious cuisine, tasteful accommodations and a chic, yet informal atmosphere.  The intimate size of Le Ponant and a staff-to-guest ratio of 1:2 translate to very personalized service. Compagnie du Ponant’s aim: to have guests feel like they are sailing on their own yacht. 

Kicking off its European season on May 17, the seven-night “Charms of Corsica and Italy” itinerary sails from Nice down the west side of Corsica to picturesque Ile Rousse; along the towering granite cliffs of Piana Calanches, a UNESCO World Heritage site; then to the cliff-top fortressed medieval city of Bonifcacio; before continuing to Rome; Elba’s Portoferraio; the medieval town of Lerici in the Cinque Terre, and back to Nice. “Treasures of the Blue Mediterranean” (May 24, 31, September 2, 19, & October 10), seven-night sailings from Nice to Valleta and back, include mostly Italian ports like the volcanic island of Ponza, the jewel-like Amalfi, tiny Lipari in the Aeolian Islands, plus a cruise around Stromboli’s active volcano and a visit to Taormina’s ancient Greek theatre and its still-smoking Mount Etna. 

Other Le Ponant cruises highlighting Italy include:

• “Sicily and the Mezzogiorno” (August 19, 26, September 26 & October 3) – Four seven-night voyages, from Valletta (Malta) to Naples and Naples back to Valletta, call at the famed Sicilian cities of Syracuse, Taormina and Palermo and Castellamare, gateway to the Phoenician sites of Segesta and Erice, plus Lipari and Amalfi.

• “Italian Promenades: Tuscany and Liguria” (October 17 & 23) – The six-night Nice-to-Nice itinerary calls in Monaco and four Italian ports, including the Tuscan resort of Viareggio, a jumping-off point for visits to Pisa or Florence. 

France and Spain are the focus of:

• “A Mediterranean Anthology” (June 12, 19, 26 & July 3) – Four seven-night itineraries from Nice to Barcelona and Barcelona to Nice, visit: the nature reserve on Porquerolles; the medieval village of Port Saint Louise du Rhone in the heart of the Alpilles; Port La Nouvelle for its Crusader fortresses; the UNESCO Biosphere reserve of Minorca; Majorca’s cobblestoned capital Palma de Majorca, and medieval Palamos north of Barcelona, the Mediterranean’s most popular port. 

Several itineraries explore the Dalmatian Coast, one of this year’s hot destinations:

• “From the Riviera to Medieval Cities of the Adriatic” (July 24)  - This nine-night adds stops at Elba and ports along Italy’s western coast with visits to the beautiful island of Hvar; Split, a UNESCO World Heritage site with Diocletian’s Palace; picturesque Rovinj, and medieval Piran.

• “Blown by the Wind in Croatia” (August 2) – A seven-night Venice-to-Venice itinerary calls at eight jewels along the Dalmatian Coast including three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the walled city Dubrovnik, Trogir and Sibenik. The cruise visits the fortified towns of Zadar and Kotor; Mljet, one of this coast’s best kept secrets and medieval Korcula before it sails through the Kornati archipelago. 

• “From the Doge’s Palace to the Palace of the Grand Master’s” (August 9) – A ten-night Venice-to-Valleta voyage combines seven ports along the Dalmatian coast with stops at Otranto on Italy’s heel, Taormina and Gozo.

Golfers can hit the links during “Tee Time in the Mediterranean,” two seven-night, Nice-to-Nice sailings (July 10 and 17) playing at select golf courses in Cannes, Corsica, Sardinia, Elba and Portofino.  Included in the price are green fees at five courses, golf carts and transfers to and from the courses. The yacht’s Sports Director will handle all the details.   

These itineraries are tailor made for Compagnie du Ponant’s sailing yacht. Le Ponant’s zodiacs allow guests to explore these intriguing ports as well as private coves and deserted islets. And on a hot summer day in the Mediterranean nothing is more refreshing then jumping off the marina platform for a swim.

Le Ponant has 32 exterior staterooms with large windows and all have individually-controlled air conditioning, a choice of king or twin beds and private bath with shower and L’Occitane amenities. Ranging from 113 to 165 square feet, they come equipped with the latest technology: flat-screen satellite TV, direct-dial satellite telephone, Wi-Fi as well as a mini-bar and safe.

“Ponant’s philosophy – to offer small ship cruising with a bit of French flavor in a comfortable ambiance with welcoming service – is very much aligned with the aspirations of today’s travelers,” says, Terri Haas, Compagnie du Ponant’s Chief Commercial Officer. “Our cruises are designed for those who are interested in history and culture and enjoy seeing unspoiled corners of the world,” explains Haas. 

All but six cruises are seven-night itineraries. Starting at $3,045 per person, double occupancy for a Marie Galante Deck stateroom on the six-night “Italian Promenades: Tuscany and Liguria” and ranging up to $5,680 per person, double for an Antigua Deck stateroom on the 10-day “From the Doge’s Palace to the Palace of the Grand Masters,” cruise prices include all wine, beer, mineral water, soft drinks and specialty coffees served with meals. Compagnie du Ponant offers travel agent commissions ranging between 10 and 15 percent.