Ancient Arab fortresses and Bedouin camps, Hindu and Thai temples, lively souks and coral atolls fringed by white sand are just some of the sights guests will see as their yacht sails through Arabia, around the Maldives and India and on to Southeast Asia this winter and spring. From December 4, 2010 to April 4, 2011, Compagnie du Ponant’s luxurious sailing yacht will offer 17 voyages calling at ports such as Aqaba, Sharm el Sheikh, Muscat, Khasab, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, Kochi, Malé, Phuket and Penang. While once Arab dhows made this voyage, Le Ponant’s guests will sail in more luxurious style.

Six voyages will explore the necklace of tropical islands and islets that bask in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Synonymous with infinite shades of blue, the breathtaking Maldives encompass 1,200 islands and 19 atolls – all surrounded by spectacular coral reefs – with pristine beaches bordered by coconut palms. Some 2,000 species of fish – snappers, stingrays, eels, barracudas, sharks – and five species of turtle call this island nation home.

Le Ponant is an elegant 290-foot sailing yacht that accommodates 64 guests in 32 outside staterooms. Two restaurants, 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 winter season on December 4, Le Ponant’s six-night “Jordan & Egypt: Sacred Lands of the Red Sea” starts from Alexandria and transits the Suez Canal on its way to Aqaba. Highlights include: Ain Soukhna, known for its spectacular beaches, coral reefs and hot springs and Sharm el Sheikh, a diving mecca and jumping off point for Saint Catherine’ s Monastery and Mount Sinai.

“Ocean Voyage”, four voyages from Muscat to Kochi (December 23, January 18, February 18, March 24), allow guests six days and five nights to relax, rejuvenate and revel in the experience of sailing the seas.

The “India and the Maldives: Spices and Silver Sand” cruise (December 28 and March 10) calls at two ports in India and four islands in the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” archipelago. One of the most beautiful spots on the Malabar coast, Kochi was visited by Vasco de Gama some 500 years ago and Le Ponant guests can explore the backwaters on a traditional Kettuvallam rice barge. Famed for its pepper, Kochi boasts India’s oldest European church (St. Francis), a 16th century synagogue and a Dutch palace. In Trivandrum in Kerala, guests visit the Padmanabhapuram Palace home to 16th century Kerala princes. Arriving in the Maldives, guests can snorkel or dive into the turquoise waters teeming with thousands of rainbow-hued fish around Ari Atoll or opt for sunbathing on Raa’s gorgeous stretch of beach.

Four 7-night Malé to Malé voyages, “Atolls of the Maldives: Natural Aquariums and Blue Lagoons” (January 4, January 11, February 24 and March 3) explore seven atolls with ample time for guests to snorkel, dive and marvel at the fascinating marine life. Optional dive packages featuring eight to 10 dives are available for PADI certified divers.

Island lovers who crave deserted beaches and stunning seascapes will enjoy “Thailand and Malaysia: Islands and Marine Treasures.” On these eight-night Phuket-to-Phuket itineraries (January 25, February 2 and 10), Le Ponant sails the Andaman Sea visiting Thailand’s Butang, Similian and Ko Phi Phi Islands. Koh Lanta, a national park, that the Thais call, “the land where time stood still; dramatic Phang Nga Bay, a turquoise cove with 40 towering limestone pitons, and visits to Malaysia’s Langkawi archipelago and Penang, the Pearl of the Orient,” are also included.

High points of the seven-night “Saris, Temples, and Lagoons” (March 17) include: Kochi, Trivandrum and New Mangalore with the St. Aloysius chapel and a number of interesting temples. The cruise continues to Goa –with its ensemble of 16th and 17th century colonial churches (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the “quintas,” 18th century mansions of the Portuguese – and ends in bustling, fascinating Mumbai.

In making its way back to the Mediterranean, Le Ponant follows the old Arab trading route. The seven-night Muscat to Dubai, “Lands of Honey and Incense” itinerary (March 28 and April 4) gives guests close up view of traditional and modern Arab lands. In Fujairah, guests will explore the old city, its imposing fort and the Al Juma souk. The picturesque fishing village of Khasab with its old houses, souks and a lively market lies in the Musandam Fjords – and boasts a 16th century Portuguese fort. Traditions are very much alive in Bahrain’s capital, Al Manama. Here, the magnificent Grand Mosque provides insights into Islamic art. In Doha, Qatar’s capital guests can visit the Museum of Islamic Art designed by I.M. Pei or opt for a 4x4 excursion in the desert to view the dunes and an inland sea. The modern face of this ancient land can best be seen in Abu Dhabi, often called the “Manhattan of the Emirates.” At the Heritage Village, guests can learn about Bedouin traditions and culture.

These itineraries are tailor made for Compagnie du Ponant’s sailing yacht. Le Ponant’s zodiacs allow guests to explore private coves and deserted islets. And as the yacht sails in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the Andaman Sea or Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay, there’s nothing 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 the hidden corners of the world,” explains Haas.

Prices for the winter season start at $2,435 per person, double occupancy for a Marie Galante Deck stateroom on the six-night “Jordan & Egypt: Sacred Lands of the Red Sea” and range up to $4,095 per person, double for an Antigua Deck stateroom on the 8-night Phuket to Phuket “Thailand and Malaysia: Islands and Marine Treasures” cruise. All wine, beer, mineral water, soft drinks and specialty coffees served with meals are included in the price. Compagnie du Ponant offers travel agent commissions ranging between 10 and 15 percent.

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