PEEKING over the treetops on a gloomy, grey day on Tyneside, I spy the funnels of a sleek mega-yacht. They belong to the elegant ship Le Boreal, a luxury liner which will be my home for the next few nights as we travel to the Norweigan Fjords.

Blowing in the wind at its stern is a French flag, while crewmen bustle on the bow and sharply-dressed staff mill round the gangway.

The cruise line’s logo, along with the word ‘Ponant’, is proudly displayed above the ship’s four rows of balconies. It stands out like a diamond in the rough compared with the surrounding boats, including a commuter ferry which is readying itself for departure.

Port authority staff checking passports are heard saying they’ve “never seen a ship like this”, as the crew of Le Boreal welcome already boarded guests back from their Newcastle excursion.

The Northern Echo: I joined the ship part-way through the cruiseI joined the ship part-way through the cruise

About 240 people have already enjoyed sailing underneath Tower Bridge in London, the city where the voyage began four days ago; I am just getting a little taster of life aboard this lovely ship, joining the cruise part-way through and heading for Edinburgh, Stavanger and the gateway to the Fjords – majestic and garden-rich Bergen.

French-owned Le Boreal has capacity for 264 guests. It was built by the Italian-based company Fincantieri in 2010. Marketed as a megayacht, it’s equipped with state-of-theart technology and an ice-strengthened hull for expeditions to Antarctica and Alaska, its small size making these out-of-the-way trips possible.

The Northern Echo: The ship is chic The ship is chic

The experience aboard could be mistaken for a stay at a five-star boutique hotel in central London, rather than a cruise across the North Sea. My stateroom has a roomy walk-in shower, space to store more than enough clothes, and a generous balcony with deckchairs for warmer days. In fact, 94 per cent of Le Boreal’s staterooms boast a balcony. And in case you’re in any danger of forgetting you’re on a five-star floating hotel, toiletries by Hermes are thrown in for good measure.

The Northern Echo: The staterooms are spacious and most feature a balconyThe staterooms are spacious and most feature a balcony

The feel is modern with a twist of French – Ponant is France’s only cruise line – and above all, it is chic. One passenger stands out, an elegant woman dressed in silk, with pearl earrings and classy lipstick. Asked if she has sailed with the company before, she replies with succinct delivery that she regularly sails with Ponant, booking an expedition each year.

There are two restaurants onboard, the formal ‘Gastronomique’, which offers themed dining, and the more casual and a la carte ‘Grill’ restaurant. One evening I enjoy a six-course supper – and fascinating conversation – on the Captain’s table.

The Northern Echo: The food was outstandingThe food was outstanding

Unsurprisingly, the food is French inspired. On this occasion, a duck foie gras is the cold starter, whilst seared gambas, artichoke, fava beans and cherry tomatoes comprise the hot. A mouth-watering roasted rack of lamb and Moorish gnocchi are the centrepiece of this most opulent of meals, before a 100 per cent cacao dessert is followed by a generous cheese selection.

The majority of passengers are French and American. Outside and taking in the sea air, one passenger with eccentric Pop Art spectacles – and his own gallery in Los Angeles – remarks on how impressed he is with his stateroom and the excursions.

Onshore outings on this voyage are based around a Gardens of Europe theme. They vary in cost and can be booked onboard.

On arrival at Rosyth, the first excursion included a visit to the 350-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Royal Botanic Garden in Scotland’s first city, Edinburgh. Interestingly, the garden’s current location is not its first – the site was painstakingly moved from its original spot near Holyrood.

The Northern Echo: The Botanic gardens of Edinburgh gained UNESCO World HeritageThe Botanic gardens of Edinburgh gained UNESCO World Heritage

Ponant had also arranged a two-course gala luncheon in the grand and private Caledonian Hall.

At each port we visit, Le Boreal is docked for several hours, meaning planned excursions are unhurried. Back on the waves, we steam towards Norway and the city of Stavanger. The sophisticated panoramic lounge on deck six, with its comprehensive cocktail bar, hosts the perfect view as we sail under the Tay, Forth and Queensferry bridges. Larger cruise ships don’t benefit from this spectacular departure as they remain moored closer to the estuary.

Finding somewhere to relax is not difficult.

The Northern Echo: A branch of Sothys Paris on every shipA branch of Sothys Paris on every ship

A spot that’s a little bit more intimate is the ship’s beauty spa and fitness centre. Guests can choose from a menu of treatments from Paris-trained masseurs in the ship’s branch of Sothys Paris. Cruising towards Norway, I opt for a sports massage and am told there is tension in my neck. Life on board a five-star luxury cruise must be more stressful than I’d thought!

Most evenings guests retire to the Salon, where a pianist and singer keep the atmosphere alive and buzzing, before we all get up for an evening jive. The theme of the entertainment changes – a classy cabaret “The feel is modern with a twist of French - and above all, it is chic”

Almost all the spacious staterooms boast a balcony performance one night, a vibrant Eurovision-Style performance the next.

The Northern Echo: Docked in StavangerDocked in Stavanger

As I pull back the curtains to wake up opposite the Victoria Hotel in Stavanger, room service arrives with a breakfast that is cooked-to-perfection. Heading onshore, I discover a city of two parts – a beautiful old town just a stone’s throw away from a more modern centre built on oil wealth. We head out to a replica Viking village housed in the Museum of Archaeology, part of an €80 ‘Introduction to Stavanger’ excursion.

A trip to Norway’s fascinating Petroleum Museum gives an insight into the country’s controversial, but world-leading, involvement in the oil industry. Sailing a last leg between Stavanger and Bergen that evening, we spot dozens of oil rigs, literally lining the Norwegian coast.

The Northern Echo: Our last day was spent in Bergen, Norway Our last day was spent in Bergen, Norway

On disembarkation day, there aren’t any excursions planned, but there are breathtaking views of Norway’s second-largest city, Bergen, where greenery and mountainous land contrast with the colourful wooden houses.

Nor does service end when we drop anchor – there are breakfast snacks in the main lounge, hand-delivered coffee and smiles from the crew.

I make my way to the gangway and scan my boarding card, disembarking from Le Boreal for the last time. Signs for Bergen Airport are metres from the port. I take one last peek at the beautiful vessel I’ve called home for the last five days and realise I’ve had the trip of a lifetime.


A similar Ponant cruise, Treasures of the North Sea on board Le Bellot, departs from Bergen on September 11, 2020, arriving in Honfleur on September 18. Ports of call include: Bergen, Stavanger, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Ostend and Honfleur. Price starts from £2,947 per person based on two people sharing a deluxe stateroom.

To book or for more information visit or call 0808-2343-802. More details about the cruise: https://en.