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L’Austral (Bali – Singapore): Our Archipelago Adventure!

L’Austral (Bali – Singapore): Our Archipelago Adventure!

L’Austral – Compagnie du Ponant’s southern voyager never fails to impress. Of the Latin derivation australis, from auster – of, relating to, or coming from the south. And from the south we came, through the Indonesia archipelago like the Dutch pioneers of old. Between the days, 5th April – 14th April, we sailed the sub tropic java sea, sampling the best of Javanese hospitality. From Lombok to Karimunjawa to the port cities of Probolinggo and Semarang, L’Austral took us to the brink of the coral barriers of the archipelago. From there we sojourned with the silk weavers of Lombok, acquainted with local sailors of the colonial age in the port of Probolinggo and revelled in the solemnity of the Grand Mosque of Semarang. The earnestness, however, could only be eclipsed by the majesty of the ninth century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Magelang, Central Java. Abandoned once in the fourteenth century following a decline due to conversion of the Javanese to the Hindu conquerors and its Islamic predecessors, one could not help but be converted once again to the beauty of this monumental structure.

As the night fell we returned but once again to the nest of finer comforts. Joseph Conrad once opined that “...the sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.” Clearly Conrad never sailed on L’Austral! With all of the comforts of a five star living, one could easily forget that beyond the confines of the refined embroidery, the universal white leather trimmings, the Swarovski crystals and the lazy afternoon teas lay the harshness of the open sea. On days at sea what could one do but simply enjoy the relaxation of the steam room, an indolent game of chess with afternoon cakes and to retire with an activity or two in the main lounge with the helpful, if at times, comical cruise director. As the sun set over the Javanese horizon, a culinary exploration began in earnest. Le premier Restaurant, Le Coromandel, was a revelation of onboard experiences. Every evening, without fail, the astonishing and remarkable staff of Le Coromandel delighted and amazed with a menu not outshone any of its rivals on the Champs Elysee. A floating five-star experience could be the only way to describe these delectable moments. It is hard to say whether it was the consommé de boeuf or the ravioli d’escargots that tipped us from the precipice of ecstasy. If it was not, it most certainly was the first class and always varied selection of le vin, on hand and at the ready should one’s glass unforgivably run dry. When the luxury and the lavishness of French fine dining became too much to bear, one could always, but in no measure settle, for the more casual experience of the Restaurant Le Rodrigues. Le Rodrigues dishes up a buffet experience unparalleled and not yet seen by any of its rival contenders of Western Sydney. The culinary choices of Le Rodrigues might offer less formality and certainly much greater preference depending on one’s predilection; deliberation, however, must be thrown to the wind when tempting its signature chocolate mousse. One is glad for the informality when returning to the buffet for a third and, belt buckle willing, fourth serving.

Lodging on L’Austral is no less an astonishing eye-opener. With the commodities of any first class establishment, L’Austral has the ascendancy with no less than sweeping port side landscapes or the imposing sunrise over the seemingly endless Javanese horizon. A sight made increasingly more breathtaking should one be blessed with an adjoining veranda to this five-star cabin. Subject to a recalcitrant and, at times, aggressive showerhead (it fell on my head), the amenities and services of these cabins were second to none. If fault could not be found with the cabins or the elegant dining, neither could fault be found with the ingenuity the entire outfit which made this archipelago exploration a flawless experience. Even the ill-time political strife of a French presidential election could not stumble this immaculate crew. A scheduled stop to Borneo – deemed unsound due to political complication, was easily and effortless overcome with an impromptu, but no less spectacular rendezvous at Kura Kura Resort in the islands of Karimunjawa. With no hint of stir, the crew naturally and almost readily fashioned a stay on the island resort for its guests as though it had been months in the making. It is hard to see how this Resort, laden with tropical landscape and crystal clear waters were not originally in the design of L’Austral’s archipelago adventure.

Whilst I wish not to linger too long on the faults of L’Austral, an untutored Compagnie du Ponant traveller must caution at the wonders of multi-lingual travelling. To the uninitiated, and those whose schoolboy or schoolgirl French has long passed into the ether, the trickery of L’Austral’s finer points could leave the monolingual guest, dare I say it, a little at sea. Compagnie du Ponant staff would brook at no criticism, from either Anglo or its Franco guest population about the partiality of its daily briefings or the seemingly important safety instructions, however, it is fair to say that, at times, one or either of the parties of the linguistic turn could feel a little left out. Indeed, Compagnie du Ponant, on this point, must decide how it wishes to navigate this trechery as its growing appeal attracts, depending on the voyage, a different mix of ethnic and linguistic origins. Despite the rough seas of linguistic discontent, the only thing that could sink the glorious L’Austral, in all its wonder and majesty, would be the anchoring misery of its unhelpful reception staff. One would have thought travelling the high seas in first class luxury might be cause for a little smile, but these young ladies could not manage a moment, not even a courteous, if not forced attempt to placate an enquiring guest. Having said the unspeakable, it is fortunate for the pampered guests of L’Austral that there is little cause for the trouble-shooting exploits of these more than capable ladies.

As morning dawned, it is hard not to feel the pangs of sadness and anxiety as one’s bags are carted away from the cabin to the only to return sometime thereafter on the port of Singapore. As new-found friends bid farewell, it is hard to leave the luxury of the past 9 days; the extravagant dining; the exotic adventures; the wonderful, professional and friendly crew and the wine...O the wine! It must be said that L’Austral is second to none in its class. Whilst its many features and joys can undoubtedly forgive any minor chink in its armour; it cannot be forgiven for acquainting me with the particulars of a life less ordinary and the finer tastes that it has now imbued. “All good things must come to an end” as the proverb suggests...but what of the lavish and the extraordinary? Bien fait, L’Austral!

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