Savor the surprising pleasures of a wine voyage with Paul Gauguin Cruises.
The names roll off the tongue like clouds floating in the scented, trade-wind-cooled air: Tahiti. Bora-Bora. Moorea. Siren calls to adventure, they conjure images of buttercream-colored beaches shaded by emerald palms, and crystalline seas so impossibly blue you’ll pinch yourself just to prove they are real. Luckily for you, they are.
Sprinkled over a vast area of the South Pacific about the size of Europe, the 118 idyllic islands and atolls collectively known as French Polynesia are nothing short of a fantasyland. And Paul Gauguin Cruises holds the key to its delights.
“For those who have never visited French Polynesia, or even for those returning, it can be logistically and economically challenging to figure out how to fully experience the region,” says Paul Largay, a Virtuoso travel advisor based in Waterbury, Connecticut. “The easiest and most enjoyable way to cover a lot of ground is to cruise aboard the Paul Gauguin. I call it ‘Polynesian heaven on the high seas.’ ”
Designed specifically to glide between reefs in shallow waters filled with vibrant fish, The Gauguin is the 332-passenger flagship of Paul Gauguin Cruises. Its all-inclusive eight- to 17-day itineraries celebrate the beauty and culture of Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, the Marquesas, and more.
This year these good things are even better with a series of new Wine Voyages, featuring top winemakers and vineyard owners who host intimate tastings, gourmet dinners, and educational seminars, and proving once and for all that wine pairs perfectly with this dreamy setting.
“French Polynesia is full of surprises, so it’s an ideal place to taste fine wine,” says Jody Bogle, owner of Bogle Vineyards
in Clarksburg, California. “We love to surprise people with the quality of our wines, as well as the easygoing nature of them. We take our winemaking very seriously, but, at the end of the day, we want people to sit back, relax, and enjoy it.”
This month (February 2019), Bogle will be showcasing her winery’s reserve selections, normally available only in their tasting room, including a sparkling Blanc de Blancs and a very special petite sirah created last year to celebrate the winery’s golden anniversary. Bogle is one of six vineyard owners and winemakers set to sail aboard the The Gauguin
this season. Other featured wineries include Napa Valley’s Whitehall Lane
, Peju Winery
, and Salvestrin Winery
; Oregon’s Pfeiffer Vineyards
; and Steven Kent Winery
, based in the Livermore Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“This new Wine Voyage series is exciting and will complement the Michelin-star-worthy dining on board, adding yet another layer of gastronomic magic to The Gauguin,” Largay says. That magic centers around the inventive French and Polynesian cuisine at the ship’s three restaurants – L’Etoile, Le Grill, and La Veranda – prepared by passionate chefs, including the multi-laurelled Jean-Pierre Vigato.
On all sailings aboard The Gauguin, certain things hold true. You are welcomed like family by an effervescent team of Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins, the local Tahitians who serve as cruise staff, entertainers, and storytellers. The ship’s spacious and finely appointed yet laid-back suites and staterooms, some with private balconies, offer the comfort of an upscale beach home. If you need a little extra convincing to unwind, the onboard Deep Nature spa has customized Polynesian treatments and massages, while the ship’s water-sports marina has kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, as well as a dedicated dive team should exploring French Polynesia’s vibrant underwater world be on your vacation to-do list.
Expertly planned to blend the thrill of discovery with the fine art of doing nothing, activities are as entertaining as they are informative. From learning about black pearl cultivation on Rangiroa, to a seaplane sightseeing flight over the island of Taha’a, to hiking to an ancient ceremonial site on Fatu Hiva, the southernmost island in the Marquesas, a remote paradise with just 500 residents, there really is an adventure for every seeker.
One experience in particular stays with Santa Barbara-based Virtuoso advisor Sharon Organista: a stop at “Little Tahiti” (Tahiti Iti), a world-famous surf spot known for wild coastlines, ancient petroglyphs, and marae (temples). “The unique opportunity to interact with locals was really special,” Organista says. “They greeted us on outriggers decorated with greenery and flowers, and played ukuleles. They seemed genuinely excited to have us there. When you experience a welcome like that, it’s hard to forget a place.”
Guests on The Gauguin also enjoy access to two exclusive retreats. The private palm-fringed beach on Bora-Bora invites you to swoon over vistas of Mount Otemanu, play volleyball in the sand, snorkel, or even paddleboard. You can also opt for an optional four-wheel-drive safari, underwater scooter excursion, or glass-bottom boat ride. Off the coast of Taha’a lies the islet of Motu Mahana, where you can enjoy a day of snorkeling and kayaking, a sumptuous barbecue feast, and even an overwater massage.
Several Wine Voyage itineraries call on the must-see island of Moorea, believed to be the inspiration for James Michener’s mythical Bali Hai from Tales of the South Pacific. Thanks to its eight jagged peaks that rise from robin’s-egg blue water, Moorea provides an awe-inducing setting for visiting local shops in search of handicrafts, embarking on a dolphin-watching expedition with a marine biologist, or touring a local pineapple plantation.
With so much to see and do, taste and savor, the hardest part of any Paul Gauguin cruise is choosing what to do next.
“Before leaving I had a preconceived idea that I’d be sitting on a beach all the time, and would be bored after three days,” says Danuta Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Vineyards. “Boy, was I wrong. Every island was more breathtaking than the last, primitive and pristine, and I was blissfully wowed and tired at the end of each day.”
Pfeiffer will pour her sublime Oregon pinot noir aboard The Gauguin in April 2019. “I’m so excited to share our wines in French Polynesia,” she says. “When you’re in a place so beautiful you never even imagined it could exist, and you’re holding this delicious nectar in your hands, how can it be anything less than extraordinary?”