Some places, some experiences, are truly unforgettable – and that’s what Aix en Provence in the South of France and the new Italian-built superyacht yacht AIX, poised for charter with her masterful Kiwi chef, most definitely have in common, muses Mark Beretta in the Whitsundays.
PHOTOGRAPHY: ROMAN LIEBICH
A short drive from the Mediterranean, heading inland from Marseille in the South of France, lies the charming city of Aix en Provence. Birthplace of the artist Paul Cézanne, it’s a city renowned for its arts and high-quality earthen pottery, as well as historical architecture and marketplaces. It’s a city the owners of Australia’s newest and most eye-catching superyacht were so captivated by that they chose the name AIX for their own super-luxurious new masterpiece.
The superyacht AIX (pronounced ex) is truly breathtaking in every way and against the setting of the most pristine ocean Islands, with a gifted and extremely creative chef on board, you have a combination worthy of her name and, no less, an inspiring Chefs on Board experience – it’s the holy trinity for lovers of beautiful boats, great places and mouth-watering food.
At an imposing yet elegant 44.5 metres, AIX is hull #6 of the highly successful 44Alloy model from the renowned Italian yacht builder Sanlorenzo. Her sleek lines and stylish exterior are further enhanced when you step on board to discover a modern, jaw-dropping interior that embraces guests.
The owners knew exactly what they wanted with AIX, and box after box of samples of fabrics and materials arrived during the design process that unfolded during the pandemic, making it an extraordinary challenge. But the hours of late-night Zooms with designers Zuccon International Project in Italy paid off, with a supremely elegant and stylish interior being the more than pleasing result.
With a top speed of 23 knots and a relaxed cruising speed of 11, AIX comfortably accommodates 12 guests for cruising, and 10 guests can overnight across her five cabins. Not surprisingly, the most outstanding of these is the master cabin, which has the spacious feel of a New York loft-style split-level apartment, spread over a whopping 147 square metres and across an impressive three levels.
The bedroom in the master is generous, and the ensuite and walk-in robe are surprisingly big, but then the stairs take you up to the split-level loft, above which is a lounge area that then leads up to the pool and spa, which is large enough for 12 people and out of the view of the upper decks to give complete privacy.
Built in 2022, AIX is barely out of her wrapping. A masterpiece of modern boat design and construction, anyone lucky enough to spend time on board will be in awe of her design and facilities – and for today, that lucky few includes us.
Leaving Hamilton Island marina, we head to a secluded bay a gentle hour’s sail away and drop anchor. The beauty of the Whitsundays surrounds us. It’s so easy to find your own hidden space amidst the natural beauty of the turquoise waters and rugged island peaks with their famous pine trees.
The culinary adventure begins with delicious cocktails on the rear deck among AIX’s enormous, oversized lounges, making guests feel immediately at ease and at home. The comfortable and stylish furniture and fittings reflect not only the owner’s excellent taste, but also the fact that AIX is a boat they really want to enjoy – and, just as importantly, they want others to be able to enjoy too. And that’s not just their guests, such as us, but also those who charter this unique yacht in the waters of Australia and the South Pacific, where she will spend most of her time.
After a tour of the boat, we return to the shaded rear deck for melt-in-your-mouth canapés, where the magic of resident chef Jared McKellar is first revealed. McKellar comes from New Zealand, where he began his training in some of their most demanding kitchens. His sense of adventure and the desire to take his passion to sea, and ultimately around the world, lured him to superyacht galleys.
“The opportunity to create delicious meals surrounded by the beauty of the open waters was inspiring, and is very fulfilling,” he says and indeed, since leaving dry land, he’s never looked back. In fact, as soon as the softly spoken Kiwi cooked for them, the owners of AIX knew he was the one for them, and a great partnership was born.
“I love experimenting with flavours inspired by my travels, infusing dishes with a global touch,” he enthuses. “Using fresh, locally sourced ingredients is at the core of my culinary philosophy, creating simple yet extraordinary dishes.”
McKellar is true to his promise. Among the canapés are salmon cured in beetroot on a caviar cracker, ika mata served on a crisp cracker (a traditional dish McKellar added to his repertoire after spending time in the Cook Islands), as well as eggplant and whipped goat’s cheese – each one a brilliant explosion of flavour.
It’s always amazing what a chef at sea can produce solo, and McKellar’s entree offering of handmade scallop tortellini with zucchini flower and basil was brilliant. He confesses to a love for preparing seafood on board, and in this part of the world, he can allow his imagination and skill to run wild. The result today is a delicious serving of locally caught and pan-seared red emperor – beautifully presented with elements to resemble an underwater scene, such as a squid ink coral twirl. Totally irresistible.
Accompanying wines come from the Yarra Valley’s Levantine Hill, a favourite of the owners and a Victorian winemaker they’re keen to help promote. The Estate Sparkling Rosé is a highlight – and one to keep in mind as the warmer months approach, along with the Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which also get a big tick!
And yet, there was still a surprise in store with dessert. McKellar prepared a layered chocolate and hazelnut castel finished with raspberries, shards of chocolate on top, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. After that glorious meal paired with the Levantine Hill Mélange Botrytis, it was time to retire two levels down to the beach club for cocktails.
The beach club is precisely what the name suggests – a mammoth 100 square metres of everything you’d expect to find at the beach club of a five-star resort but all contained on board. Jetskis, Seabobs, stand-up paddleboards, floating chairs, inflatable toys basilthat tow behind the tender, and enough scuba gear to allow 10 guests to dive together.
This is where Sanlorenzo’s designers really got to stretch their legs. The stern and sides of the boat open hydraulically to reveal the water-level playground and relaxed lounge. OIt’s a mind-blowing space and another unmatched feature of this superlative boat, making it unique as a charter offering in the waters of this part of the world.
AIX is entering the top end of the charter market for Australia and the South Pacific, and the owners are adamant they want to share their unique creation with others, allowing them to also explore the waters of the region in luxury and make their own memories. With McKellar in the galley and all the unmatched features aboard, to say AIX is well-equipped for that would be an understatement.