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A Jewel in the Med: Opening up to Corsica

Featured — By Josh Steinitz on October 7, 2011 at 10:58 am
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Practically Speaking

Air France offers flights from Paris to Ajaccio, Porto Vecchio, Bastia, and Calvi. EasyJet flies from London and Paris to Ajaccio. Air Corsica is another option. Some flights only operate seasonally, so check airline schedules.

In Ajaccio, the Hotel Les Mouettes offers comfortable rooms, a friendly and helpful staff, a great location on the waterfront, a pool deck perched on the edge of the sea, and a wonderful breakfast featuring tasty croissants and pastries, cured meats and cheeses, local honey, and other assorted goodies. The staff can also recommend nearby restaurants and attractions. The best of these restaurants is Palm Beach. Just down the road leading west from town out to the Iles Sanguinaires (rocky islands extending out from a peninsula crowned by a Genoese tower), the cuisine here is truly top-shelf. Enjoying local wines, fresh seafood like mussels or spiny lobster, Corsican specialties like boar in myrtle sauce and a range of amazing desserts, all while sitting just above the gently crashing surf on the beach, and watching the moon rise over the gulf, is an experience not to be missed.

The Hotel Cala Rossa, just 15 minutes outside of Porto Vecchio, is a luxurious getaway in its own right, and you could be perfectly happy spending a week relaxing on the beach. But given all there is to see and do in the region, you’ll probably want supplement your relaxation with something more active. The hotel has an amazing breakfast spread, including crepes, waffles, fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit, pastries and just about anything else you could want to fuel up for the day. The beach club area has chairs with umbrellas that get assigned to you for the duration of your stay, just inches from the water, along with staff that will bring cold water or snacks. Dinner is also quite good at Cala Rosa, though wildly overpriced with a bit of a stuffy atmosphere, and as a result probably best avoided.

Porto Vecchio has no shortage of bars and restaurants among the narrow streets of the old town of the Haute Ville. Set aside some time for a cold Pietra or Colomba beer on the main square, a cocktail on the outdoor lounge chairs at Le Patio, and dinner at Chez Laurent or any of the nearby streetside eateries. Don’t overpay for the restaurants offering a terrace view over the harbor — it’s not worth it.

In the St. Florent area, La Dimora is a wonderful choice for lodging. Reminiscent of a Tuscan villa, the restored farmhouse, surrounded by lavender and olive trees, has been extended and refurbished into a luxury boutique hotel, with a pretty pool deck and bar/restaurant terrace, spa, and breakfast area. Our room was stylish and modern, with an open shower and a small private garden patio. Small enough to feel truly unique, yet still offering plenty of privacy, La Dimora was one of the true pleasant surprises of the trip.  Only a five minute drive outside of St. Florent in the hills below Oletta, it’s also a good base from which to explore the nearby Patrimonio wine region (try the white muscat at several of the local tasting rooms, typically consumed as an aperitif), and even the west coast of the rugged Cap Corse, the mountainous index finger of land in the northeast of the island.  Alternatively, for access to the east coast of the cape, consider staying at Hotel Castel Brando in Erbalunga, a small fishing village north of Bastia – it’s the best lodging option actually located on the Cap Corse. Within St. Florent itself, we enjoyed our meal at Tchin Tchin, at the far end of the harborside quay.

Perched just a 10 minute walk above Calvi, Hotel La Villa is a beautiful property and one of the top choices for sophisticated luxury lodging on the entire island. Home to a new spa and indoor pool, an outdoor pool terrace, two fine restaurants (including one that enjoys a Michelin star) and a spectacular view over town, it’s easy to imagine spending a week or more there. Our room was a light and airy suite, with a private patio overlooking the town and the bay, albeit also looking at the roof of a recently built extension to the property (the new construction should have been set down further to open up the view).

While at La Villa (also a Relais & Chateaux property), we dined at the Michelin-starred Bastien restaurant, and were treated to an amazing “chef’s choice” meal of melt-in-your-mouth duck fois gras, ultra-tender pork medallions sourced from local farms, and a Grand Marnier soufflé, along with wine pairings. The service was attentive without being snooty, and friendly without being intrusive. It’s difficult to top the combination of food, service and the wonderful setting.

Corsica is famous for its cured meats (charcuterie), made from the ubiquitous pigs that roam the island grazing on chestnuts, hazelnuts, and the shrubs and roots of the maquis (oak and aromatic scrub vegetation like myrtle, lavender, rosemary and thyme). The island’s cheese, brocciu, is mild and forgiving, and goes well with a crostini any time of day. And, while true oenophiles might not think the local wines are award-winning, they are quite good and certain varietals have real quality — let your taste buds do the judging. On the coast, you’ll find plenty of seafood like mussels, lobster, and local fish, along with the usual assortment of pizza (actually quite tasty in Corsica) and typically a beef and pork offering (try some pork medallions in a myrtle sauce). In the interior the selection obviously skews more toward cuisine sourced from the land.

Tags: Bonifacio, Calvi, Campomoro, corsica, Monte Cinto, Porto, Restonica Valley

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