Arriving at Bastia airport, things were not looking too hopeful. Between the Enterprise car hire rep in ripped jeans and what looked like Pop Walton’s vest and the scary ‘auto-entrepreneur’ toting for money in the airport toilets without actually cleaning them, it could leave the first time visitor a little rattled.
Where man has left Corsica alone it is a beautiful land of mountains, shimmering sea and maquis. It’s a little surprising that neither love and pride of the island nor efficient French public services are sufficient to deal with roadside litter or abandoned rusting cars. That job has been foisted upon the land itself.
Bonifacio, on the southern tip of the island could be one of the chicest, most beautiful places in the Med. Apricot hued buildings surround the yachting harbour, their homogeneity easy on the eye, mercifully spared of vain, architectural brutalism. It could be a playground for the beautiful people, an against the crowd alternative to Cannes or San Tropez. Instead, there are rich pickings for staff at badtrousersofeurope.com. Still, if your spiritual practice involves transcending numpties, you can spend a very pleasant few hours shopping and sipping coffee harbour side.
Apricot hued buildings surround the yachting harbour, their homogeneity easy on the eye
Above the harbour stands an incredible fortified town with its far reaching views south to Sardinia. For a first rate lunch, meander through to the Stella D’Oro which has been serving delicious local food since 1965. The proximity of Sardinia infuses many menus with Italian soul in a true Franco-Italian fusion. Local dishes of baked mussels, aubergines with a glorious tomato sauce and lasagne followed by cloud-like tiramasu or tarte au citron have a recipe passed down from generation to generation taste. There is huge pride in the restaurant with the maître d explaining that everything, except for the ice cream, is made on the premises.
The Hotel U Capu Biancu is 20 minutes from Bonifacio and a genuine boutique hotel in the sense of doing something different with interior design some 23 years ago. The French love a formule and the boutique hotel formula of oversized headboard, large print feature wallpaper and garish colours has been done to death, often leaving good taste in its wake. Indeed, France is the only country where I have seen fuchsia pink toilet paper, which is surprisingly disconcerting. All is normal with the toilet paper here though and rooms have some great design touches – showers over copper circular baths – and wonderful views. Rooms are earthy and rustic, though dark curtains and furniture can give them a slightly gloomy feel, despite the ocean side setting. When pushing the design envelope it’s so important to actually ‘use what you choose’ for your guests – one person’s quirky to look at, is another person’s tiresome to use. Coffee served in black tin mugs in the room was slightly depressing – think air raid shelter during the war.
The elegant dining room is much elevated by the wonderful sommelier, Vanessa. You can rely on French restaurants for two things – one is to serve the red wine at the right temperature and the other is to have bizarre crockery and U Capu Biancu is no exception. The people at the neighbouring table were served their salads in what looked like the large collars that vets put on animals after an operation. No chef on the planet could have actually eaten from one of these bizarre bowls as they would immediately realise you can’t rest your cutlery on anything to take a sip of wine. The food is of a high enough quality that it does not need gimmicks – a round white china plate will do the job perfectly and won’t try the patience of the diner. The danger is of course, knowing when to stop so as not to tip into gimmicky eccentricity. Speaking of which, even by modern French standards, the waiters’ evening uniform has to be the worst I’ve seen in 25 years of European travel. The staff, who are excellent, must be very obliging to agree to wear it. Khaki military camouflage shirts, teamed with denim bib and brace dungarees with the bib dangling, belts studded with various gadgets and plimsoles with no laces completed the ‘look’. The bizarre terrorist training camp garb is completely incongruous with the elegant restaurant and serious pricing, more Baghdad than Bonifacio. Either U Capo Biancu does not know quite when to stop or the kitchen is a war zone.
The lounge is chic and spacious and the real Corsican fire provides a soulful touch on autumnal days
To the west of the island lies Ajaccio which must have been sensational in its day. A balmy sweep of harbour, lined with classic Belle Epoque French architecture, stylish villas, tall palms, all perfectly set off by the deepest of blue seas. The years have seen many of the classic buildings torn down to make away for cube-like apartment blocks. Ajaccio is not a smart bustling city, it has a more provincial feel. Locals were pretty much exclusively in the ubiquitous French uniform of jeans and black or grey t-shirts. Café Napoleon is around the best café in town, but its elegance has long faded. The interior is bland compared to its Parisian counterparts. However, it is still a place for watching the world go by en terrasse.
The Hotel Les Mouettes was a beautiful private villa in its day and is a very tightly run ship today. The large balconies and exquisite evening light have a Noël Coward feel to them and are the perfect place for a coupe de champagne or a platter of excellent Corsican charcuterie and cheeses. Breakfast is served on an elegant poolside terrace with the palms and sea views adding to the pleasure. Unusually, there is no restaurant but instead an all day service of lighter dishes. The lounge is chic and spacious and the real Corsican fire provides a soulful touch on autumnal days.
All flights from the UK are in the summer season.
Flights to Ajaccio – Easyjet from Gatwick
Flights to Bastia – Easyjet from Gatwick and Manchester, Flybe from Birmingham and Southampton
Flights to Figari airport – Easyjet from Gatwick, Flybe from Manchester
Flights to Calvi airport – Flybe from Manchester
Flights to all four airports are operated all year around by Air France from Paris.