La Signoria’s amusing dining room

Let’s get this straight. Corsica is not part of Italy although at the closest point, is only 10 km away. It is part of France, hence they speak French and drive like the French. They also eat as well with locally grown products and the people are unexpectedly friendly.

Corsica is considered the most beautiful island in the Mediterranean where the mountains in May are still snow capped, the fine sand beaches below stretch for kilometres, the rock formation looks as though it’s been designed by a sculptor and the vegetation is lush as the marqui shrub’s perfume permeates the air.

But admittedly, there is a downside to this Eden-esque spin. Hotel ratings are dubious at best.

Our first hotel was rated as a four star which is the highest you can obtain. What we got was a very run down, tired looking, unkempt establishment. So our mission is to give you the goods on the four best hotels we visited from south to north, from east to west.

Hotel Les Roches Rouges in Piano, built in 1912 sat deteriorating for 30 years. It took a gutsy petite woman, Madame Dalakupeyan, to realize the great potential. Now after 19 years of coddling her baby, although only 2 stars, the hotel is a big star.

After you enter the brick archway down the pebbled hill and border gardens to the entrance, Hotel Les Roches Rouges now looks like a manor and in fact, the rich and famous do come.

From the doorway the view of the gulf of Port is overwhelming with its various shades of blue. On the large terrace guests enjoy an aperitif before dinner which takes place in the high ceiling ample, elaborate dining room. Trompe l’oeil, gilted pillars and borders and highly polished wood floors comes along with a great menu. First there is the a la carte and then the demi pension which is splendidly prepared and certainly doesn’t leave you wanting for anything more. What could be bad about perfectly prepared white asparagus for starters and ending with a variety of local goat cheese and a great chestnut brulé. Madame in the meantime is busy placing her guests and hovering over them. Although the rooms upstairs are stark e.g. black and white striped coverlets and lace curtains, the accommodations are large with one room featuring twin beds and another with a queen size. Both our rooms were identical. However, we agreed that it would be great to see one of these spaces made into a seating area, which Madame assures us, one day will happen. Like everywhere else in the hotel, it is spotless and the large bathroom is equipped with fine amenities. Perhaps one of the greatest advantages about staying in Piana, is that this is considered the most beautiful village in France. The hotel is also just minutes away from the calanches, a forest of huge red coloured mountains rocks which straddle the sides of the hairpin road to the port city of Porto.

After a 4 hour drive from Piana to Corte, the roads continued to worsen and passing the deep valleys were lost on our concentration. However, safe and sound, we arrived at Hotel Dominique Colonna and what a pleasant end of the day this was. The only sound we heard when we arrived was that of the gushing rushing stream. Both our rooms overlooked the gorge and the nature reserve. The lobby is adequate but the rooms make up in size beside the fact that the cascading water is so close by is a definite plus. Although modest from the outside, the services are excellent and it was sheer bliss to be able to have breakfast beside the brook. The exotic mother of the hotel owner has a restaurant, Auberge de la Restonica, on the grounds, a short walk from door to door. It’s here that we tasted Patrimonio, the very pleasant full bodied red wine of the region. Among the dinner offering on our demi pension menu was Corsican soup and a crisscross of Brocciu (a local cheese made from milk) and eggplant. Then there was either Corsican lamb which was tender but far too much while the other choice was an excellent small trout from Ghisoni. Spotless, friendly and helpful staff, nature walks close by make Hotel Dominique Colonna another one of our choices.

By now we are getting accustomed to the curves but unfortunately, not to the other drivers who seem to have a death wish as they pass on the narrowest of roadways. Nerves all a-shattered, we cheered up instantly when we drove through the arcade of eucalyptus, palms and olives trees to the Auberge Relais La Signoria , (not a Relais et Chateau) in Calvi. From the minute one enters the lobby of this century old building, it’s hard to supress a smile. Immediately one is aware that this is no ordinary décor. Oriental rugs play off against amusing ornaments. The young owners, Jean Baptiste and Marie Ceccaldi, have a wicked sense of humour as well as style and an even more sensible sense of privacy.. Their philosophy is that life should have “quietude and voluptuous for privileged moments”.

Every inch of the three buildings (one, the lobby and bar, another dining room and a few villa type rooms and third the accommodations) holds another surprise.


The terrace at La Signoria

Marie, an artist, has used electric colours in these ancient buildings. Trompe l’oeil drapery is particularly suited in the ante room to the dining room. It’s here that the shock of colour really comes to the fore. Staid black painted frame country French chairs are covered in velvets of lilac, tangerine, blazing red, acid green, Mediterranean blue and it works. Marie’s imagination is totally irreverent when we spot two very staid old portraits only to realize that the proper gentleman has a very newly painted red blob of a nose and the soignée Madame is garish with her vibrant luscious red lip. The several on- grounds fountains spout water, flowers are abundant and the aroma in the air is unique to Corsica.

Breakfast served on the terrace adjoining the dining room overlooks a large deck and tempting swimming pool. There are tennis courts and an hammam, though small, it is located below the rooms in a building that once was a stable.

Each room is quite different. One of ours was on a single level but extremely large well decorated room stocked with terry robes and fine linens. The other room was on three, three step levels with the charm of a Ritz or Four Seasons Hotels. Larger suites are available and one that stays in our mind is a two bedroom brilliantly red painted vaulted ceiling suite. All have considerably large bathrooms.

Even their menu had us oohing and aahing. Since we both love artichokes and since they were in season, it was a no-brainer for us to have Decouverte Autour de L’Artichaut.-.a sampling menu made up of that soft hearted tough leave vegetable. We started with a creamy veloute soup, followed by Petits farcis d’artichauts bouquets, panzetta fumee et bruccio frais, then came Fricassee d’artichauts poivrades au pignon, Rougets (fish).

And just when we thought we couldn’t take another bite, dishes of morceau d’un agneau de lait en cocotte artichauts barigoules arrived. Again we opted for Patromonio wine.

After spending a few hours in the St Tropez of Corsica, Porto Vecchio, a sophisticated seaside resort with a marina filled with huge-only variety of yachts, we headed for an easy 15 minute drive to Bonifacio. How can one describe the ultimate in drama and beauty of this ancient port? At one end is a marina, again with boats for the wealthy or wanabees while up the very steep hill is the 11th century citadel. Lurking behind is the large old city atop cliffs of chalk with art galleries, shops, terrific food stores and museums.

Arriving here was painless compared to the tortuous drives before. After a sharp turn off, we were at Centre Nautique, once an old Yacht club and naval offices. With the right architect, they have turned this 11 room boutique hotel into something quite special and unique. An easy description is loft style. A firehall circular staircase leads you from the lower lever with sofa, table and chairs up to a small bedroom and totally marbled bathroom. Best of all, the windows face the marina. Continuing the colour of the sea just outside, their use of blue linens, coverlet, towels are coordinated to the area. Although they do have demi pension, one should work up an appetite by walking to the old town to dine at the family owned, 30 year old Stella d’oro. After winning numerous awards, it’s right up there with any good Parisian restaurant. Then walking back to Centre Natique, with the moon shining on the river, watching the flat screen TV attached to the wall facing the bed, there is nothing but pleasant dreams to look forward to.

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