A cosy spot on the beach at Domaine de Murtoli, which has been managed by the same family for three generations OPPOSITE: (From top) Expect azure waters against clear blue skies at Corsica. Meals at Casadelmar come with spectacular views of the Gulf of Porto-Vecchio. Domaine de Murtoli comprises 20 shepherds’ houses and landlord mansions from the 17th century
Napoleon Bonaparte, Corsica’s most famous child, was born on the French-speaking island 251 years ago and believed that imagination rules the world. Imagine a landscape of jagged mountains topped by an immense ancient rock shaped like a lion and formed of pink granite. Imagine a turquoise sea on which sunlight dances and throws shadows onto herb-scented hillsides. Imagine paradise.
Corsica lies in the Mediterranean Sea, just north of Sardinia, but the Casadelmar hotel (casadelmar.fr/en) in the south of the island is almost impossible to see from the water. Subtly designed to blend into the pretty gardens of fig and olive trees as well as the soft grey rock of the hills behind, this sleek, contemporary residence sits in perfect harmony with its surroundings. While a similar calm discretion characterises the service, there is a delightful drama both in descending the curve of the central sweeping staircase and in the view from our huge room. All 34 suites have large private terraces, and there is a villa that sleeps eight, facing the medieval town of Porto-Vecchio across the bay. The hotel’s vast infinity pool is a haven of quietness, while a series of bleached wooden decks, delicious to the bare foot, leads down to a small, sandy beach.
Fabio, the Italian chef who carries his double Michelin star with soufflé-light modesty, conjures up magical feasts, including a salad of multicoloured beetroot, onion and fennel that I would happily have for lunch every day of my life. Sadly, we only have two days, so after an exceptional massage with Melissa in the top-notch Espa spa, we set off on the short trip over the water in the hotel’s 18m speedboat, to its sister property La Plage Casadelmar (laplagecasadelmar.fr ). Here, the vibe is more beach-casual, with 12 rooms and three suites set behind a long stretch of warm sand. Inside, we linger in the well-stocked library before stepping outside to sip cocktails among the abundant tubs of crimson and cream wildflowers scattered across the terrace.
Crossing the southern end of Corsica and just off the looping, curving coastal road, an unmarked track leads to our final stop, Domaine de Murtoli (murtoli.com). This small kingdom of 2,500 hectares—10 times the size of Monaco— is hidden among the hills, with its own cheese factory, a vineyard, a golf course and the opportunity to fish in the river or the sea. A spectacular estate owned and managed with unquenchable passion by the same family for three generations, Domaine de Murtoli is more heaven than hotel. There are 20 guest houses, converted from ancient dry-stone dwellings, landlords’ homes and shepherds’ huts, scattered wide across the area, most with their own pool and varying in capacity from two to 12 people. Here, luxury lies not in fancy taps and room service, but in space, silence and stop-you-in-your-tracks beauty.
We stay in A Filetta, with its lavender-scented, brick-lined bathroom, swimming pool fashioned out of the rock, and timeless views across the valley and down to the sea. Absolute privacy is disturbed only by the occasional twitch of a sun-drunk grasshopper or an iridescent lizard dashing for shade. A sequence of rough dirt roads links the houses with the beach, the restaurants, the farm and the potager. We stroll with botanist Stéphane Rogliano, impressed by his knowledge of the maquis and its abundance of scented plants. This indigenous Corsican scrubland is thick with heather, myrtle, thyme, rosemary, honeysuckle and evergreen oak; in May, the dense, colour-rich explosion of wildflowers resembles an Impressionist painting.
On the 20-minute drive from A Filetta to the beach, we pass foraging chickens, roaming cows and a flash of a curly tail as a wild boar disappears into the undergrowth. In the spa, beneath a ceiling of local driftwood, therapist Camille uses essences of local herbs with such gentleness of touch that I float into the Table de la Plage, the beach’s outdoor, sand-under-foot restaurant, for a sublime lunch of citrus-infused spider crab, avocado and home-pressed olive oil. Later, we wander through the bountiful vegetable garden, filling a basket with courgettes, peppers, asparagus and tiny yellow tomatoes, warm from the sun, to cook in our own kitchen and consume by the light of a full moon.
All three restaurants at Murtoli source their ingredients from the Domaine itself. One night, we dine sumptuously in the Michelin-starred Table de la Ferme; on another, in the spectacular Table de la Grotte, seated within the hollowed spaces of the natural rock and bathed in the glow of countless candelabras, we eat a casserole of venison and chestnut flour cake.
A magnificent eagle, swooping, soaring and drifting on the breeze above us, has a bird’s-eye view of the island’s glory while below him, wellness, calm, peace and freedom take on a new and deeper meaning. In Corsica, there is no need to imagine.
BY JULIET NICOLSON. PHOTOGRAPHY: ©CHYMOMORE; STOCKSY; ALAMY; GETTY IMAGES; 123RF.COM