Perched high amid rambling hills, the location of northwest Corsica’s Hotel La Villa could hardly be more picturesque, overlooking the ochre-colored citadel of Calvi and the sparkling bay waters of the Mediterranean far below.
Accommodation options at the 68-room, five-star hotel, a member of Relais & Chateaux, vary greatly. There are 56 rooms within the central hotel complex plus three spacious hacienda-style villas on higher ground, each separated into four apartments, spread along the nearby hillsides. The overall ambiance is most relaxing, with sweet-smelling, eye-catching foliage and flora including olive, fig, pine and cedar trees, as well as sage, rosemary, geraniums and lavender. Sensitive architectural design of terracotta roof-tiles, a beige and ochre color scheme, traditional-style dwellings and natural stone pathways enables La Villa to merge seamlessly into the verdant host environment.
Some villas have large open terraces out front with a decorative wrought iron fence around it that grant splendid views down to the old town lying atop a hill, yachts and fishing boats plying back and forth on the open sea and across to the stunning bare-rock mountainous terrain surrounding the place.
The interior of the villas, featuring glazed stone-tile floors with crimson carpets, grant space aplenty – a large living room area containing two soft, comfortable sofas, an armchair and coffee table; a simple toilet and separate bathroom encompassing both bath and shower (toiletries were by Anne Semonin of Paris and US-based SkinCeuticals) and an airy bedroom, its double doors facing out on to the terrace. A small room off the main hallway offered added space for storage and an alcove beside it contained a writing desk and chair. Wall décor kept the tone, with wood-framed etchings of the islets off the Corsican coast, miniature topographical ink drawings and a gaily-colored watercolor of the historic port of Calvi adorning the plain white walls.
The hotel complex is reached along a steep road leading directly up from downtown Calvi with plenty of open parking inside the main gates. Art works adorn the public areas reflecting the interest of the hotel’s owners, Marion and Jean-Pierre Pinelli, in hosting different artists regularly. Works displayed included New York-based Jonone (John Andrew Perello), Corsican artist, Toussaint Moufraggi, and Jak Espi, one of whose sculptures in the lobby is an amusing, yellow-eyed life-size replica of the Pink Panther demurely splaying ample-sized breasts and holding an IPhone in his open palm. Artist Julien Marinetti has provided an amusing collection of multi-colored ducks, entitled ‘Kwack,’ that adorn the pool area in front of the restaurant.
Corsican weather is usually delightful but the odd storm rushes down from the mountains, so La Villa offers three options for those interested in swimming – a heated interior pool, several outdoor ones and a private beach complete with lounge chairs, a five-minute drive from the hotel complex towards Calvi. It also has a gym and two small steam rooms, as well as a spa offering various treatments. For sports enthusiasts, there is also an open clay tennis court.
In terms of food, La Villa is the proud owner of a Michelin star for its gourmet creations at La Table (the same glass-fronted area overlooking Calvi and the sea where breakfast is served). Be sure to try the delicious Corsican coffee and the pain au chocolate and croissants over breakfast, especially divine when accompanied by maquis-based honey.
For dinner, a five-course tasting menu is on offer, accompanied by various Corsican wines. Memorable highlights include ‘the oeuf mollet frit,’ a poached egg served in a cappuccino of celery, mushrooms and black truffles; the Carpaccio of John Dory and spider crab flesh, with fennel, fresh coriander and shiso leaves, as well as the braised pigeon breast served with the confit of pigeon leg, porcini mushrooms and kadaif of offal and dried fruits.
Following the seasonal produce, the dessert offerings can include selections such as chestnuts and pear sorbet and the roasted figs with citron (local lemons) and white cheese sorbet – undeniable proof of fine gourmet dining. One suggestion, however, is for the restaurant to offer a gourmet vegetarian option, something non-existent while we were there.
Wine choice is excellent, with nearby Calvi being a haven of wine production with wineries such as Clos Culombu and Domaine d’Alziprato only a few miles away and open for tastings.
Service at La Villa is efficient and welcoming, with Giovanni, providing a warm smile while accommodating guests’ requests over the buffet breakfast; Mona, providing insights into the various courses and wines over dinner; and Carolyn at the reception desk dealing with questions one might have about the local area and the hotel’s history.
In summary, La Villa is a classic ‘getaway’ retreat located discreetly amidst the sublime quiet of nature offering sensory delights through a combination of rich, colorful foliage and panoramic views over the sea and surrounding mountains. (Tip: bring a pair of binoculars to fully enjoy the scenery.)
With such a delightful base, exploring the old city of Calvi is easy and worth the effort – a stroll up the main shopping street (Wilson Boulevard) leads to the citadel, which offers wonderful views over the coast.