Such is the discreet nature of its location – screened behind thick foliage of yucca, cypress, bamboo and bougainvillea – once can bypass the entrance to the Grand Hotel de Cala Rossa and only after driving along a steep, winding road, backtrack and look again. Located in Porto Vecchio in southern Corsica, the first impression of the luxury hotel is of a tropical, West Indies-style retreat, a feeling not just encouraged by the thick foliage out front but also by the array of color emanating from twenty grass-like plants in black boxes beside the reception area, another ten slender pink flowering species in a line of pots on a nearby table and a vibrant interior garden next to the bar further inside.
In addition, a walk along narrow, stone pathways that lead from the main hotel building to an open, wooden patio and private beach beyond brings guests through a veritable botanical garden of olive and palm trees, oleanders, honeysuckle, jasmine, immortelle, lavender, cistus, rosemary and clematis.
This delightful sense of nature also permeates many of the hotel’s furnishings, including two finely varnished wood replicas of horses (which were obtained from a carnival carousel) and an elongated sculpture made from branches of a juniper tree, a wall fixture in the lobby. An even more interesting wooden artifact covers most of the wall behind the reception desk – a cherubic face in the center of a decorative floral motif – recovered from the remains of an 18th century ship.
The hotel’s lobby area features a décor of vaults and arches with a green, white and brown floor of terracotta tiles from Salerne in southern France. It is furnished with red leather armchairs where guests relaxed, some catching up on world news (the hotel provides daily newsletters on different countries in several languages) or enjoying a round of cards with friends in the evenings.
Beyond this is a large bar area with an open log fire in one corner with a row of candles inside large bell jars on a horizontal timber beam above it, a piano and collection of 17 wood framed mirrors decorating the walls. A series of black and white photographs depict the area in the depths of a snowy winter.
Some rooms are of the ‘chambre grand comfort’ category and reflect the contemporary, Mediterranean style preferred by owner, Toussaint Canarelli, and his daughter, the hotel manager, Helene. The predominantly eggshell white color scheme featured patina furniture by Mis en Demeure including a white desk, chairs and glass-fronted wardrobes. Among the other furnishings were a cane-backed bed, a pair of armchairs of a soft, brown cloth material, silver-handled bedside and standing lamps and crimson-colored curtains. Fabrics in the room were by Ellitis and the toilet and bathroom were separate, with Clarins cosmetics.
Sliding doors opened on to a cozy terrace with wicker chairs and table and a makeshift roof above of bare untreated wood, all beneath the languid branches of tall cypress trees – a perfect place for a pre or after dinner pastis.
One of the highlights of a good weather stay at Hotel de Cala Rossa is a relaxing few hours on chaises longues at its large, raised outdoor patio or just below on the hotel’s private beach of fine sand and clean, shallow water, made even nicer by a specially-erected plastic boundary fence that prevents jellyfish and other potentially nuisance species entering the swimming area. Beyond this lies a picturesque coastal scene – a smooth sea peppered with several interesting rocky outcrops, yachts and fishing boats bobbing in the waters and the alabaster homes of Porto Vecchio across a gulf dominated by the Massif de l’Ospendale.
The hotel takes guests out on 90-minute complimentary boat rides every morning leaving from the end of a long wooden pier nearby, a place where, in dry weather, it also hosts morning fitness classes. The hotel’s spa is by Clarins and is of a Japanese design with cedar wood floors. It also features a sauna and steam room and decent-size swimming pool.
Cuisine at the hotel’s restaurant, La Table, is contemporary involving Corsican and Japanese influences and based upon fresh products from the hotel’s own vegetable and herb garden as well as the region’s offerings but dining there is as exciting as a Christmas morning – you simply don’t know what you’re going to get. The set three-course menu, with two options for each course, changes daily so it is an evening highlight to taste what the master chef had come up with.
The culinary delights of a three-night stay at Cala Rossa is a story onto itself, so in trying to do it justice, some will be mentioned briefly – creations that encompass impressions of time spent there: the square of piglet roasted in its own skin on a bed of vegetables cooked in Asian spices; lightly grilled scallops in a soup of pumpkin with hazelnut oil; magret of pan fried wild duck, its skin resting on a bed of carrot puree and prunes; liche tartare (a locally caught fish with a texture similar to that of sea trout) marinated in a local maquis mix; Black Forest cake revisited by Julie, the pastry chef, and shaped into an architecturally well-designed tower of taste; and ‘tomme fume,’ a delicious smoked cheese made outside Sartene, with a texture like aged parmesan (accompany it with a glass or two from Clos Canarelli, a winery just outside Figari belonging to the same family who own the hotel).