La Signoria Hotel, just outside the northwest Corsican town of Calvi, simply oozes old world charm, no surprise considering it was previously the 18th century Genoese estate of ‘La Paratella’ under Louis XV, later given to the Marquis Murat de la Serpriere.
Taken over by Jean-Baptiste Ceccaldi, and his wife, Marie, an artist and interior designer, twenty-five years ago, it has retained much of its authenticity while offering delightful touches of modern luxury.
Set amidst acres of rolling land speckled with a series of Adobe-style buildings, the five-star La Signoria, a member of Relais & Chateaux, sits under the shadow of the mountains near the Bonifato Valley while also only three kilometers from the azure-blue Mediterranean, where it has its own private beach (Signoria Mare) managed by Marie’s brother, Serge.
Entered along a short access road, the grounds come slowly into view as one approaches, with an array of Eucalyptus, palm, olive and pine trees, rose bushes and assorted flowers, a compact car park and a building housing both the reception area and a bar with seating both indoor and out. Here, esoteric garden sculptures capture one’s attention – three sets of colorfully-trousered legs reclining on the grass kicking high in the air while nearby two female figures stand provocatively, dressed only in their undergarments.
Narrow pathways emanate in all directions leading one to different rooms either in the old house or to villas converted out of former outbuildings and down some stairs to a discreet area housing a small out-door pool (side-rails would be a useful addition to help guests enter and exit), an extremely large indoor Jacuzzi (easily enough for ten people) and a modest sauna, steam-room and gym.
The bar facing on to the gardens near the reception area is a quirky, attractive place to while away a few hours. Featuring stain-glass windows in hues of bright red, blue and yellow, worn leather armchairs and a trodden wooden floor with slip carpets in red and navy blue, its walls are a hand-painted wash of color, a mix of ochre, pale green and purple.
A patina-style wood fireplace nearby and lampshades in various styles scattered about enhance the sense of reckless old world charm. A thick, leather-backed ‘Livre de Cave’ cocktail recipe book on an upright stand in the middle of the room contains more than 150 impressive concoctions made from champagne, gin, vodka, tequila, whisky, calvados, cognac and Campari, all complied by drinks master, Nicholas Allain. They include a 1956 Glen Grant, with Cuban cigars as accompaniment. Outside, wicker chairs set beside vivid red tables offer comfortable seating under the shadow of tall cypress trees.
A delightful, old-fashioned turn-key with latch permits one entry to bedrooms, to a short hallway with a separate bathroom and toilet either side, ample cupboard and floor space for baggage and the bedroom directly ahead with balcony windows granting clear views over the woodlands beyond.
Eclectic old world charm was abundant in the room furnishings, many of which one senses were in situ when the hotel was taken over and renovated, including a worn sturdy wood floor. The bathroom featured a classic, step-up enamel bath and twin deep-set wash-hand basins on a plain wood top. Interlinking lamps hung from the ceiling and a colorful 70s era divan lay against one wall with a patina-style drinks table beside it. A longer writing table with different colored drawers stood in one corner, and there were matching bedside tables in retro style.
Marie’s varied tastes are reflected in the wall art. One oil painting is of a beautiful, dusky Latin woman dressed in 19th century silk finery sitting on a hillside gazing at the viewer with a lakeside town below and behind her. Another showed a crisp morning street scene empty of people, with trees fronting several traditional ochre-roofed homes. In contrast, a third painting was a simple abstract – multicolored balloons floating at the end of strings on a plain beige background. Outside on the balcony, a small, red brick terrace with wicker chairs overlooks an ornate water fountain and the forest of Bonifato beyond.
La Signoria earns full points for a creatively-displayed and varied breakfast buffet, with a generous multitude of choices, ranging from local wild strawberries and figs to poached bananas and pineapple; made-to-order omelets with cheese and rosemary; a selection of local cheeses and cold cuts; an array of pastries including versions of Corsican cheesecake; strong and flavorsome local coffee and more than five types of breads, including the traditional variety made with chestnut flour. Breakfast can be eaten either inside ‘La Palmeraie restaurant (where dinner is also served) or on the terrace, the problem with the latter being the hungry and extremely perseverant wasps.
La Palmeraie is located in a stand-alone building divided into two parts. One part is a bistro-styled room, with circular tables and colorful chairs and a multitude of photographs on the walls depicting various, mainly cinematic, celebrities (some of whom have visited the property). Adjoining it is a transformed conservatory, re-designed to give it the aura of Art Nouveau era and painted in spectrum of colors – terracotta, honey cream, olive greens and sky-blue.
Among the dinner highlights reflecting creativity and cuisine craft were a starter of pressed duck foie gras with veal sweetbreads skillfully incorporated within the block. Choice of this particular starter also allows one to taste the flavorsome local Barbary figs accompanying the dish. A main dish of sautéed veal with wild mushrooms, a meat Corsicans pride themselves on, is also well worth mentioning.
A generous portion, pink without being bloody, it comes so tender you almost didn’t have to bother biting into it. No matter what starter or main dish one chooses at La Palmeraie, however, one must simply not forsake indulging in the wide selection of Corsican cheeses offered. In season, the restaurant boasts having more than forty different types, both goat and sheep – some over thirty months old.