Leave your door ajar and the rhythmic ebb and flow of the sea over the rocks outside your bedroom provides the perfect accompaniment to sleep – that provides some idea of the ideal location of Sofitel Golfe d’Ajaccio Thalassa Sea & Spa, snug along Corsica’s southern shore.
With sliding glass doors, we had a picture perfect view out to nearby rocky ledges licked by rolling waves of surf, a mesh of green forest beyond and a long slim arm of a promontory pointing its fingers out to the Mediterranean.
So close was our room to the water we watched admiringly as a bearded fisherman, clad in jacket, jeans and waders, tested his skills in the heavy rain. When the rained ceased, we meandered out to our open terrace, furnished with umbrella, a small wooden table and two, padded chaise lounges and enjoyed the afternoon sunshine. Trellised fences either side insure privacy between neighbors.
Our room, one of 98 at the hotel and one that underwent recent renovation, was not overly large but more than adequate for our needs, with sufficient cupboard space and a separate shower cubicle and bath tub. The predominant white color scheme was offset slightly only by beige carpeting and chrome and silver lamp fixtures. Two soft-back chairs and plain round table accommodate easy viewing out to sea. A French Riviera theme permeates, including the adoption of Missoni cushions.
The five-star Sofitel lies in a discreet location in Porticcio, a fifteen-minute drive from Ajaccio airport, reached via a short inclining access road lined with laurel and bay-rose. Its exterior is of straight lines in glass and stone with two slim standing bronze statutes by Corsican sculptor, Gabriel Diana, and a dwarfish olive tree out front.
This simple façade, however, disguises the delights beyond, many courtesy of the hotel’s stunning coastal location. Beyond a set of doors beside the reception area, a wooden walkway leads to an attractive, cozy setting – a large green lawn featuring white canvas tent-like structures with tables and soft seating underneath and palm and araucaria coniferous trees and large stone boulders placed strategically about. It being evening when we arrived, the tables were lighted with candles creating an intimate aura. To the right, on a raised wooden deck, further seating directly overlooked the sea, tentacles of striated rock immediately below and the bright lights of Ajaccio and the Sanguinaires Islands across the bay. A well-stocked bar is located nearby with a heated, open-air, seawater swimming pool tucked in just behind.
The hotel, first opened in 1954, is divided into three wings, and is presently undergoing a renovation costing around 1.5 million euro. In hospitality terms, it has an interesting history. In the 1960s it was known as ‘Hotel du Cap’ and was part of the Negresco hotel group in Nice. In 1967, the Sheraton bought it, before the Accor group took over in 1974. It became a Sofitel brand earlier this year.
Many clients come for the hotel’s historic spa treatments – it boasts having the only thalassotherapy (seawater therapy) center on the island. We spent several hours in the facilities, which stretch along the length of the hotel’s ground floor, separated into rooms for different treatments, enjoying a relaxing session on a hydrojet bed and pressotherapy. There is also a steam-room and sauna.
Dining is at ‘Le Caroubier’ restaurant, where an excellent buffet breakfast is also served. The breakfast spread is impressive with an wide array of items to choose from such as natural wax honey, several types of Corsican cold cuts, including a particularly tasty chestnut-filled sausage, various local cheeses, six or seven different pastries, and fresh fruits and drinks including soya milk with vanilla. Rather than the usual large silver tray-like containers, warm dishes are placed in attractive compact pots sitting on warming grills. Even though the regular coffee is excellent, my only suggestion would be to replace the espresso machine with one producing a stronger drink.
A more sedate ambiance awaits guests at ‘Le Caroubier’ (carob tree) in the evenings with a pianist providing soft accompaniment beside the bar area just outside the dining room. The room is a contrast in color, with a black, white and crimson décor, full-length floor-to-ceiling pillars and candlelit tables. The glass-surround grants diners full views along the coast, across to Ajaccio and over to the archipelago of islands.
Even though it was not on the menu, the chef was more than happy to comply with our special request for a Corsican starter of his choice, thus ‘oeuf poch é à la mode Corse’ (poached egg in a Corsican style) – a blend of local cheese, including the well-known Brocciu, egg and a mix of charcuterie and dill presented in a tasty pudding-like mound. Soft roasted veal, that day’s daily special, was flavored with local rosemary and accompanied by tender chicory, a proof of the restaurant’s successful efforts in blending Corsican flavors in modern cuisine.
While swimming (in addition to the outdoor pool, the hotel also has a private beach), sunbathing and the spa treats offer ample leisure options, the Sofitel’s location also means convenient drives either north along the twisting mountain road to quaint coastal villages such as Cargese or south to see the ancient megalithic site at Filitosa. With Ajaccio only a short drive away, strolling the streets of its old center or engaging in conversation with local producers at the Saturday market in Place Foch can make for a memorable day.