Marion Hume | January 15th, 2011
Photos Courtesy of Just Sardinia
How about two slices of heaven (with some fresh ricotta drizzled with mountain honey on the side)? Southern Corsica and Northern Sardinia are so close they almost touch, yet they are worlds apart, and not just because of two nationalities (French, Italian) and four languages, (including Corsu and Sardu).
If your idea of heaven comes with nightclub, then you’re a Sardinia girl, because for the eight fast and furious weeks each summer, The Billionaire’s Club has Costa Smeralda rocking with “Supes” and “celebs” (and yes, playboys decked in way too many man-jewels). The beach at Porto Cervo may be as tiny as Naomi Campbell’s bikini but ever since the Aga Khan declared this craggy landscape the playground of the jet-set in the 1960s, it has sparkled. If bagging a Russian oligarch while decked in an Elizabeth Hurley jeweled khaftan is what floats your boat (as long as its a 100m super yacht) book now (you’re already late by November. Many hotels fill up with repeat guests year after year).
Even if that strikes you as absolutely ghastly, don’t write off the Costa Smeralda, at least not before savouring a drink at the Hotel Cala di Volpe. Opened in 1962, yes, it is the haunt of the once-young turned not-so-young with their 130 pieces of Vuitton luggage but the time has come to lead the revolution in a structured silk sundress by Barbara Tfank, make like Mad Men’s Betty Draper and claim back the most legendary hotel in Europe for the young and gorgeous. “We so want to be young again,” says the hotel’s legendary front office manager, Michele Cantatore, who has all the best gossip and is distinctly young at heart. With its crazy stain glass and mad Moorish decor, The Cala di Volpe has stood still so long, with its old world immaculate service and fantastic cocktails, it has come full circle and feels utterly “now” (although that is not Don Draper but George Clooney at the bar). It costs a mint of course but you can hop to nearby Olbia Airport either by private jet or on a budget flight from Frankfurt, London, Rome with your Bulgari jewels as carry-on. Once you arrive, ignore the in-room safes and insist on storing your sparklers at the hotel’s own basement Fort Knox. Or you could just wear them to the beach. Everyone else does.
Should you wish to mix glamour with peace on earth, then Hotel L’Ea Bianca offers sweeping sea views, a lovely pool and delicious half-board dinners (just a couple of choices. Who wants to have to think too much?) as well as a choice of secret gardens; your own (clipped oleander hedges and herbaceous borders planted with vivid purple agapanthus), the rooftop hideaway and a chill out cactus garden, with distinctly unspikey sofas to lounge on. If you want to do Sardinia on a budget, and you are quite greedy, then the “agritouristic” Tenuta Pilastru, a farm with horses, up in the hills, is less per night than a salad in Porto Cervo and the home baked pastries at breakfast are so good you could wrap a few in your napkin and call them lunch. For sheer photographic glamour, try Hotel La Coluccia. It is isolated, way out at Santa Teresa di Gallura, the very closest point to Corsica, but the view across the pool, and the mere hop, skip and a jump from your room to the beach make it a little gem.
But what if yours is another view of heaven; anti-glam and not a bijou in sight and a paradise where you’ll see no-one except the one you love and the barman? Domaine de Murtoli, Southern Corsica is a collection of self-catering farm buildings. Doesn’t that sound worthy and dull? You wouldn’t think so if I told you who hides away there, but I can’t because while co-host Valerie Canarelli is one of those exquisitely beautiful French women, who has had four children and kept a teeny waist, and is also possessed of a gimlet stare if you get anywhere close to trespassing on the privacy of other guests, of which many are movie stars. Or so I have managed to gather by dastardly journalistic tricks I won’t share with you. As to who you might actually spot here - there were 57 people in residence when I visited Domaine de Murtoli and I saw precisely three of them. From a distance.
This property is vast; the staffer charged with delivering guests’ breakfasts in wicker baskets drives some 50k of farm tracks every morning. It is the inheritance of Valerie’s handsome partner, Paul Canarelli, whose cattle breeder grandfather told him he must never sell a slither of it, from the mountains to the shore. With hospitality in the blood (the family owns one of the ritziest hotels on this French island where both Napoleon and the L’Oreal supermodel, Laetitia Casta were born), Canarelli set about restoring the metre-thick old gold stone villa Nivara which sleeps eight, then the tiny “bergeries” shepherds huts which can fit in a cozy two-a-piece. All have private pools as well as private beaches and only one doesn’t have a view of the sea. Of course, it is the most charming of all, with a view forever over 2000 hectares of wilderness with not a power line, a phone mast or a hint of habitation to ruin things.
All very nice you might say, but what if you need a drink? This may be Corsica, but it is very French, which is to say a Canarelli cousin owns local winery, hence some of the gutsiest reds and delicious fruity whites. As for the self catering, you don’t have to go to the supermarket – staff take your list and do that for you, (commendably without adding a cent to the price at the till) and you can help yourself to fruit, vegetables, herbs from the kitchen garden and order meat from livestock reared on the land.
Or you can run up a (sizeable) tab at the two restaurants. The first is a beach shack - think your dream “sand between your toes” restaurant ever. The second is La Grotte, candlelit in a cave, so you navigate your way to a table over old stone weathered by the Mistral winds while ducking your head for overhangs. Of course the food is delicious. And fresh. Those wild boars you see running into the bush, which here is called the maquis? What robust pate they make. Or there’s the trout and eel fresh from the river Ortolo that runs through the land or the bass or bream from the sea.
Not edible, but wonderful is the local plant; called “immortelle” in Corsica and “elicrisio” across the water in Sardinia. The heady scent is wild and fragrant and as a body scrub, it is full of youthful properties, so they say. Certainly it smells heavenly, whether you tuck a sprig into your pocket and head out into the night at Costa Smeralda or you roll it between your fingers under the night stars at Domaine de Murtoli. Or anywhere else in Corsica, I suppose, except I cancelled plans to see any other hotels. When you are lucky enough to find heaven on earth, you stay put and count your blessings.
For full-on Sardinia, head here in July/August. It is much more tranquil in
June and September. Out of season, Porto Cervo is closed.
La Cala di Volpe and Hotel la Caluccia; www.kiwicollection.com
L’Ea Bianca Luxury Resort; www.charmingsardinia.com
Tenuta Pilastru; www.tenutapilastru.it
If you want to tour Sardinia, mixing rural farm stays with smart hotels, Just Sardinia have been experts for two decades and Huw and Alison Nurse are patient and delightful. Believe me. I tested the patience of medieval saints planning this trip.
Avoid Corsica in July/August when (outside the gates of Domaine de Murtoli) it is swamped. The end of June is wonderful. A darling little bergerie for two costs E 220 a night, (available by the week only in high season). If you must go in high summer, tell your richest friends to rent the maison de maitre (sleeps 12) at E 25,600 and to invite you along.
Sardinia and Corsica have budget flight connections from the main incoming Australian flight routes. Ryanair flies into Figari/Corsica from London www.ryanair.com and Easyjet www.easyjet.com has connections across Europe into Olbia, Sardinia.
Transferring between islands is easy on the Moby Line ferry