A rugged island swathed in azure Mediterranean waters, Corsica may be French by geography, but its culture stands far apart from that of its motherland. Tucked away on the southeastern Corsican coast, near Porto-Vecchio, is La Plage Casadelmar, a 15-room boutique hotel perched in paradise. Designed by French architect Jean-François Bodin, the hotel – a member of the Design Hotels group – is crafted from natural materials such as volcanic rock, resin and 300-year-old oak that blend in with the surrounding landscape. And then there’s the private beach …
The diminutive size of my aeroplane – exposed propellers spinning furiously outside my window – is the first clue that my sojourn to Corsica means more than just leaving mainland France. Life instantly slows to a languid pace as soon as my first footstep caresses the tarmac of the Mediterranean-perched land mass. Figari airport and its eponymous village are merely blemishes on the southeast corner of the island’s map, snuggled in amongst winding roads swathed in vegetation. The fact that my taxi driver, Claude, acknowledges almost every driver coming in the opposite direction signals the presence of a tight-knit community – but then he is one of only ten taxi drivers in the region.
On our drive towards La Plage Casadelmar, located on the coast near the small village of Lecci, we pass through a string of what seem like one-street villages, where locals amble along the roadside in a general state of ease. Eventually the road narrows further still, fringing the shoreline of the Benedettu Peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean across the bay from the region’s largest town, Porto-Vecchio.
Embraced by the rugged terrain signature to the south of Corsica, La Plage Casadelmar feels very much like a private refuge far from the rest of civilisation. Gazing out over the cerulean water, the 15-room hotel is the epitome of peaceful solitude, inciting an overwhelming urge to let thoughts of everything but the present moment slip idly away.
My abode at La Plage Casadelmar is a spacious one, decked with tactile wood finishes, achromatic decor and an all-encompasisng armchair. Having settled into the room, I’m about to put on some music but, unwittingly, I stop. I close my eyes and listen to the natural soundtrack surrounding me. There’s a sense of almost complete stillness – a quiet so profound, so foreign to ears accustomed to urban life, that it makes my heart swell. Slowly my ears tune in to the delicate sonic arrangement at play. Leaves brush ever so gently against each other, as if in a loving caress. The crystalline ripples of the Mediterranean idle towards the shore before disappearing into the sand, carrying with them the sparkle of dying sunlight. A dusk-dwelling bird calls out towards the vanishing sun, bidding it farewell for another day.
I wander down to the private beach, mere metres from the terrace of my room. The refreshing cool of the evening air mingles with the scent of pine, seasoned by a mouthwatering touch of sea salt. The resulting fragrance is beguiling, particularly when juxtaposed with the distinct sweetness of jasmine. In the distance, a stretch of cloud lingers on the hilltops, as if caught in the tree branches. Terracotta roofs sit in clusters atop the hills’ voluptuous crests.
Further along the beach, past the palm umbrellas and elegant chaise longues of La Plage Casadelmar, burnt-orange rock formations fringe the shore, with coarse golden sand at their feet. An artist’s palette of vibrant wild flowers punctuates the sand dunes. Sailboats glide through the water with the grace of swans, their sails billowing in the breeze like plumes of feathers. On the horizon I can see the ochre gathering of buildings that compose the old town of Porto-Vecchio.
In the morning I am woken by the gentle lap of waves and the cheerful ditties of the local bird life. As I stand on my terrace, the water glistens enticingly, its azure surface so clear that you can see right to the rippled sand beds below. It’s a perfect day for the boat trip I have planned around the southern tip of the island. As the boat sets sail through the peninsula and out into the Mediterranean, the uninterrupted stretches of lush greenery and golden beaches fringing the island give an indication of how sparsely populated this part of Corsica is.
Squeals of delight soon emanate from the back of the boat, as a group of passengers point to the trail of whitewash behind us. A pod of dolphins is frolicking gleefully in the waves, soaring into the air with playful leaps. Our captain suddenly turns the boat off course, as does the captain of the boat in front of us, and I soon realise that they’re creating a whirlpool of waves to entice the dolphins even further. The glistening creatures return the favour with gusto, uniting in a cheeky show of aerial acrobatics, and the perfect welcome to Corsica.