Stylist’s Executive Fashion Director Kitty McGee kicks back on the relaxed French island
France has long been one of my favourite holiday destinations - there’s little better than a weekend in Paris, a summer holiday relaxing in the Provencal countryside, a wine tour in Burgundy or a sunny beach break on the Aquitaine coast. But despite frequent trips to the most-visited country in the world, I’d never stepped foot on the French island of Corsica.
Geographically closer to Italy than France, on a clear day you can see Sardinia from the coast of Porto Vecchio, the island’s third biggest town which is bordered on the east by the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the west by the Ospedale and Cagna mountains. After 30 minutes of driving through picturesque local villages made up of stone houses with wooden shutters painted pretty pastel shades, I arrive at Le Grand Hotel de Cala Rossa. The view from every angle - looking out to the clear turquoise water and up to mountains - is an Instagram Stories dream. The rooms are light, spacious and serene but I immediately wriggle into my bikini and head to one of the wooden loungers at the luxurious private beach for some R&R.
While popular with French holidaymakers, particularly in August, Corsica is overwhelmingly tranquil. The chilled out vibe of the islanders is one of the first things I notice. Locals view themselves as mountain people rather than fisherman - meat dishes featuring wild boar, rabbit and veal in various guises are on offer at traditional restaurants although you can still get your seafood fix, such as seabass tataki and steamed cod with brown butter sauce and cauliflower, along the coast.
Foodies would do well to stay at Cala Rossa. The hotel has three restaurants; my favourite is Les Terrasses, a relaxed but sophisticated seafront restaurant with options including steak, white fish tartare, fresh asparagus which I wash down with a light, fragrant Corsican rose recommended by Corsica’s top sommelier. The chefs grow much of their own herbs and vegetables in their own garden where I later go foraging before having a cookery lesson in how to make sea bream tartare with rocket, radishes, lime leaf and red mustard leaf, chive flowers, local olive oil and lemons. I’ll definitely be recreating it at my next dinner party.
And of course, there are a plethora of beaches. Diving and snorkelling are popular and there’s a shipwreck not far from the coast. Just south of Porto Vecchio is Palombaggia beach, recently voted by Tripadvisor as one of Europe’s top 10 beaches thanks to its white sand and clear water. Stop at Palm Beach Palombaggia beach club for a mojito and a tuna steak burger (which seems to be an island speciality as it’s on almost every menu I see).
Sardinia is just 20 minutes by boat from Corsica but with great beaches, delicious local food and wine, incredible views and a lively evening scene, I can’t help but think I might be tempted to choose this less popular gem over its Italian twin. After speaking to locals, the consensus seems to be that September is the perfect month to visit – still warm and atmospheric but less hustle for that perfect sunbathing spot. Submit your annual leave request now before everyone beats you to it.
Grand Hotel de Cala Rossa & Spa is a member of Relais & Châteaux. Rooms start at £135 per night, based on double occupancy. For reservations contact relaischateaux.com or 0800 0825 10 20