Corsica • Napoleonic Outpost
Best known as the birthplace of Napoleon, Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean. Though it’s twice as close to Italy as it is to France (fifty miles versus one hundred), the French have laid claim to Corsica since 1768, when the island was wrested from centuries of Italian rule by the Treaty of Versailles. Today, Corsica mixes both cultures into a distinctive stew, with most natives speaking neither Italian nor French but rather a local tongue. The southern town of Bonifacio claims the distinction of having been mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey as the site where cannibalistic Laestrygonians hurled stones at Odysseus’ fleet from the cliffs above. Much of the island is carpeted in maquis, a dense native underbrush that produces masses of fragrant flowers. Napoleon never returned to Corsica later in life, but while imprisoned in his final years he said he could smell the "scented isle."
Where to Play
Sperone Golf Club * * * * 1/2
Corsica’s only eighteen-hole course, Sperone sits atop headlands at the southern tip of the island, overlooking the Mediterranean and the tiny islands of Cavallo and Lavezzi as well as Sardinia across the Bonifacio Strait. The layout consists of twelve quality inland holes sculpted out of rocky gorse-choked hills and six positively striking ones strung out along the coast, where the water ranges from brilliant turquoise to military blue. The first brush with the sea comes at the par-four eleventh, a dogleg left that eases down to a bluff-top green. But it’s the final encounter, at the par-five sixteenth, that’s unforgettable. From the championship tee on a spit of land that juts out into the sea, you must carry the ball well over two hundred yards to reach the fairway. From there you can either play safe or go for broke with a fairway wood through trees and over another cove to get home in two. Rees Jones, whose father designed the course, calls it "one of the most spectacular coastal holes in the world."
Domain de Sperone, Bonifacio; 011-33/495-731-713; sperone.com. YARDAGE: 6,678. PAR: 72. GREENS FEES: $72-$109. ARCHITECT: Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1990.
Where to Stay
Most convenient for golfers is to rent one of the on-site villas of the Hameau de Piantarella (villas from $3,115; sperone.com) at Sperone. For a more traditional hotel experience in Bonifacio, just ten minutes from the course, try the Caravelle Hotel (rooms from $128; hotel-caravelle-corse.com). This twenty-eight-room charmer occupies a nineteenth-century family residence beside a marina and serves meals and cocktails in a vaulted fisherman’s chapel that dates back to the thirteenth century. Higher on the full-service luxury scale is the Grand Hotel de Cala Rossa (rooms from $221; hotel-calarossa.com), a Relais & Chateaux property five miles north of Porto-Vecchio on the southeastern coast, a scenic forty-five-minute drive from Sperone.
Where to Eat
Corsica’s delectable cuisine centers on fresh fish, seafood stews, lamb, fig jam, chestnuts, brocciu (a ricotta-like cheese made from goat’s or sheep’s milk) and, perhaps best of all, various cuts and preparations of pork. Kissing Pigs (011-33/495-735-609), a harborside bistro in Bonifacio, specializes in marvelous local wines, cheeses and charcuterie. Four miles outside of town and built around giant boulders with tables that overlook the sea, Marina di Cavu (011-33/495-731-413) is a hugely memorable restaurant that’s part of a petite hotel of the same name. It won a "Bonne Table" distinction from Alain Ducasse in the guidebook Chateaux & Hotels de France.
Direct flights from London (Heathrow) and Paris (Orly) are available to all four of Corsica’s airports on carriers such as British Airways (ba.com) and Air France (airfrance.com). From London to Figari, which is closest to Sperone Golf Club, is three hours; from Paris, it’s just under two.
The ever-present winds that blow through the Straits of Bonifacio make Corsica a windsurfer’s paradise. The island’s beaches are also quite popular. What’s even more outstanding, though, is the diving, thanks to the warm clear waters and the rich diversity of the seabed, especially red coral and yellow flowering anemone. For a sense of history, set aside time to explore the "haute village" high above the harbor in Bonifacio and the variety of tributes to Napoleon in Ajaccio.