This spring, a lucky chance brings me back to Corsica, an island I only remember through my memories as a kid. A turbulent sail through the Strait of Bonifacio took me to the discovery of a land of bright blues and greens with exotic French flair. Savouring warm, lightly salted croissants I look at the ports disappearing in the distance. The vivid memories of my second time in Corsica blend with older more blurry memories.The echo of Pigna’s perpetual symphony, a mix of bitter, sweet, ripe and sour notes; a picture perfect paradise of white sand and blue water (Saleccia beach); the slow and reassuring rhythm of pastoral life in the valleys around Corte and the majestic and colourful nature of the South…
This story does not begin on a mid-January Friday, while we gather our mountain clothes, boots, maps, two old issues of Meridiani and a guidebook into our tartan bag. It starts on the day Éric Boissonnas – a visionary entrepreneur – and Gérard Chervaz – an architect – discover a plot of plain protected by the spotless faces of Grand Massif, in Haute-Savoie. Thanks to that love at first sight, and to the urban project Éric and his wife Sylvie – art and music lovers – carried out in the following years with architect Marcel Breuer, today we follow at a walking pace the whims of a D106 covered with snow, slowly enter Flaine, and leave our luggage at the reception desk of Totem, the only hotel in town…
My Saturday in the village of Riez starts in the courtyard of Hotel Les Colonnes. An aperitif in the garden with some French friends we just met, under a Klein blue sky with stars. The thick grass, the lemon tree, the Pierre de Ronsard. The nostalgic, light, poetic, peculiar Provençal atmosphere in its Bohemian version is the soul of this house, which was built at the end of the 17th century and which reflects the personality of its owner, Geraldine. Artists’ works, vintage furniture, multicolour carpets, memories, and books. Every room is a cabinet of curiosities and turns into a bazaar where it faces the street. Breakfast is a French good-morning to share with all the guests. Lac de Sainte Croix, Grasse or further on to Arles? We plan the daily excursions together, lingering in a garden that belongs to a small perfect cosmos and that one does not leave easily.
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
For habitués, well-informed tourists and lucky ones who choose it by chance, the destination after a June morning at Lac de Sainte-Croix is an outdoor table at Café du Midi. From the menu written on a blackboard, we choose Pepperoni with chèvre cream and avocado, chicken bouillabaisse, Tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream. Delicious tastes and service, with a view on the lake.
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
Guillaume moved to Paris to study architecture, then started working as a graphic designer and quit attending university, but he promised himself he would carry out at least one architectural project in his life. Maison Collongue is the fulfilment of this promise. A pastel-coloured main door opens on a courtyard where white, pale grey, grass green and the natural grace of anything French rule. Guillaume does not stand on ceremony and takes you to the living room, where a réunion de famille has just started. We walk past a night blue armchair, a series of Damien Hirst works, and a cement and steel kitchen…
To Guy, receiving guests and showing them La Maison d’Ulysse is a ritual. He always starts from the Northern Garden – a wonderful paragon of jardin sec – but it is the house botanist, Gauthier, who tells its story. We had to knock down the roof here, since it could not be repaired. The room has become the breakfast court. The Southern Garden is deliberately wild; silkworms were rolled up in these mulberry trees’ leaves. Over there is the kitchen garden, while there we play pétanque. Some guests are swimming in the pool, a couple sips rosé at an Italian-design table. We smell sweet jasmine trails, spiced with curry, sharp with thyme and rosemary. Every corner has its own perfume, and each one of us will find their favourite corner. The day after, Gauthier tells us about the plants in his jardin sec, with unchanged love, ‘they have to be trained, like children’, and then he serves breakfast. Local sheep and goat cheese, ‘we don’t have cows here’, homemade fig, pear and cinnamon jams, baguettes, croissants, and the delicious Belgian waffles in their light version, Gauthier’s favourite…
Keep driving on the main road until you find the small sign “U Ruspu” indicating an off road in the middle of a wild wood. A small sky blue house, bed sheets in the wind on the washing line and bushes of pale and well kept antique roses. You are chez Jean-Claude Girard, as they would say in Paris. He’s a lovely man how was lucky enough (he repeats the word lucky twice) to escape the chaotic French capital because of love problems only to end up in this secluded place in the south of Corsica. La Plage de Cupabia is magical and only a short trip away. That same sky blue colour of the house continues in the kitchen. The air smells at pain d’epices, left to cool down for tomorrow’s breakfast when it will taste even more delicious. There’s a basket with citrons and homemade jams on the shelf over the fireplace. Monsieur Girard will always join us at the table and speak slowly. He says that this island is not measured in distances, in the time that it takes to go from one place to another. This island, just like life, cannot be lived in a rush. This small Maison d’hotes is suspended in the short space of time that it takes to fall in love with such a gentle and quiet place.
The Beef Lodge could be the bistro one cannot miss in Milan, a contemporary steak house with shiny brick-red tiles in the in-sight kitchen, a perfect cut of tenderloin of bœuf de Simmental, and the creamiest pot of mashed potatoes ever. Outside, the swimming pool looks like the most seraphic and desirable corner of a Provençal villa – a wall of green cypresses, hydrangeas, deckchairs and towels the colour of soft lavender, the elegant pool and the sky-blue water. Inside, the tartan padded walls, the deer antlers, the hunt relics and the burgundy leathers – wild and sophisticated at the same time – echo sports and hobbies stories that belong to other men and other times. However, you are in Haute-Savoie, in Megève’s town centre, where celebrities sleep and, above all, where Les Fermes de Marie and its Alpage are.
The last floor of a contemporary museum, overlooking the quais and the vieux port, in a new Marseille that resembles a Paris of the future, touched by the Mediterranean Sea: this is the inspirational setting for a remarkable kitchen and restaurant. Le Môle brings all the Mediterranean countries to a table that is simple but elegant: a cutting board with pain paillasse, a white linen cloth and a knife with steel blade. La Cuisine’s antipasti and dessert buffet is a display of small wonders so elegantly arranged that you wouldn’t want to touch it. Fresh pan-fried octopus, cold Lebanese quinoa taboulé with mint and parsley, vine leaves filled with rice and lamb à l’Arménienne, Provençal meringue and lemon cream, and a typically French tarte au chocolat. They call it “restauration casual”…
Set in the Haut Var, this majestic building could be the perfect setting for the tale of the Creation: a quintessentially French Eva wakes up in chambre Rita, the walls covered in floral tapestries, and lies in bed looking out of the window at the big cherry tree in the wind. It was the last home of the expressionist painter Bernars Buffet who found inspiration in the warm ochre colour of the façade. One of his wife’s romances was entitled: “Le rêve sera plus long que la nuit”. For us, the dream never ended; instead it went on at breakfast, in the living rooms decorated in warm delicate shades, in the Provencal garden and in the elegant swimming pool guarded by two imposing marble lions…
Val d'Arly Mont Blanc, France
We would take you all here to celebrate. It is a ferme d’alpage facing Mont Blanc that can be reached by car, by helicopter or on foot. When you enter it, you have to become smaller, like Alice in Wonderland, and discover its two small brown rooms that smell like wood and are decorated with real alpine souvenirs. The long tables, as well as the tables for two, are divinely laid and waiting for embers to be hot and for all guests to be sat. The terrace is open in summer for lunch. The barbecue is lit every day. In Flumet, in the beautiful Val d’Arly, in the heart of the Alps.
The lucky guests of Architect’s Villa wake up their senses in an architectural wonder immersed in nature. They enjoy breakfast (a selection of French biological vegan delicious food for every taste and mood) on the long wooden table in the patio. They walk down five steps and place their towel next to the swimming-pool, wait for the sun to warm the water and relax in the mild wind that smells at maquis while birds sing in the surrounding trees. In the afternoon they go on a trip to Murato, Oletta, Saint-Florence or a secluded beach. The time of a stroll in the port, a prayer in a magical church or a glass of wine…
At the end of a gulf known as Golfo di Sogno you will find Plage Casadelmar. Rooms are villas immersed in the maquis with a private Mediterranean garden, just a few steps away from the sea and sheltered from the wind. They are a combination of different materials and surfaces: natural stone, shiny resin, fine marble, thin glass, fresh cotton, rich sponge, light straw in the wind, soft sand and sharp reddish purple rock. Bergamot, jasmine and cedar wood are the scents of proustian memory bringing back to this tranquil and stylist place.
We are standing opposite a medieval church framed by two giant eucalyptuses. A warm south-west wind lightly moves the trees and our skirts. What’s this scent? I think it’s mint. For me, it’s some kind of fruit. We ring at the door next to the black metal gate. No answer. We wait; take a picture of the church and of the two giants. Stand in front of the door, smile. You look great. We have a peek at the back and discover a garden between stone walls. It’s just the two of us, birds and the two eucalyptuses at sunset waiting, like in a suspended scene of a film. We try ringing once more. My grand-mother used to say that “good things come to those who wait”…
Marie-Pierre and Michel love the same films that we love, they like going to the Bastia Film Festival, host dinners in their family home and cook authentic French recipes for their guests, and sometimes try new ones. They love the sound of Italian and we love the sensuality of French. After the first smiles, we start talking about our languages to everyone’s delight. It’s the first sign that we will have a good time together. We’re in Conchiglio, a village that has been wrongly omitted from many maps…