Red kite circle elegantly in the clear blue skies as we drive the final stretch of our journey up into the magnificent mountainous region of Balagne in northern Corsica, heady with the aromatic scent arising from the maquis in the warm Spring sunshine. Our destination is the Casa Theodora, a charming 16th century palazzo, nestling in the middle of Muro, a sleepy, hilltop village.
Lovingly restored by its owners, the Casa Theodora is run as a couples/adults only hotel exclusively for Simpson Travel. The hotel’s wrought iron gates open onto a tranquil, shady terrace with a grand stone staircase that leads to the front door. Inside, almost every wall and vaulted ceiling is painted in colourful frescoes and a welcoming lounge area awaits with comfortable sofas and afternoon tea. The hotel’s six rooms/suites, spread out over three floors, are individually decorated using tasteful colours and furnishings. Each is equipped with tea and coffee making facilities and a hairdryer. Good quality toiletries are supplied and irons and ironing boards are available. There are no minibars, but the office area off the ground-floor lounge contains an honesty bar with a fridge full of reasonably-priced cold drinks, including bottles of wine, local beer and soft drinks. Beneath the hotel, a small heated indoor pool has been built into the former wine cellar. Pool towels and towelling slippers are available for guests wishing to slip into the pool after a busy day exploring. Towelling robes for guests’ use will be available shortly.
Breakfast is taken on the outside terraces or in the upstairs salon. The offer comprises cereals, bread, croissants, pain au chocolate, yogurts, fresh fruit, fruit juices, generous supplies of tea and coffee, and a different cooked breakfast most mornings: scrambled eggs with bacon or salmon, boiled eggs and toast, omelettes, crepes and “full English”. During our week, the convivial atmosphere of the breakfast terrace area saw us spending an hour or so chatting with fellow guests and drinking copious cups of tea before setting off on our day’s adventures.
Tea, coffee and freshly-baked cakes or biscuits are served in the lounge every afternoon. Evening meals are prepared and served by the hotel’s helpful live-in concierge team, Julie and Shaun, on two days a week. Guests drive to neighbouring villages or to the larger coastal towns of Calvi or L’Ile Rousse, to eat out on the other evenings: there are no restaurants in the village, and none within reasonable walking distance of the hotel. Menus at the local restaurants are dominated by meat: wild boar, lamb, goat, veal and steak, served with potatoes or pasta. Vegetarians might struggle, although the traditional Corsican vegetable and bean soup served with coarse bread is almost a meal in itself.
I am not really a meat-eater but surprised myself by enjoying a deliciously tender wild boar stew at Chez Leon in Cateri located about 7k from the hotel. I was pleased to see trout on the menu at the charming poolside Restaurant Sol E Luna just over 3k away in the neighbouring village of Feliceto. However, our favourite restaurant became La Santa Hotel Restaurant, in Santa Reparata di Balagne, 9k from the hotel along narrow winding roads. The friendly manager seated us in the outside terrace with far-reaching sea views, and proudly presented a very tall chalk-board menu that he balanced precariously on a chair beside our table. Dishes of the day include tuna, swordfish, duck, pork and chicken in addition to the usual range of red meats. The menus are in French and my husband was relieved to find his “souris de l’agneau” was a lamb shank, delivered with a friendly smile but with no sign of any mice! The restaurant also offers oven-baked pizzas with a range of toppings. Neither La Santa, nor the Sol E Luna, take card payments so it was fortunate that we had sufficient cash with us as the nearest ATM is in L’Ile Rousse a 30-minute drive from the hotel.
Car hire, included as part of the package to the Casa Theodora, is essential as there is no regular taxi service, bus service or cycle hire in the area and, apart from a daily bread van and weekly meat van, the village of Muro has no shops or other facilities. The nearest supermarket and pharmacy are 13k away in Lumio. Walking to either of the neighbouring villages can prove challenging as there are few footpaths and limited refuge from oncoming traffic due to the number of walls lining the road. Being a keen walker, I hiked off along the road to the nearest village on our first day, only to find myself literally between a rock and a hard place. As I hugged the stone wall above a sheer drop to make way for yet another car hurtling towards me, I glanced down at my feet to see a very long snake eyeing me curiously!
Simpson Travel provides very clear driving directions to the hotel which is set on the lengthy one-way street through the village. Guests are advised to park in the village square and walk the final stage of the journey as there is limited parking in the street directly outside the hotel. Simpson Travel is working with the hotel’s owner to secure more reserved parking spaces, so this should not be an issue for future guests. Some of the local drivers freely ignore the one-way system: it is wise to proceed through the village with caution!
The Casa Theodora is a charming, adult-only boutique hotel offering a peaceful retreat and a base from which adventurous guests can explore the surrounding area. It is both sophisticated and quirky, and the intimacy of the public areas make you feel more like a house guest. The hotel’s remote location and the number of steps up to and within the building make it unsuitable for guests with limited mobility or for guests who enjoy strolling out to local restaurants for lunch and dinner. Simpson Travel has a range of accommodation in Corsica and some guests might enjoy its Island Wandering offer, combining a few days winding down at the hotel with some time spent a beachside apartment, cottage or villa in one of the livelier coastal resorts. Contact Simpson Travel’s helpful and knowledgeable sales team to discuss a suitable itinerary.