JUST FINE

The Peak (Malaysia) - - Pursuits • Horology -

Cur­rently the world’s thinnest au­to­matic watch with a thick­ness of just 5.15mm, the Bul­gari Octo Finis­simo Au­to­matic has a sand­blasted, eight-sided ti­ta­nium case that gives it a cool in­dus­trial vibe and sets it apart from other ul­tra-slim time-tell­ers. A sec­onds sub­dial at eight o’clock adds in­ter­est to this time-only watch.

Ar­riv­ing at Cor­sica’s Ajac­cio airport on an early morn­ing, I face an im­me­di­ate dilemma: look one way, and I am se­duced by the ragged, wind-worn peaks of pine-cov­ered moun­tains, the prom­ise of fra­grant prairies and pre­cip­i­tous views. Look the other, and I am beck­oned by the cool blue wa­ters of the Mediter­ranean, long sandy shore­lines and chic French sea­side re­sorts. Wher­ever you stand in Cor­sica, the land­scape is beau­ti­ful.

For any­one who ar­rives in a place only to feel a tug of anx­i­ety about how to cram in as many ac­tiv­i­ties as pos­si­ble dur­ing their stay, Cor­sica of­fers lit­tle con­so­la­tion. Al­ready, I am torn. Should I spend my time tramp­ing the cooler in­clines of the is­land’s lofty hin­ter­land, vis­it­ing its world­her­itage wor­thy towns, or pootling around its beaches? And that’s not al­low­ing for meal times and the need to work on a tan. I’ve packed hik­ing boots, biki­nis and beach books, and I plan to use them all. Just off the plane and al­ready I’m gripped with panic: hol­i­day FOMO (fear of miss­ing out) has set in and I can’t wait to get started.

Be­fore we do any­thing, how­ever, we must get to the other side of the is­land and find the villa in which my­self, my hus­band, my daugh­ter and daugh­ter’s friend will be stay­ing for the week. This en­tails a long te­dious wait at the car-hire desk, which seems to process one car ev­ery 25 min­utes, and a three-hour drive along one of the is­land’s main roads, the 196, that is as nau­sea-in­duc­ing as it is ex­hil­a­rat­ing. As we slide around the 700th hair­pin bend in short suc­ces­sion, our two pre-teen charges de­velop an ad­vanced case of travel sick­ness that puts paid to any fur­ther dis­cus­sion of moun­tain ex­plo­ration and re­quires reg­u­lar emer­gency

stops in places of tremen­dous beauty, which are, sadly, right be­side the road.

Still, with the win­dows fully open and all eyes on the hori­zon, the jour­ney is de­light­ful. Just out­side Boni­fa­cio, Cor­sica’s most southerly town, we turn left and travel 20 min­utes up a mer­ci­fully straight road to the bay of Palom­bag­gia, one of the is­land’s most feted coast­lines, and our villa, Ta­mar­ic­ciu, which is found on a steep res­i­den­tial road over­look­ing the beach of the same name at the south­ern end of Palom­bag­gia bay.

The villa, with its per­fectly heated in­fin­ity pool, spa­cious rooms, clean mar­ble floors and ex­pan­sive, panoramic views of the sea, has been de­signed to en­cour­age the lazi­est of be­hav­iours. It’s a place of such care­fully cu­rated com­forts – Net­flix, WiFi, vast deep couches, nu­mer­ous sun loungers, mul­ti­ple bath­rooms and a fridge stocked with ba­sic gro­ceries and bot­tles of the lo­cal beer, Pi­etra – that my ini­tial mad ex­cite­ment is quickly tem­pered by the ter­ri­ble me­lan­cho­lia that ac­com­pa­nies the re­al­i­sa­tion that I will one day have to leave this tem­ple of joys. (I’m the sort of hol­i­day-maker who sets off a Dooms­day clock to de­par­ture as soon as they get off the plane. I try not to, but I sim­ply can’t help my­self.)

The villa is op­er­ated by the Think­ing Trav­eller, a rental agency founded in Si­cily by Ros­sella and Huw Beaugié in 2002. It now has more than 200 vil­las and 60 staff, hav­ing spread from Si­cily to Puglia, Greece and, this year, to Cor­sica. Ta­mar­ic­ciu is one of four prop­er­ties on the is­land, each sleep­ing up to 10 and fur­nished in pale tones of chalk that sug­gest a quiet, well-laun­dered sort of lux­ury. They are tremen­dously lovely places to stay, and what they lack in rus­tic charm, they more than make up for in con­ve­nience.

Through­out the week, we are looked af­ter by a lo­cal agent, Jean-Charles, who deals pa­tiently with all our prac­ti­cal in­com­pe­ten­cies via What­sApp, and the house is cleaned mid-week. In ad­di­tion to fix­ing the WiFi and show­ing us how to use the hob, Jean-Charles is also on hand to ad­vise us about which lo­cal restau­rants are any good, when the lo­cal mar­kets open and where to book an af­ter­noon’s hang-glid­ing or deep-sea div­ing. And for those too lazy to leave the villa, Think­ing Trav­eller of­fers the ser­vices of an ‘ex­pe­ri­ence spe­cial­ist’, or chef, who will cook you dinner.

On our first night, wiped out af­ter a 4am check-in, we have the chef arrive at 4pm to rus­tle up a pre-or­dered menu of gaz­pa­cho, Cor­si­can veal and po­lenta, and roast peaches set in rose­mary jelly. It’s very tasty. But while I’ve long con­sid­ered the em­ploy­ment of a per­sonal chef to be the zenith of hu­man achieve­ment, the odd for­mal­ity of watching some­one cook such fancy food for our small group of four is a bit hard on the di­ges­tion.

Be­ing the par­ent of an only child, I have rarely wanted a villa hol­i­day. The guilt of see­ing my lone daugh­ter pad­dling sadly around an empty pool wait­ing for some­one to play with her has al­ways been a bit much too bear. Typ­i­cally, our hol­i­days have in­cor­po­rated so­cial in­ter­ac­tion: road trips,

ho­tel stays, hol­i­day com­munes (where other fam­i­lies can be found in close prox­im­ity) and camp­sites (well, only one camp­site, as it hap­pens. Turns out some prox­im­i­ties are a lit­tle too close for com­fort).

Vil­las, and the fear of lonely iso­la­tion, have al­ways seemed too risky an op­tion. I once in­vited my­self to a friend’s place, but fu­ture in­vi­ta­tions were later with­drawn when my then tod­dler tried to drown their son in the swimming pool, and I’m too an­ti­so­cial to com­mit to long shared hol­i­days with other fam­i­lies. I am happy, how­ever, to share their chil­dren and so, now that my daugh­ter is old enough to man­age in­ter­ac­tions that don’t re­quire much su­per­vi­sion, we have brought her friend along.

This small tweak in the ar­range­ments makes for a trans­for­ma­tive hol­i­day ex­pe­ri­ence: the girls are com­pletely pre­oc­cu­pied with each other and their iPhones, and I am left in splen­did peace. I read three books, ob­tain op­ti­mal tan lines and drink beer for breakfast. I feel a bit bad for do­ing so lit­tle, but it feels so very good. Nev­er­the­less, I get itchy. By the sec­ond day, it is I who am splosh­ing around the pool look­ing for some­one to play with. (My hus­band, a writer, has brought work with him and re­fuses to speak to me un­til lunchtime.)

And so the pat­tern of the week emerges. Morn­ings are spent idling by the pool try­ing to pre­vent an in­flat­able uni­corn from nose­div­ing over the in­fin­ity bar, while af­ter­noons are spent ex­plor­ing the lo­cal area, which is un­fail­ingly lovely. Palom­bag­gia is im­pos­si­bly gor­geous: a long nar­row stretch of coarse white sand, fringed with pine trees and punc­tu­ated by out­crops of vast rocks, as smooth and sculp­tural as a Henry Moore in­stal­la­tion. In early sum­mer, when the flow­ers are still in bloom

and the sum­mer heat is only just be­gin­ning to rise up the ther­mome­ter, the sea wa­ter is still fresh and busy with fish.

The is­land is also quiet with­out feel­ing empty: the beaches are mobbed, how­ever, in Au­gust. And it’s bril­liantly, dev­il­ishly French. Even though the is­land sits only a few kilo­me­tres north of Sar­dinia, its sen­si­bil­i­ties are pow­er­fully felt. You can smell it on the sandy walks to the shore where the dis­tinc­tive per­fumes of the pine trees evoke the lazy thrill of Françoise Sa­gan’s Bon­jour Tristesse. You see it in the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket with its em­bar­rass­ment of goat’s cheeses, char­cu­terie and Caram­bars. And you can feel it in the ever so slightly lofty froideur you en­counter on en­ter­ing a restau­rant.

You can see why the lo­cals might seem a bit pleased with them­selves. Each turn of the road in Cor­sica of­fers yet more scenic bounty. Coast roads run along­side lakes that re­flect back pic­ture- per­fect re­flec­tions of far­away moun­tains; the sea flick­ers se­duc­tively rose at sun­set; the women all re­call hero­ines from the films of Eric Rohmer.

Boni­fa­cio, perched on the stri­ated sand­stone cliffs of Corscia’s most southerly tip, is very pleas­ing, es­pe­cially when com­bined with a trip to the nearby is­land of Lavezzi, a bar­ren gran­ite na­ture re­serve that fea­tures beaches to rival the Mal­dives and a ceme­tery com­mem­o­rat­ing the lives of the many sailors who have per­ished on its rocks. What’s more, the boat trip out to Lavezzi of­fers a view along the crum­bling, chalky coast­line and the an­cient but­tresses that prop up the old town. Ath­letic types can mount the Es­calier du Roi d’Aragon, a pun­ish­ingly steep 187 steps carved into the cliff face in 1420 and used by the King of Aragon to lay siege to the ci­tadel, while 12-year-old he­do­nists head to the har­bour for lan­goustines and a glace aux noisettes.

And I even get to climb a moun­tain. Or, rather, a steep hill, found on the road that leads to the moun­tain vil­lage of Zonza, 45 min­utes north of Porto Vec­chio, where a 90-minute hike leads us to the Pis­cia di Gallo wa­ter­fall. The walk, which passes moun­tain rivers, vast mono­lithic rocks and streams that bur­ble through sun-dap­pled woods, is as sat­is­fy­ing and dra­matic as any I’ve done. Like a minia­ture run of the Rock­ies – with a cold Orang­ina at the end. And the wa­ter­fall, which plunges through the pink gran­ite to the val­ley be­low, and of­fers a knock­out view of the sea, is worth at least some risk of car sick­ness. You don’t even need to wear hik­ing boots.

07 Es­calier du Roi d’Aragon, or King Aragon’s Stairs, was carved out of the lime­stone rock in 1420. 08 Say hello to Mediter­ranean groupers in the Lavezzi Marine Re­serve Park. 09 Zonza vil­lage, lo­cated in the moun­tain chain of Baroca­gioMargh­ese.

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