‘We slip into a routine that de­mands a lot of splash­ing’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Hal shoots me a glance that comes as close as the gaze of a near­four-year-old boy can to dis­be­liev­ing cyn­i­cism. He is not con­vinced by my sug­ges­tion that Arlo, the tit­u­lar star of 2015 Pixar movie The Good Dinosaur, might – pos­si­bly – be just up the trail. Nor is he en­tirely buy­ing my claim that the cox­comb peaks around us are the very moun­tains of the par­al­lel-uni­verse Mon­tana and Wy­oming that pro­vide his favourite film’s set­ting. Still, buoyed by the cer­tainty that no father would ever fib to his son, he re­dou­bles his ef­forts, short legs skip­ping blithely over the peb­bles – un­til, as his en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm ex­pire, I hoik him on to my shoul­ders and we stride to the top of the bluff, to see the land drop­ping away sharply un­der us, and the Tyrrhe­nian Sea sparkling be­yond.

In truth, although we have walked only a few yards from the car park, this is a mi­nor act of parental self­ish­ness. I have wanted to glimpse Cor­sica’s high-rise in­te­rior since the Tour de France used it as a spec­tac­u­lar cur­tain-raiser to the race’s 100th edi­tion in 2013 – and here it is, be­neath my feet, for the sake of a two-hour drive along the switch­back roads of the “Route de Bavella” loop. In such con­text, what are a cou­ple of white lies about a fic­tional ap­atosaurus?

Cor­sica’s first (and, to date, only) ap­pear­ance in the world’s most feted cy­cle event was a rare blast of pub­lic­ity for a Euro­pean out­crop that, while known to the French, has of­ten es­caped the at­ten­tion of UK tourists – and is scarcely touted as the des­ti­na­tion of choice for Bri­tish fam­i­lies chas­ing sum­mer sun. It is – what amounts to con­sen­sus states – too swarthy and too wild, and not ex­actly a place for young chil­dren.

It is also too ill-de­fined on the map, too vague a con­cept. Where is it, any­way, aside from the fact that it sits some­where in the Mediter­ranean, next to its equally rugged Ital­ian cousin Sar­dinia? You might even ask, if you were be­ing mis­chievous, if, at more than 600 miles from Paris, it is French at all.

I can­not see the next-door is­land from my viewpoint on the Col de Bavella. But, peer­ing at the way the land­scape rears and kicks, I can al­most ap­pre­ci­ate the doubters’ con­cerns. Al­most. Be­cause, by the time Hal and I have de­scended a few hun­dred feet, into road­side hostelry the Au­berge du Col de Bavella, we are more con­vinced than ever that Cor­sica is suit­able for chil­dren. Ad­mit­tedly, Hal’s opin­ion has been bought – by a big slice of ap­ple tart, with a side of vanilla ice cream, which is smeared across his face. Mine is built on the stur­dier foun­da­tion that we have had an­other fine day in a week of in­creas­ingly fine days.

We are based at sea level, at Stella Cadent, a villa tucked into the vil­lage of Sainte-Lu­cie-de-Porto-Vec­chio in the south-east of the is­land. It has al­ready proved a lit­eral case of good things com­ing to those who wait – re­veal­ing its lo­ca­tion only after a right-an­gled turn off the high­way into what seems to be a blind al­ley, then some bumpy gear-wrench­ing down a twist­ing gravel track. The pay-off is a happy sense of soli­tude, and a tem­po­rary home that will main­tain our con­tent­ment – a large kitchen, a lounge with television and DVD player, Wi-Fi that works, and a swim­ming pool out­side flanked by olive trees. It sleeps six in three bed­rooms – a moot point, as we are but two, thanks to an un­ex­pected surge in my wife’s work­load, and my de­ter­mi­na­tion that a June book­ing shouldn’t be wasted – not least a book­ing in my son’s last June be­fore the school sys­tem clutches him tight.

Stella Cadent is part of the port­fo­lio of Simp­son Travel, a Cor­sica spe­cial­ist whose ex­per­tise is key to me find­ing the prop­erty with­out dif­fi­culty – de­tailed direc­tions are emailed in ad­vance, along with sug­ges­tions on where to buy gro­ceries on the 25-mile dash north-east from Fi­gari air­port. Simp­son is also vis­i­ble when the Bri­tish Air­ways flight from Heathrow touches down, the jovial David Henry ush­er­ing pas­sen­gers from ter­mi­nal to car-hire of­fices, then en­sur­ing that chil­dren are found cups of wa­ter and seats within as their par­ents queue, briefly, out in the Gal­lic sun­shine. He reap­pears the next morn­ing on the steps of the villa, and spends an hour – part of the ser­vice he ex­tends to ev­ery group of guests – rec­om­mend­ing restau­rants to suit the un­der-fives, and at­trac­tions that will hold their at­ten­tion. “The beaches to the north of the Gulf of Porto-Vec­chio tend to be qui­eter, and more fam­ily-friendly,” he ex­plains. “Those to the south are more or­gan­ised, but busier. And you have to pay for park­ing down there.”

David’s ad­vice pre­pares us for a few days of ex­plo­ration – although we slip into a routine that de­mands a lot of splash­ing first. The pool is po­si­tioned on the west side of the villa – and is thus shaded from the morn­ing’s rays un­til about 9.30am. We be­come used to swim­ming be­fore break­fast, aided by a sup­port-team of arm­bands, flota­tion vests, li­los and in­flat­a­bles – re­turn­ing to the wa­ter in the even­ing as the sun plunges be­hind the ridge.

In the hours be­tween, we go in search of ad­ven­ture. Boni­fa­cio is an un­miss­able source of in­ter­est. The south­ern­most town in (Euro­pean) France is a pretty propo­si­tion, pinned so firmly to the end of the land mass that fer­ries too­tle out of its har­bour to Sar­dinia (which winks in the dis­tance) – and so raised up on clifftops that it can be de­picted as a frag­ment of a fairy Stella Cadent can be rented via Simp­son Travel (020 3468 6949; simp­son­travel.com). Prices for a week’s hol­i­day at Stella Cadent start at £841pp, in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, flights from Lon­don Heathrow to Fi­gari, car hire and ac­com­mo­da­tion. tale far more plau­si­bly than the in­te­rior can be cast as Wy­oming. The con­ceit is abet­ted by the tourist “train” that trun­dles up from the har­bour, halt­ing at the walls of the me­dieval citadel. In­side, the walk­way along the ram­parts sparks a trip to the nurs­ery rhyme “I’m the king of the cas­tle” – and the chance to point in amaze­ment at a seag­ull of such re­mark­able size that it could be an ea­gle dipped in white paint. Ad­ja­cent, Le Time, on Place du Marché, sells sun­daes of such de­li­cious deca­dence (in­clud­ing a crème brûlée glace) that the age gap be­tween father and son melts as fast as the ice cream.

Porto-Vec­chio is an­other de­light. There is a dis­cernible chic­ness to Palom­bag­gia Beach, and a sim­i­lar sparkle to Plage de Santa Gi­u­lia, with its de­signer sun­glasses and its ex­pen­sive biki­nis – ev­i­dence that, while Lon­don may not have fallen for the charms of south-eastern Cor­sica, Paris is rather more clued-up. The trend con­tin­ues in town, where the bou­tiques on Av­enue du Maréchal Le­clerc mimic the Marais, and the yachts in the ma­rina along Quai Pas­cal Paoli flut­ter eye­lashes at St Tropez. But there is no snooti­ness. We set up a lunchtime sta­tion at Trop­i­cana, a restau­rant on the bay front, where there is a two-course chil­dren’s menu for €11 (£9.50) fea­tur­ing chicken nuggets and frites for Hal, and a slab of grilled sea bass (€22), with a chilled bière pres­sion and a panorama of flut­ter­ing sails for me.

Our wan­der­ings un­cover fur­ther in­di­ca­tions of Cor­sica’s suit­abil­ity for fam­ily hol­i­days. The exit from the air­port im­me­di­ately throws out

Boni­fa­cio over­look­ing the Mediter­ranean, left; Plage de Palom­bag­gia, near Por­toVec­chio, below

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