By Jesse Nash with Barney Lehrer
Where do actors George Clooney and Kathy Bates, singers Tom Jones and Alicia Keys, and even socialite Paris Hilton (just to name-drop a few of Hollywood’s elite) go to escape the rigors of being in the spotlight day in and day out? Why, the tiny island of Corsica, that’s where.
Every day we read stories of Hollywood’s crème de la crème going on holiday to such destinations as the tony island of St Barth’s in the Caribbean, Cabo San Lucas in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula or the chi-chi ski slopes in Aspen, Colorado. But now a discreet group of Hollywood stars have discovered the crown jewel of the Mediterranean.
This writer has known about this enchanting island for over 20 years when there was only one automatic car on all of Corsica, and it was reserved for yours truly. Well, I knew my secret couldn’t stay hidden forever.
Corsica is a rock-hard, fragile paradise. It’s for beach lovers, hikers, divers and culture buffs alike, combining dazzling white beaches with dramatic mountain ranges and picturesque old towns. There’s plenty of activities for your body and some rich history to engage your mind.
Just off the coasts of France and Italy and jutting out of the Mediterranean Sea like an impregnable fortress, Corsica resembles a miniature continent, with astounding geographical diversity. Within half an hour, the landscape morphs from glittering bays, glitzy coastal cities and fabulous beaches to saw-toothed peaks, breathtaking valleys, dense forests and beautiful hilltop villages. The scenery that unfurls along the island’s crooked roads will have you constantly stopping to whip out your camera.
Napoleon’s birthplace boasts breathtaking views and a plethora of charming corners. Take a boat out of the resort village of Porto to see the bright white Calanques, steep-walled bays with their dramatic backdrop of stone cliffs rising up over the sea. Visit the thirteenth-century Calvi Citadel, then wind your way on mountain roads toward the tiny village of Calvi for a romantic dinner before heading out for a morning excursion on the scenic Route de Bavella.
Although Corsica has officially been part of France for over 200 years, it feels different from the mainland in everything from customs to cuisine, music, language and character – that’s all part of its appeal.
HOLLYWOOD LOVES CORSICA
And now a select few of America’s most famous celebs have discovered this magical island. In August, 2012, George Clooney and girlfriend Stacy Kiebler joined friends for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle adventure around the entire island. The couple met up with friends, including Clooney’s business partner and collaborator, Grant Heslov, and were spotted all over the island during their one-month getaway.
Singer Alicia Keys married boyfriend Swizz Beatz near Corsica’s charming port town of Portovecchio, which will host the first leg of the Tour de France bicycle race this year. Deepak Chopra performed the wedding ceremony and friends like Bono (of U2) and singer/actress Queen Latifah were there to lend their support. And Keys, fully pregnant at the time, was seen there in a bikini, which had paparazzi from around the world trying to capture the next hot tabloid cover.
Stooges rocker Iggy Pop performed in the village of Patrimonio, where they also happen to make some of the best red wine on the island. Pop was so smitten with Patrimonio he openly mingled with the locals and visited a few restaurants in the area in the days after his concert.
Actress Kathy Bates stayed for a year in Saint Florent, a quaint fishing town close to one of Corsica’s most beautiful beaches, before receiving the bad news that she had breast cancer and had to immediately have a double mastectomy. Now the actress has expressed her desire that she would like to return and spend some more quality time in “the heart of paradise.”
Singer Tom Jones is a regular vacationer on the island. He fell in love with Bonafacio – a spectacular fortress town high on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean – in the 1960s, while at the peak of his career. “Right after ‘It’s Not Unusual’ came out, a friend took me on his yacht and we went to Calvi. What a beautiful island and I keep coming back year after year.”
On the down side, socialite Paris Hilton was busted for marijuana possession at Corsica’s Bastia Airport a few summers ago. Hilton was unavailable to talk about her love of Corsica for this story, sadly.
CHOCOLATE LOVERS’ PARADISE
Corsica has become a secret Hollywood destination only recently, but this ruggedly beautiful island has held a very special place in my heart since the 1990s, when I spent four summers there. So when an opportunity suddenly presented itself to go back, I jumped at it.
And what caused my good fortune? Chocolate!
My return was prompted by Corsica’s first-ever chocolate festival, which took place in October 2012, in the port city of Bastia. Billed in French as “1er Salon du Chocolat & des Delices Corse,” and organized by Corsican business entrepreneur Paul Pierinelli, this delicious event did not disappoint. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony with Bastia’s mayor, chocolate makers from all over the island showed off their masterpieces.
The event was an incredible success, with over 30,000 visitors in just 3 days! Attendees came not only from Corsica but also from as far as Paris and many other parts of France, along with an international contingent made up of Corsica fans – and chocolate-lovers – like me. For such a tiny island it was, as the French would say, “Formidable!”
Pierinelli likes to call the Salon du Chocolat his “living room, a warm and friendly environment where local tourists and those from the international community can come to experience the highest level of gastronomy where chocolate is their passion and Corsican craftsmen make it their art.”
SCENTS OF CORSICA
One of the highlights of the Salon du Chocolate was Scentseas Cosmetics, a salon that prides itself in showing the unlimited possibilities of using cocoa in its cosmetic creations. Their product line was a big hit at the event, with lines of people trying their products.
Located in the seaside village of Bastia, Scentseas Cosmetics (a trademark of Corsican Soaps and Cosmetics) is a company that uses only natural island resources to create these beautiful fragrances, unique to the island of Corsica.
Delphine and Olivier are the owners. A specialist in floral biology, Olivier studied agriculture, and has brought his knowledge of plants and organic chemistry to create a very original product line, which you can check out for yourself at www.scentseas.com.
CHOCOLATE GOES GLOBAL
Chocolate has been and continues to be a world passion. Recently, www.Fiftybest.com published the Top 50 Chocolate Makers from around the world. Their list included chocolate makers from Belgium, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, Grenada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Scotland, Switzerland, the USA and Venezuela. But not one chocolate maker was listed from Corsica.
With Pierinelli’s plans to expand the Salon du Chocolat to include one week in Bastia and a second week in Ajaccio, and possibly on the French mainland itself, in Bretagne – all this should create more visibility and, hopefully, an opportunity for one of Corsica’s own master chocolatiers to make the Top 50 Chocolate Makers prestigious list. In fact, Pierinelli intends to make the Salon du Chocolat THE major event in Corsica every year.
“We want to make the Salon du Chocolat competitive with Paris,” Pierinelli declares. “We don’t expect to be number one – but number two wouldn’t be so bad!” Plans are now in place to take the Salon du Chocolat to the international stage, since there have been some nibbles of interest in these glorious chocolate delicacies from Morocco and China.
For more information, visit the Salon du Chocolat website.
CORSICA IS FOR LOVERS
Corsica is the dream you read about in novels. The romantic escape you only thought was fantasy. But Corsica and all its beauty is very real. So be sure to bring your paramour with you for the passionate adventure of a lifetime.
Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll end up writing my own romantic novel about this beautiful paradise on Earth. In the meantime, my wife, twin girls and I are planning our return in 2014, when we will go to Bonifacio to renew our wedding vows just in time for our 10-year wedding anniversary. So, hey, you just never know.
Photos courtesy of Jesse Nash.