Friday, September 30, 2011

A Jewel of a Boutique Hotel

Having traveled within France extensively for nearly 30 years and having dropped beaucoup Euro’s on upscale accommodations, there aren’t too many places that take my breath away these days.  Hotel Loredana on the island of Corsica, however, did.  With only 18 rooms, this little French hideaway has it all.  Located a 10 minute walk from the unspoiled village of St Florent on a hill with 180 degree panoramas of the brilliantly blue sea, it’s no wonder international celebrities love this gem.  It’s small.  It’s private. It’s understated elegance at its best. 

The moment I entered I knew I was someplace special.  The marbled foyer contained a grand piano.  The adjoining salon’s décor could have easily been in Architectural Digest.  Staff was welcoming, helpful and gentile.  The bed chambers, large and decorated by someone with a great eye, have panoramic views of the sea.  Bathrooms are beautifully outfitted and luxuriously appointed.

The entire property exudes a private club feel.  Amenities include a large swimming pool overlooking the sea, a Turkish bath, and a massage center. There is no restaurant, purposely….to protect the privacy of the guests no outsiders are allowed on the premises.  To compensate, 24 hour room service is available, or room service can deliver guest meals to a lovely shaded poolside terrace. 

While the hotel is rated only 4 stars (to receive 5 stars it must offer a restaurant), prices reflect its 5 star pedigree.   Rooms begin at $700 US (440 Euro) and move up to $3,400 US (1,950 Euro) for a suite.  A light French breakfast is an additional $30 (23 Euro) per person.  

Actress Kathy Bates had just spent a week at the Loredana and has already booked a return.  She joins a long list of entertainers and superstars who have slept in this mesmerizing little jewel.   Want seclusion along with peace and quiet?  Look no further...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Corsica—France’s Best Kept Secret

Lying just 100 miles off the French Riviera, Corsica might as well be 1000’s of miles away from the maddening crowds and jet-setters of Cannes, Nice and Antibes.  Technically part of the Provence region, this postcard perfect Mediterranean jewel may just be one of the last unspoiled spots in France. 

Corsica is the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean, thus travel can be slow and arduous.  Furthermore, getting to Corsica, is no piece of gateau.  Although closer to Italy than to France, there are no direct flights from Italy to the island.   While only 100 miles from Nice, flights from the Riviera are few; consequently, supply and demand drive prices to about $250 for a 45 minute quickie.  Yes, there are ferries, but they are also few.  Many run only during the summer or on weekends…to add insult to injury, journeys vary from  4-6 hours.  All of this translates to fewer tourists (especially Americans).  All of this, most importantly, translates to a more authentic experience.

Just 50 miles from the Italian mainland (and only 7 miles from the Italian island of Sardenia), the island offers a magnfico fusion of French and Italian cuisine.  Imagine every restaurant offering salade de chevre (goat cheese on a bed of greens) and agneau Provençale (lamb braised in with tomatoes, thyme and olives), along with a wide assortment of homemade pastas and wood-fired pizzas.  And the fusion doesn’t stop there.  There’s crème brulee or tiramisu.  I think I’m in heaven.

In 1769 the Republic of Genoa (now northwest Italy) sold Corsica to Louis XV for 40 million francs (approximately 5 Million US dollars).  I’d say that the French made out like a bandito.

Stay tuned for details on Corsica’s wine scene, as well as a charming celebrity hideaway.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cheeses Fit for an Emperor

We’re on the island of Corsica where we’ve rented a home with a glorious view of the sun setting over the Mediterranean.  Just 100 miles south of the French Riviera, the island’s claim to fame is Napoleon's birthplace.  In my book, the island’s notoriety should be its cheese.  Lying only 50 miles from Italy, Corsica is an interesting combination of French and Italian culture, including its cuisine and food products.

Cheese is one of the pillars of Corsica’s gastronomy.    The climate, terrain and robust wild plant vegetation provide a perfect formula for cheeses which are very different from those of the mainland.  A mind-boggling variety of artisanal cheese exits;  from mild and creamy to pungent and firm, all are made from free-grazing sheep and goats.  Most are made by small producers.  As there are hardly any cheese shops on Corsica, people buy cheese at the morning markets.

Brocciu is the only cheese on the island to bear the prestigious AOC seal (made under a host of stringent regulations that control the origin and the production of the product).   Similar to Italy’s ricotta, it is made from the whey, a byproduct of cheese-making that is usually discarded.   Like ricotta, Brocciu, is used in many dishes such as salads, pasta stuffing, omelettes, cakes and pastries.   In fact, Brocciu’s so popular that it’s sold in reusable containers---refilled frequently by the local cheese-maker.   It can be consumed fresh, or aged in small discs. 

Brin d'Amour, a "spot of love," is aptly named.  Sheep graze freely on wild herbs from the Corsican scrub such as rosemary, thyme and oregano, and what they eat adds a specific flavor to their milk.  The resulting rich cheese, which is also covered with the wild herbs, has a velvet-like, voluptuous consistency that melts in your mouth.  Floral nuances mix with savory and a subtle blend of spice.

The Giancoli family produces nearly 70 Chevre de la Tavagna cheese per day.  Their farm, located on the northeastern side of Corsica (just across from the Italian mainland), is in a mountainous area where their goats roam at will.  The artisan chevre, usually aged for 7 months, is pungent.  But, get past its smell and you’ll find a taste that represents the best of a glorious Corscian mountain landscape mixed with a touch of the Mediterranean’s salt air.

Both Brocciou and Brin d'Amour are exported to the USA.  If you can't find them locally, they are available online.  For information about Corsican wines to accompany your cheese, stay tuned for my next Blog posting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

An Undiscovered Seaside Italian Gem

I’ve been to Italy’s northern Mediterranean coast (Liguria) too many times to count: jaw-dropping Portofino, the wildly popular Cinque Terre, luscious Santa Margherita, sweet little Lerici, stunning Camogli, and so forth.  All of these villages pulled so strongly on the strings of my heart that there was no reason to look further….until an Italian friend showed me photos of her wedding in Sestri Levante.  My first blissful day in Sestri Levante was only a few days ago. 

I have mixed feelings about letting this cat out of the bag for fear that Sestri will become the next Cinque Terre.  (I fell in love with the Cinque Terre >30 years ago----it has since been ruined by “Europe on less than a Shoestring” guide books). But, Sestri is one of those places that just begs to be shared.

Situated on two little connecting bays, Sestri Levante is perfectly positioned halfway between Portofino and the Cinque Terre.  A charming fishing village, it’s popular with Italian tourists in-the-know (and there’s not an American tourist to be found….my kind of place). There are smart hotels, upscale restaurants and fashionable shops, but they are mixed with seaside trattorias, mom and pop grocery stores and pharmacies---all owned and operated by people who still live in the village.

I’m so impressed with Sestri Levante that I’ve decided to include this little piece of paradiso on next year’s Wine-Knows Truffle tour.  The full trip is showcased  on our website,

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Italy's Home of PESTO & FOCCACIA

“Where’s that?” is what I get from most Americans when I mention that I’m heading to Liguria.   Also known as the Italian Riviera, this drop-dead gorgeous seaside region of North West Italy is home to two of my faves, pesto and foccacia.   Liguria is also home to the stunning post-card-perfect villages of Portofino and the ever popular Cinque Terre.  There’s nothing like sipping a glass of the local white Vermentino with a plate of a pasta al pesto and a piece of foccacia.  Heaven can’t be too far away.

One of the best renditions I’ve had of pesto and foccacia were both made by chef Davide Santoni of Restaurant Doria in Lerici.  His pesto, like many in Liguria, contains less garlic than our American versions.  And, Davide’s foccacia with pesto is a winning combination that will blow-your-mind.   Come learn the secrets of his recipes when Davide conducts a private cooking class for us on the 2012 Italian Truffle tour to Liguria & Piedmont.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

An Ooh La La Aperitif made from Bordeaux Grapes

With the Bordeaux harvest just around the corner, I’m reminded of my favorite French aperitif, Lillet.  Made from Bordeaux wines and macerated orange liqueurs, Lillet is available in two different flavors (Blonde, or Blanc, is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle; the red, or Rouge, comes from Bordeaux’s Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon).  Both versions are matured in oak casks and sell for $20 a bottle.

These delightful aperitifs have been wowing French oenophiles since the late 19th century when it was first produced. In the “Roaring 20’s” Lillet became very famous in France due its Art Deco advertising campaign.  Posters from this period of Lillet are today highly coveted collector’s items. The drink was popularized in the James Bond film Casino Royale when Bond ordered a “Lillet Martini.”  Hollywood later reinforced the appeal of Lillet in the Silence of the Lambs; it was the preferred aperitif of serial killer Hannibal Lecter

We have taken our Bordeaux clients many times to the Lillet factory in where they’ve tried several different concoctions made from Lillet.  By a landslide, the winning combination for the perfect end-of-summer drink is the following mixture:

   1/3  Lillet Blonde
   1/3 Lillet Rouge
   1/3 Tonic
   Orange Slice

Combine all above.  Viva la France!