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Hotel Highlights

  • Picturesque setting with sweeping views of the Gulf of St Florent
  • Chef Gilles Escaffre trained with Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse
  • Striking art, including Anish Kapoor etchings in the bar

Overview

An homage to serenity, U Palazzu Serenu hotel in Corsica is a 17th-century palace high in the hills. It offers demure decor, delicious food and striking views over valleys and ocean. Anish Kapoor artwork sets the high-design tone.

Smith Extra

Here's what you get for booking U Palazzu Serenu with us:

A glass of champagne each on arrival

Special offers

Exclusive rates, packages and special offers at U Palazzu Serenu

Special offer: 20% off October to April stays

Facilities

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Need To Know

Rooms

Eight, including two suites.

Check–out

12 noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm. A shower and changing room is available if you need it.

Rates

Double rooms from $244.35 (€196), excluding tax at 2.1 per cent.

More details

Rates include a buffet-style breakfast of pastries, fruit, yoghurt, cake and eggs.

Also

There is captivating art everywhere, all selected for its soothing properties. In reception, the little metal seats are sculptures by Paul de Pignol and the tree of painted steel and copper beads is by Wendy Wischer. There are pieces in the rooms by Korean painter Kim Tschang Yeul and American abstract expressionist Conrad Marca-Relli.

At the hotel

Gardens, DVD library, free WiFi in communal areas. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD player, minibar, wired internet, Vrai bath products.

Our favourite rooms

Orizonte is in a corner of the hotel, which means it has smashing valley views in two directions, through giant shuttered windows; it’s enormous too. For affordability, Jardin 1 and 2 are at the foot of the building with private terraces – they’re only cheaper because they’re closer to the (unobtrusive) road. All rooms are white and pale grey, with minimal furniture, crisp linens and pale wooden floors, so as not to detract from the views.

Poolside

A row of little olive trees and one sturdy old palm sit on the smooth lawn to one side of the outdoor infinity pool. On the other side, a raised, decked terrace is home to loungers and parasols.

Packing tips

Restorative though the location is, you will need several books and a fully loaded iPod if you plan to spend a lot of time lazing by the pool. Also bring walking shoes if you fancy exploring the valleys.

Also

One room is wheelchair-friendly, with a dedicated bathroom and access by lift.

Food & Drink

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Hotel Restaurant

The restaurant is nameless but the locals who love it refer coolly to ‘U Palazzu’. Most meals are eaten on the covered terrace, in cubic cream-coloured chairs; there are white linen napkins, and a white, decked wall displays a few carefully selected photos of boats bobbing on the Cap Corse. Chef Gilles Escaffre trained with Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse; he modifies the à la carte menu regularly, and guests staying on a half-board basis are treated to the shifting Market Menu every evening. The food is Mediterranean and the wine comes from Corsican vineyards. Lunch is light – meats, cheeses and salads – and can be packed if you plan to venture into the mountains. Dinner is intimate (only 25 diners) and elaborate: there is local swordfish and seabass, plus lavish shavings of Tomme cheese and Périgord truffles.

Hotel Bar

In a narrow room, there is a glossy wooden bar, a few stools and an excellent wine list. Above, a row of sleek copper lampshades dangle from the ceiling at different lengths and opposite, a few vivid etchings by Anish Kapoor hang casually on the wall. Immediately next to the bar, a bigger sunlit seating area with shuttered windows is known as the salon – a lovely spot for a coffee or cocktail when the sea breeze sweeps in.

Last orders

Lunch is served from 12 noon to 2pm; dinner, 7.30pm to 10.30pm.

Room service

Rather sweetly (if inconveniently), food must prepared by the chef within kitchen hours. So, while it’s possible to order a bedside banquet of caviar, foie gras, cheese, charcuterie, fresh fish and salad, you can only do so during the hours mentioned.

Smith Insider

Dress code

The theme is loosely nautical – like a really demure cruise ship. Summer dresses and sandals will do nicely, but linens will blend in.

Top table

Request one of the three tables on the edge of the terrace, where it can feel as though it’s just you two, the Gulf of Saint Florent and the scorched, bronze valleys.

Local Guide

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Eat, drink, see, do: local favourites and more…

Worth getting out of bed for

The hotel makes serenity its business, so you might welcome the opportunity to stray every now and then. The town of Saint Florent is a 10-minute drive away; its main beach is called La Roya, and it’s got everything you need to pep up your holiday, if windsurfing, sailing or diving are your bag. If not, there are lots of cafés around, too.

However, there are a couple more isolated beaches that are worth the schlep: Loto and Saleccia are two strands of dazzling white sand that shelve gently into the sea. To reach them, it’s a five-hour walk by dirt track, or a pleasant boat ride from Saint Florent. There’s nothing there at all, so ask U Palazzu staff to pack you a picnic and don’t forget sun protection (there’s no shade).

For a more intriguing day trip, drive 40 minutes north to Nonza, on the Cap Corse. It’s a tiny village built on a black rocky pinnacle that plunges vertically into the sea. You can descend 600 steps to the black sand beach, or take photos from above.

If you’re feeling very restless, pop your trainers on and walk the Sentier des Douaniers, a two-hour Cap Corse coastal walk past fern forests, nature reserves, diving spots, chapels and towers. It begins at Macinaggio (about an hour and a half away by car). 

Local restaurants

It’s only a five-minute walk to modest A Magina (+33 (0)495 390101), which happens to be Oletta’s finest thing. Indoors, it’s fancy but family-run, serving proper Corsican food with lots of flair. Sit on the terrace to watch the sun setting in the distance over Saint Florent bay.

For a light lunch and lungfuls of sea air, head to Le Potager du Nebbio (+33 (0)611 131126) on Route de San Griolo in Saint Florent. You can sit among the cobblestone walls and sprawling lawns to feast on organic goodies straight from the kitchen garden – sunny spreads of just-plucked veggies, organic meat, fresh eggs and homemade jams.

Swisher seaside dining happens at Michelin-starred La Roya (+33 (0)495 370040), also in Saint Florent. Here, a young Breton chef adeptly turns local ingredients into dishes that are as pretty as they are delicious. Corsica is in a handy position for lobster from the Cap Corse, lamb from Aveyron, island honey and creamy mozzarella from Italy – and the menu reflects all of that.

+ Enlarge
Corsican hillside

U Palazzu Serenu

Paganacce, 20232, Oletta, Corsica, France

Pretty little Oletta is a hillside village in the north-east of Corsica.

Planes

The nearest airport is Bastia-Poretta, a 30-minute drive away. The airport mainly receives flights from mainland France with French airlines, but easyJet flies direct from Gatwick, Manchester and Geneva. There are also occasional flights from Cologne and Frankfurt.

Trains

You can take the Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) to Paris or Lille, catch an onward TGV to Nice and then take a ferry to Bastia with Corsica Ferries (www.corsica-ferries.co.uk).

Automobiles

The Nice to Bastia ferry carries cars, and driving all the way could save you cash, but you’d need a few days either side to make it pleasant if you're coming from the UK (it’s about a 16-hour drive from London). Or, if you’d rather fly but want to explore Corsica by car, there’s an Avis in Bastia (www.avis.com). Just make sure there are two breathalyser kits in the car at all times (French law) and that you have change for the tolls. Free parking is available a few minutes from your hotel room at the bottom of a steep driveway, but staff will meet you to help with luggage.

Other

Corsica Ferries operates the Nice-Bastia route, as well as several others (check the website for details: www.corsica-ferries.co.uk). The sailing takes around five hours. During peak summer months, ferries also make the hop between Italy and the east of Corsica – very handy for multi-centre trips. Visit Moby for details (www.mobylines.com).

Reviews

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Anonymous review

by Ana Santi , Deputy Editor at Drapers

The sun hasn’t fully come up over the mountains, so only a corner of the long, elegant pool is shimmering in the morning light. The loungers, arranged on tiered decking along the stone wall, are empty. Save for our friends the lizards and chorus of birds, we’re alone. Sleepily, I dip my toe into the unheated water and hesitate. Mr Smith, however, is already flexing his front crawl. Tha…
Read more

U Palazzu Serenu

Anonymous review by Ana Santi, Deputy Editor

The sun hasn’t fully come up over the mountains, so only a corner of the long, elegant pool is shimmering in the morning light. The loungers, arranged on tiered decking along the stone wall, are empty. Save for our friends the lizards and chorus of birds, we’re alone. Sleepily, I dip my toe into the unheated water and hesitate. Mr Smith, however, is already flexing his front crawl. That, and the promise of breakfast, is enough to coax me in. Some 20 laps later, and I know this is how I want to start every day at U Palazzu Serenu.

Wrapped in fluffy dressing gowns, we spy a huge tray making its way to a table on the terrace. ‘Let me know when you’re ready for your boiled eggs, Mr and Mrs Smith!’ calls out one of U Palazzu Serenu’s many lovely staff, who has brought us a breakfast of champions: freshly squeezed orange juice, muesli, fruit and yoghurt, followed by a basket of pastries and bread, jam and honey, washed down with bowlfuls of coffee. We tuck in, transfixed by the epic view below. We’d been drawn to Corsica for fabled Caribbean-esque beaches, but U Palazzu Serenu is prime location for the island’s other natural wonder: mountains. Isolated buildings – churches? tiny villages? – are perched at altitude (how does anyone even reach them?), while cottony clouds hide the lush peaks. Narrow roads wind down to the bay of St Florent, glistening under a clear blue sky.

Ah, the peace. A stark contrast to the previous day’s four-hour ferry crossing from Livorno in Italy, Kylie Minogue blaring out on a loop from the poolside bar. A precipitous diversion from the port of Bastia up those narrow roads to Oletta followed, an octogenarian overtaking us in a Twingo while I gripped the steering wheel for dear life. Coming from a wedding in Tuscany, we wanted more of the same from Oletta: romance, views, swimming, good food. Only when we arrived at U Palazzu Serenu, the heavenly front desk staff assuring me I could leave the car exactly where I’d abandoned it, did this seem possible. Some champagne on the terrace (dusky evening pinks replace the morning’s blues and greens), and peace is firmly back on the agenda.

The serenity after which the hotel is named continues inside. White walls, dove grey shutters and stone floors are the perfect backdrop for the Tom Dixon lighting and paintings from the likes of Anish Kapoor. Not that these reviewers can claim credit for identifying the artists; a list of each room’s painting is usefully presented alongside the evening menu, should I have wanted to engage my neighbouring diner – who had his nose in one of the many art books arranged on the shelves behind us – in conversation. Any preconceptions that this is all a bit highbrow are quickly dismissed, as our waiter waltzes into the restaurant, singing ‘bonsoir!’ and pulling funny faces at a well-behaved baby dining late with his parents. The menu is perfectly pitched: chef Jean-François Bonavita balances the ‘fine dining’ of a basil mousse with a hearty, simply fried local seabass.

But the best is yet to come. No, not the tempting pomelo tart. It’s the bed. The huge bed upstairs in our room. The biggest bed in the history of beds, surely? Even the frogs outside couldn’t inhibit its sleep-inducing powers. Space as luxury is clearly a theme here; even an enormous bed can’t dwarf the minimalist bedroom, which leads to an equally large bathroom, its marbled surfaces filled with Vrai products. The lack of a freestanding shower is initially a concern, but this leads to the ultimate in luxury: Mr Smith holding the shower head above me as I bathe.

As difficult as it is to leave the hotel, the next morning we set off on a 40-minute drive north to the pretty village of Nonza on the recommendation of another couple staying at U Palazzu Serenu. Nonza’s tower, from where troops would protect the tiny village until France’s conquest of Corsica in 1768, is the obvious attraction, but we are more concerned with fortifying ourselves ahead of the 600-step walk down to the deserted black pebble beach. So, we head to the restaurant for an early lunch of charcuterie, fish paté, cheese and salad. And a few glasses of rosé to soak up yet more views.

After an afternoon’s sunbathing and swimming, we head back via St Florent, where we stop for dinner. Mr Smith and I were keen to enjoy the sunset from a particular restaurant – La Marinuccia – recommended by the same couple who gave us the Nonza tip. So, after a quick dusting off in the back of the car, we swap our swimming togs for something smarter and head towards St Florent’s cobbled streets, behind the main harbour. We choose a table right on the decking, opposite the setting sun, above the gentle waves. If you’re feeling fancy, order the lobster, but with sand still between our toes, we opt for the local speciality: stuffed sardines. With over a half a bottle of wine still to go, we finish off the remainder back at U Palazzu Serenu’s small bar.

At the airport several days later, waiting for our flight back to London, we bump into the couple with all the recommendations. They are very pleased to see us. Turns out they felt guilty for recommending Nonza after finding out that some locals recently had to be rescued when they got into a bit of trouble in the sea. Well, in the words of Kylie Minogue, ‘if I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a single thing.’
 

The Guestbook

Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel with us, we'll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in U Palazzu Serenu's Guestbook below.

 

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

A quality location for touring Northern Corsica. The quality of welcome and service. Very much a 'home from home' but do not expect too many people. A place for calm, relaxing and unwinding. Very attentive staff, but not overbearing. We booked for 3 nights and stayed nearly a week.

Rating: 9/10 stars

GoldSmith

Stayed on

We loved

U Palazzu is a wonderfully restored 18th-century Corsican palace in the charming hillside town of Oletta. The smallest details were thought of and executed to perfection when Mr. Barthes began to create his vision and make one of his dreams a reality. An excellent selection of art is on permanent display at the palace. The staff and owner are truly wonderful people that represent and maintain the serenity of the hotel. The hotel is very well maintained and the staff is accommodating and respectful.

Rating: 10/10 stars