Few hotels have a roll call of this many A-listers among their guests. Set deep in the undulating countryside of Corsica, France’s Isle of Beauty, the Domaine de Murtoli scattered with old stone shepherds’ huts converted into villas, is so big that you’d get lost without a map. And that’s precisely what makes up its appeal. However, for those looking for less isolation, there’s the new La Ferme wing with nine suites tucked around Murtoli’s main building with a dreamy pool set among the vineyards.
Founded on the principles of agrotourism and offering high-end services that includes a Michelin-star restaurant helmed by chef Mathieu Pacaud, ever since it launched 25 years ago by local entrepreneur Toussaint Canarelli, the Domain de Murtoli in south Corsica, has been credited with being one of the continent’s dreamiest hotels for its off-the-grid atmosphere and the unrivalled natural beauty of its natural surroundings.
Guests, who include Leonardo DiCaprio and Beyoncé who celebrated her birthday here last year, stay in one of the 20 converted shepherds’ huts on the domain’s 6,100 acres, which are wedged between protected forests, castaway beach coves, and farmland overseen by local farm hands. The produce is then used at La Table de la Ferme, Murtoli’s Michelin-star restaurant or La Grotte, an atmospheric set-up of candle-lit tables inside a rock cave on the domain. Guests can also opt for an in-house chef who can plate up local delights by their own rock pool, on the beach or inside in the villas’ dining rooms.
The domain was first created as a farm, so for the owners, it’s only natural that it should continue. The farmers here rear as many 160 cows and 460 sheep, and take care of 200 chickens and 250 beehives. They make five different types of cheeses and care for olive groves — the olive oil which is stocked at the hotel boutique — and vineyards as well as the vegetable gardens, which make up about 2,000 acres. They also distill their own gin with aromatic herbs from the Corsican maquis (scrubland), which guests can sample at Murtoli’s bar and restaurants.
It wasn’t until 1993, when Paul Canarelli inherited the farm from his father Toussaint Canarelli, that he began converting some of the domain’s shepherd’s hut and renting them to guests.
Inside, the villas are comfortable and come with pared back interiors where the focus remains on the views of the jaw-dropping countryside teeming with birds and wildlife, immersing you in Corsica’s deeply beautiful nature. Here, guests are at one with their surroundings, and can see no one all day long if they so wish. I recommend booking a treatment at the open-air Nucca spa, a 100% natural and organic skincare brand founded by Lise and Hélène Canarelli who run the beachside Grand Hotel de Cala Rossa, also in southern Corsica. Guests can also opt to have a treatment at their villa.
Back in the main domain building, close to the golf course and main kitchen garden, the reception, hotel restaurant, bar and a dreamy terrace framed by pergolas of fragrant flowers, you’ll often find the new owners of the hotel, the three young grandchildren of Mr Canarelli, Santa and twins Paul and Toussaint, who recently took over from their father Paul, overseeing operations or in meetings with various suppliers.
Sante, 23, is the woman in charge at Murtoli and has been primed by her father ever since she was a child. “He’d have me try my hand at every job going at Murtoli from when I was able to walk,” the tall, slender blonde remembers, her sky blue eyes beaming at the memories. “It taught me a lot about the work that goes on behind the scenes here, so that today, running operations is almost second nature to me.”
To the back of the building are the new rooms of La Ferme wing, designed in an updated farmhouse chic, each with its own patio looking out onto a picturesque stone courtyard planted with an olive tree, where breakfast is served each morning. When guests aren’t taking it easy around the pool with glorious countryside views, they’re out walking the many trails of the domain.
The real draw at Murtoli is lacing up your hiking boots and getting out to explore the land with local guide Paul Poli. An expert on Corsica, he’ll take you to remote corners and achingly beautiful deserted beaches that’s the stuff of dreams. He will be only too happy to let you in on all the secrets of the domain, its plants and wildlife, and its evolution, as well as the island’s rich history. Just make sure to set aside enough time to enjoy the walks and lap up the views and beach time instead of whizzing through.
The site not to miss, which Paul can take you to but which you can also access on your own by car, are the Stone Age dolmens of Fontanaccia and megaliths of Cauria. “The energy up there is truly interesting,” explains our guide Paul. And indeed, wandering up one late afternoon at golden hour is otherworldly. The experience alone is worth spending a couple of nights at Murtoli for.
Another high point at the domain, is the magnificent Table de la Plage restaurant, which can be booked by non-resident guests for lunch or dinner. A real must for the castaway setting, tables here are hidden among the trees woven with a labyrinthine deck. The chefs here rustle up fresh seafood and platters of fish plucked from the ocean, summery salads with vegetables grown on the domain and on nearby farms, as well as my personal favorite, the spaghetti alli vongole, a nudge to the island’s Italian influences. Sleep off lunch under a fringed umbrella on the beach before returning to your room or villa.
The slow life here is alive and well, passed into the hands of new custodians who are keeping the spirit of the domain alive, maintaining its dreamscapes and unique allure for generations to come.