STAYING AT A “MAISON D’HÔTE”
The year 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of our affiliation to ‘Gîtes de France’. We have gained much from working with the local ‘Gîtes de France Corse’ office at Ajaccio as we have been able to increase our visibility to potential guests, improve the quality of the facilities we offer and keep step with the constantly evolving expectations of holiday makers.
Gîtes de France: the Why and the How
Gîtes de France was created in 1955 and has become a respected label promoting quality holiday accommodation. According to a recent survey (Etude IFOP – April 2012), ‘Gîtes de France’ was the fourth most cited label, after Pierre & Vacances, Centre Parc and Club Med. That is 76% of the people interviewed mentioned Gîtes de France. For the 44,000 owners, or hosts, of 58,000 properties affiliation to Gîtes de France brings real benefits.
In order to become part of the Gîtes de France network the host is responsible for the satisfaction of the guest by personally assuring a friendly welcome and that everything is in place for an enjoyable and comfortable stay. Knowledge of the local area is also essential. By following the requirements of Gîtes de France the host can benefit from advice given by the organisation and from the services it provides.
Since 2009 Casa Murza has been designated an Eco-gîte. What is an Eco-gîte?
The original house design and subsequent build, in 2007, met the criteria defined for the designation Eco-gîte. These being:
- integration of the property within its local environment and setting
- use of local and environmentally-friendly building materials in the construction of the property
- management of the various types of energy consumption, heating, hot water, cooking etc, and the use of renewable energy
- management of water consumption
- waste disposal management as linked to the use of the property
- providing feedback to Gîtes de France of points raised by, and discussed with, guests regarding these criteria
After obtaining the Eco-gîte designation we have chosen to go further with this approach. Moreover, people who take their holidays in a rural setting are increasingly aware of the need to protect our environment, which gives weight to our decision. To limit the environmental, both local and beyond, impact of one’s activities, whether this is in maintaining a property or the energy costs, e.g. electricity and water, involved in its day to day running, should be the objective of any household. To focus on good environmental practice whilst guaranteeing a high level of comfort is the way forward for the holiday industry, especially so on Corsica where the high influx of holiday makers has an impact on its fragile ecosystems. We base our planning for the future on this vision of durable tourism for the island.
A gypsy caravan and a small round house are termed as ‘unusual accommodation’, what does this mean?
An ‘unusual accommodation’ is an accommodation which, by its originality and unique setting, gives an enhanced feeling of harmony with nature. In terms of comfort and facilities provided, the accommodation is no different to the guest rooms contained within the house. The accommodation’s surroundings must be kept tidy and any furnishings must be in keeping with the setting. A guest will have a more unique stay as they experience more closely the natural setting of their accommodation.
Some Guest Houses have a swimming pool, are you thinking of building one?
We have sometimes wondered about adding a pool but have settled upon the decision not to go ahead. The options available, including a natural pool, would be difficult to install especially as the garden is a series of terraces. In compensation we have preferred to focus on providing areas for relaxation thus reducing the appropriateness of adding a pool, and its inherent bustle of activity, at a future date. Just five minutes by car there are the magnificent natural pools formed by the river Liamone which are both refreshing and shady. Our choice has been to include in the garden a natural pond with a fountain that has become a haven for wildlife, and provides water for the local birds. The sound of the water adds a refreshing aspect to the garden.
And air conditioning?
In contrast to coastal areas, our altitude (500m) and airy setting generally reduce the duration of heat waves. Air conditioning units have a high energy requirement which is difficult to justify, on an environmental basis, given the short duration when they might be used and the current lack of renewable energy sources on the island. Fans are available to provide cooling when necessary and until such a time that the energy equation becomes more favourable. The period mid-June to mid-August has the highest risk from a heat wave so guests who have a concern should avoid this time.
You use permaculture in your garden, what is that?
The recent introduction of permaculture is adding an ecological aspect to how the garden is managed. There is a description of permaculture’s basic principles elsewhere on this site. We only really began in earnest at the beginning of 2016 and it is, as is always the case with nature, a question of being patient. In the long run we hope that our fruit and vegetable production will be supported by and merge with the Corsican maquis which surrounds our ‘Casa’. Much thought, investment and time will be required to arrive at this point but it will be breathtaking when the first tentative results can be seen.
What is the difference between a Gîte and a Maison d’hôte?
In reality ‘Gîtes de France’, to which we are affiliated, propose a number of Gîtes and Maisons d’hôtes and some owners/properties offer both.
A Gîte is a self catering accommodation; a town flat, a villa with a swimming pool and many unusual properties that can be rented for a week or other periods, as proposed by their owners. The owner will welcome new arrivals and provide information about the general operation of the property. The owner remains available for the duration of the let in case there is a need.
A Maison d’hôte offers rooms for let on a bed and breakfast basis in the home of the owner. As for a Gîte, the owner will welcome new arrivals and show the guests their rooms, the communal areas of the house and garden as well as discussing other facilities on offer, for example the options for different leisure activities, dinner menus and breakfast times. The owner will also bring up different possibilities to provide a guest with the most comfortable stay possible.
What exactly is the Table d’hôte proposed by a Maison d’hôte?
About one Maison d’hôte in four proposes a Table d’hôte and at Casa Murza there are two options. The simplest is for a two course dinner, mixed salad or main course followed by a dessert, at a table seating just your party. No reservation is required for this option. We find that our guests frequently wish to dine together and for these evenings a more elaborate menu is available of aperitif, starter, main course and dessert. A quarter-litre carafe of wine is also included. Everyone is seated at a large table resulting in a friendly and entertaining evening. For this option an advance reservation is required. We will be very happy to give you more details when you arrive.
For those rooms which have a private seating area, that is all of them except suite Magali, an occasional evening picnic is also a possibility. There is a shared refrigerator for keeping food fresh, but no cooking facilities.
What are the highlights of Corsican cuisine?
Number of culinary delights within the Corsican cuisine, though some of these are seasonal. For example Brocciu is a soft cheese made during winter and spring at the bergeries on the plains for the variety made with sheep’s milk and those bergeries more inland for the goat’s milk variety. It is delicious, especially with a little sugar or eau-de-vie.
Brocciu is also a key part to the typical Corsican winter menu. This menu includes grilled Corsican sausages, made from fresh pig’s liver (Figatelli), polenta, made from Corsican chestnut flour boiled with water and beaten until a delicious paste is formed (Pulenda) and fresh Brocciu.
At other times of the year Brocciu can be bought vacuum-wrapped to preserve its freshness. There is also a more mature version of Brocciu which has been allowed to drain further and hence become harder. This Brocciu is frequently used in Corsican cooking for example mixed with a selection of Swiss chard, potatoes, squash, onions and potatoes and used as a stuffing for savoury turnovers (Bastelles). A picnic favourite.
There are other Corsican cheeses that are made in the spring and summer months. As a general rule the longer the cheese has been left to mature the stronger the flavour.
Corsican charcuterie, mostly dried hams and sausages, is made during the winter months. Each producer works within guidelines which differ according to whether the pigs have been raised by the producer or have been raised elsewhere. As you can imagine it is difficult to have sufficient supplies to meet the demands of local people and holidaymakers. Those who come later in the year may not have a wide choice from which to make their purchases. The village suppliers will be able to give you good advice and the restaurants have an ‘assiette de charcuterie locale’ on their menus.
Local cheeses and charcuterie can be purchased from the shops in the village or at the farmer’s market held every Wednesday morning during the summer.
The website ‘Bienvenue à la ferme’ offers a selection of addresses where produce made on the property can be bought directly. Some even operate as guest houses.
The Mediterranean is a rich source of fish and the seafood restaurants found on the coast are the ideal dinner spot, both in terms of location and choice. The quality and freshness of the fish are guaranteed by the local fishermen who supply these restaurants. You will have a rewarding gastronomic experience if a suitable budget is allocated.
There is a surprising diversity of quality wines produced on Corsica with a number of domains adopting production techniques that are respectful to the environment. Each soil type produces a different, and characteristic, wine that wine lovers will enjoy discovering. Our wine is supplied by Laurent Costa from the Domaine A Perracia, which is located on the plaine de Peri, inland from Ajaccio. He is a conscientious wine grower who employs best practice to ensure the quality of the wine produced on his vineyard.
Local food producers, in particular organic food producers, have trouble keeping up with demand, especially during the summer season. In the major towns organic food can be bought either at specialised shops or at the large supermarkets. Whenever possible support should be given to the expanding local production by purchasing from farm shops, or green grocers selling local produce, that has been certified AB or Ecocert, and thus reduce the amount that needs to be imported, organic or not, which is the majority at the current time.
What can we expect from your menus?
At Casa Murza we serve a typical French breakfast of hot drinks, fruit juice and fresh fruit salad. These are accompanied by yoghurt, bread, Corsican canistrelli biscuits and jams, all homemade. When asked we add egg and cheese, for which a supplement is charged.
We focus on balanced menus which include an element of raw and cooked vegetables that our guests appreciate, particularly whilst away. The menus are simple and light, without neglecting spicy flavours, giving our guests the impression of eating at home. Conscious that eating habits are evolving we are moving away from menus that are based on meat products. If a guest has a particular diet constraint we will be happy to provide an appropriate menu. As far as is possible all the menus are based on organic locally produced ingredients.
In summary, what are the advantages of staying in a Guest House?
To stay at Casa Murza is a totally different experience, way of travelling even, to renting a holiday apartment.
The ‘Gîtes de France’ quality criteria reflecting the welcome, the facilities, breakfast, room cleaning during your stay, all sum to a total experience for our guests. This level of service is, of course, reflected in the room tariffs but if a comparison was made with other holiday accommodation that offer less, with perhaps optional additions, they are not unreasonable. Most of our guests tell us how much they love being pampered a little during their stay, we all merit a little bit of spoiling. Have a break from the daily routine, come for a stay here and enjoy the experience. Dream of staying in a comfortable home: you arrive, you are taken in hand, you rest and you forget all your worries.
Think of the relaxation that comes with doing nothing. Allow yourself the time to read your latest novel in the shade of our private garden. Times spent with your hosts and the other guests that you meet at Casa Murza will also be good memories that you will take away with you. If you need a little solitude you will find secluded quiet spots in the garden, or admire the stunning view across the Liamone valley from your private terrace or from the belvedere which is just a few steps from the house. We are often told there are corners of our garden which resemble paradise; at the very least you should feel as if you are wandering in the natural Corsican maquis on a beautiful day out.
What gives you pleasure from your role as the host of a Guest House?
To receive guests throughout the season is a real positive experience, as much for our guests as for us. It is built upon a common understanding of what each expects from the other. We are very aware that every guest is different and it is this difference that is so interesting: we are curious to know from where our guests originate and why they have chosen to spend time with us at Casa Murza.
We, in our turn, are happy to speak of our way of living, to show people round the garden and talk about its plants, to suggest walks and many other leisure activities. We try to always be available to our guests within the limits of practicality. A little example: a guest house is not a holiday complex with staff. If you arrive unexpectedly before 4pm in the afternoon you may find us in “wound down mode”. The best time to arrive is between 4pm and 7pm. This amusing example should not make us forget that, as the fact that many of our guests return for another stay demonstrates, to open one’s home to guests is an exciting adventure giving fresh and new experiences that we have the pleasure to live each year.