Corsica…….. wow……….wow…….wow! I had few expectations of Corsica. I thought it would have some good beaches, some nice countryside and good French food. We were going because it was close to where we were and we hadn’t been before. It wasn’t on any bucket list, but it should have been.
Our approach to the trip was as ‘methodical and planned’ as always: we chose a place where we could get cheap flights to, and planned to leave from the port closest to Sardinia, then we got a guide book; The Top 10 Guide to Corsica, the only English language guide we could find in Montpellier, and after a quick flick through, decided on a route that took us around most of the island over 6 nights, from Ajaccio, to Golfe de Porto, to Calvi, to Cap Corse, to Corte then to Bonifacio, and booked a hire car.
Corsica is not huge. Only 183 km long and 83km at it’s widest, we figured driving would be relatively light each day and we could explore our destinations with plenty of time. However, Corsica is also very mountainous, with its highest peak being 2,706m (twice the hight of Ben Nevis), and this makes the terrain challenging, spectacular, beautiful, mostly rather tiring to drive on for too long and at times a bit frightening.
Many of the roads along the coast are narrow and wriggly, with a cliff wall on one side and a drop to certain death on the other. They rarely allow one to get out of second gear and the average speed is about 30kph, unless you area local when it seems to be twice that. But as I mentioned, the views are spectacular. ‘Wow’, ‘Incredible’, ‘stunning’ ‘awesome’ and ‘crazy fucking idiot!’ were all over used on a daily basis, and each time, with complete conviction. The upshot is that we spent lots of time on the road, but that’s no bad thing.
They advise those with a nervous disposition to drive clockwise around Cap Corse so that your car is on the inside of the road. I am very glad we took that advice. I also often had a glass of wine with lunch to steady the nerves.
Often the view was just the tiny, wriggling road, the gigantic cliffs and the clear blue sea, interspersed with small inviting beaches. At other times, like in the area of the Calanques de Pinas’ and the National Park around Corte, there are amazing rock formations and mountain vistas that took our breath away. On the coast we stopped at small beaches to cool off in the clear water of the med. Inland we stopped off at river pools for a swim in the cool clear water coming from the mountains. We drank good Corsican wine and ate good food, except when we tried supermarkets, which in general, sucked.
There are small towns and villages in every part of the island, in terrain that would never be built on now, hanging off hills and cliff faces, along exceptionally challenging roads, each with a café, some lovely old buildings and an unjustifiably big church. We would have more photos if it wasn’t so bloody difficult to stop anywhere.
The towns we stayed in all had very different characters, though all were welcoming and with the exception of Golfe de Porto, were steeped in history. Ajaccio had a great market, from Calvi we got a slow narrow gauge train along a stunning coast, at Porto we took a boat ride along the coast and stopped in a village only accessible by foot or boat which sported cows on the beach, on the Cap we witnessed a wedding party nearly getting blown off a hill trying to get that iconic Corsica photo. Forte felt like the alps and Bonifacio set a new standard to the meaning of super yacht. Top tip, if you are interested in the history (Napoleon and his family were from there, and there are some interesting museums), don’t be interested in the middle of the day. History takes a very long lunch in Corsica.
In the interior, close to Corte, there is an amazing ruined village that dates from about 2000 BC that is well worth a visit. It is set amongst thick Holm Oak forest and was only ‘re-discovered’ in the 50s (I use the ‘ ‘ as I am sure the pig farmers in the area were well aware of the big lumps of stone in the middle of the forest}.. It is well preserved and fascinating, as well as in a beautiful and peaceful setting. In 2000 bc, they built a walled road to the village entrance, and it is still largely intact. I don’t know what is more amazing; that it is intact or that 4000 years ago our ancestors had the time and skill to build such a thing.
One of the things I was nervous about in Corsica is that it would be cripplingly expensive and whilst it isn’t cheap, it isn’t ridiculous. Most of the hotels we stayed in were fine, with exception of the place we stayed in in the small village of Erbajolo, high above Corte, which was really lovely and had a great swimming pool. That said, the budget took a battering but we have decided not to be too obsessed with it. We are careful where we eat, what we drink (sometimes remembering that quantity has a quality all of its own) and where we stay, but we have decided to do the things we want to do and enjoy the experience. There is no point in just being here, and no point in being miserable due to staying in crappy places or not feeling safe. If the house doesn’t sell, well, we will have a great time but it may be shorter. And start planning the next trip for when it does finally sell.
There is an upside of being on a budget. We are often lucky enough to be staying in nice hotels in the thick of the action in our normal life but right now budget puts us on the fringes. In Calvi, we found ourselves on the other side of the bay to the old town, about a 2km walk and with no bus options. There was very little around us, but there was a beach about 10 mins walk, so we went to a crap supermarket, bought a picnic, a bottle of rose, and a bag of ice, and sat alone, watching the sunset, and looking at the bright lights of the town whilst listening to the waves lapping the shore. A perfect evening and something we could have missed if it wasn’t for the budget.
I was relieved and a little amazed to hand our car back at Bonifacio with no dents or scratches and we jumped on a ferry to Sardinia having very much enjoyed discovering a bit of this lovely island. If it’s not on your list, it should be.