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Two Travellers on Corsica, October 2012

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Trip Description

Two of us, Liz & Doug Phillips, enjoyed eleven days traveling around Corsica and three days in Nice. We flew from Montreal to Nice on Sunday September 30 2012 and returned on Monday October 15. We had a great time.



Page 1: Introduction and Planning

You probably already know that Napoleon Bonaparte was born on Corsica. Here are ten additional things you should know about Corsica from the start.

  • There are not many flat bits, except for the east coast. Corsica is the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean.
  • There are two main population centres – Bastia in the north and Ajaccio on the west coast. Well three, if you include Corte in the middle, but even it’s not very big. Most other places are quite small. The total population is around 300,000.
  • It is a very popular holiday destination with Europeans. It can get pretty busy in July and August.
  • It’s nickname is L'Île de Beauté.
  • Two of the villages classified as the Most Beautiful in France are on Corsica.
  • There are a lot of beaches on Corsica.
  • It is the least developed area of France.
  • Corsican wines are pretty good – and, oh, so are the beers. Pietra is the best.
  • There are a lot of chestnuts trees on Corsica. Chestnuts are found in everything from desserts to beer (see Pietra, above).
  • The best book about Corsica was written by an Englishwoman. It was published in 1971.
Why Corsica?

I know Corsica has been on my travel radar for at least four years. I bought Michelin map #345 - Corse-du-Sud, Haute-Corse - on a visit to the Drôme in June 2008. Corsica is part of France, my most frequented travel destination. It is also in the Mediterranean. As a Canadian, French is not a completely foreign language and I like to visit places with a more pleasant climate than the one I am leaving behind (not very difficult except for a few months of the year). I was a history teacher and, of course, I knew that Napoleon was born on Corsica. I remember thinking many years ago that Corsica seemed so remote. I didn’t know anybody who had been to the island until Kevin Widrow described a family visit to the island, and a couple of others on Slow Travel mentioned being there a few years ago. All reports were positive.

But what finally encouraged me to go to Corsica this year was learning that the first three stages of the 2013 Tour de France would take place on the island. With the exposure provided by the Tour, I suspect that the island will become even more popular in the future. Besides, next year I can relive my time on Corsica as I follow the initial stages of the Tour on television.

Such are the reasons why I chose to visit Corsica in 2012. They may not sound convincing to you, but there they are.

Planning

There are many options on how to get to Corsica. From North America, you can fly to a number of cities e.g. London, Paris – then transfer to a smaller airline and fly to either Bastia or Ajaccio. If you are already in Europe you can take a ferry from a number of ports in France and Livorno in Italy. We chose to fly to Nice, then take a 5.5 hours ferry ride to Bastia, because we wanted to spend at least a couple of days on the Côte d’Azur. We had been to Nice once several years ago, on a day trip from the Luberon to meet a friend of one of our children for lunch and a brief tour. My wife fell in love with Nice – “I’ll stay here. You can go home. Just send money.”

We booked an Air Transat flight direct from Montreal to Nice ($1793); then booked ferry tickets. There is a choice of two ferry companies - Corsica Ferries (an Italian company) and the SNCM (French national ferry operator). We chose Corsica Ferries on the advice of Kevin Widrow, but we likely would have selected the company on our own. Corsica Ferries appears to offer much more frequent service. Our return ticket total on the ferry was €90.20. We could have opted for Pullman-style seating or even a cabin for an additional cost. I also booked hotel rooms - three nights at a Best Western (€105/night) in Nice, three nights at the Best Western Bastia (€75/night), two nights at the Hotel Centre Nautique in Bonifacio (€75/night) and a week in a studio apartment 2kms from Cargese on the west coast (€270/week). I rented a car from Europcar for our time on Corsica, using AutoEurope as the broker.

And off we went, flying out of Montreal’s Pierre E. Trudeau airport on Sunday September 30 and returning on Monday October 15.

Page 2: Nice - Monday October 1

A long day. We landed at the airport in Nice at 7:30am. By shortly after 8:00am we were on our way into the city, via a #98 bus - €4 and it was a day pass for the whole bus and tram network.

Hey, maybe we could check into our hotel early, get a few hours rest and head west (Cannes) or east (Monaco) in the afternoon? But, our hotel had a 2:00pm check-in time, and we were we able to check in at 2:00pm, not a minute before. No way we were going to be able to do much without some rest.

We left our luggage at the hotel; got some breakfast at one of several options at the nearby and inviting Place Magenta; walked about five minutes down to and along the Promenade des Anglais; then walked through the market (antiques today) at the Cours Saleya. That day, at least, the Promenade and the Cours Saleya were dominated by cruise ship group tours. Also, the weather was cool and overcast until the early afternoon.

But eventually the sun appeared and the temperature rose. We checked into our hotel, got some rest, discovered an Intermarché around the corner and walked back into the old part of Nice in the evening for a very pleasant dinner at Le Tire Bouchon restaurant, on a recommendation from one of my brothers who had spent a few days in the city earlier in the year.

We were in the south of France and we were off to Corsica the next day. If you wanted to trade places ... uh ... no thanks.

Page 3: To Bastia - Tuesday October 2

Public transit in Nice is excellent. Our ferry to Corsica was scheduled to depart at 2:00pm. We were able to catch a #7 bus (€1 each) a few steps from our hotel down to the port area. The port of Nice is quite extensive and a bit confusing for a first time visitor, so I asked a lady from our bus if she was going to Corsica. “Ajaccio ou Bastia?” she asked. When I replied, “Bastia,” she indicated that we were to follow her.

I really didn't know what to expect from the ferry, but I was pleasantly surprised. While most people drove onto the ferry either in their private autos, commercial vehicles or on tour buses, we were among a small group of pedestrians who got first pick of the several seating areas aboard. There was a storage room for our luggage, plenty of seating, several dining choices and many options for a stroll. The 5.5 hour crossing was not a hardship in any manner.

We arrived in Bastia at 8:15pm - lots of open water on the journey, but the highlight for me was seeing Elba in the near distance at one point. Eight years ago my wife and I took a day-trip from Tuscany to the island of Napoleon's first exile, and that day we were landing on the island of his birth.

I planned on hiring a cab at the port in Bastia to take us to our hotel - but no cabs were around. Many passengers drove off the ferry and most of the rest were met by friends or family - so no line of cabs looking for an easy fare. We walked about 900m to our hotel, the Best Western Bastia Centre, and in case you’re wondering, nobody walks downhill from a seaport.

We managed to have a late dinner at a restaurant around the corner and only a few minutes walk from the hotel. The food was OK, but everything else about it was nondescript - no intentions of returning.

The adventure begins tomorrow.

Page 4: Around Cap Corse - Wednesday October 3

Very warm day with bright sunshine.

We walked back down to the port area in Bastia after breakfast at the hotel, picked up our car at Europcar - a brown Peugot 308 - then headed over to Saint Florent and the start of a west-to-east journey around Cap Corse. The trip is reputed to be hair-raisingly stressful in places, but it’s not so bad - I've had scarier drives in the Vercors, for instance. However, there is evidence of recent and on-going road improvements, so perhaps the driving experience is somewhat tamer than in years past.

The main road around Cap Corse is the D80. At one point, and for reasons left unmentioned, we drove several kilometers on the D33, much narrower and less busy then the D80. The main traffic impediment we encountered on the D33 was a herd of mountain goats on either side of and in the middle of the road. We stopped several times for photos, twice for a break and three times for wine purchases. Our first stop was at Nonza, on the west side, where we had a drink in the small village inundated with German tourists. Our second stop, for a late lunch, was at the very pleasant seaside village of Macinaggio, at the top of our journey around Cap Corse.

There are many wine producers in the area around Patrimonio and Saint Florent, at the start of our journey. We stopped at one - Domaine Gentile, recommended in one of our guide books. Our other two wine stops were at Clos Nicrosi, which produces some unique and popular white wines and Domaine Pieretti for a sample of their excellent red wines. Both of the latter two producers are within a few kilometers of Macinaggio.



Many people recommend a west-to-west transit of Cap Corse because you will always be driving on the inside, away from the steep drop-offs, but I would recommend it for another reason. The scenery on the western side is much more dramatic and spectacular than on the east. Also, the west is much less-developed and more interesting. Our trip around Cap Corse took six hours, with no beach time - a reasonable time to allot, if a visit to Corsica is in your future. We saw some people putting on hiking shoes at one stop-off for a short climb to the top of a hill, and we saw a very few people on some of the black beaches below, but there really aren't a lot of places to stop for an extended period of time on a day trip like ours in early October.

In the evening, we walked down from our hotel over to the Vieux Port area and the marina ringed by restaurants. We stopped at Trattoria al dente, a small restaurant with a good rating on Trip Advisor - had an enjoyable time.

One thing about Corsica that we had both noticed - it's more difficult for non-French speakers to communicate than on the mainland - and I am sure that Corsicans would not be pleased with my commenting on how French they are.

Page 5: Sant'Antonino and the Balagne - Thursday October 4

Much of the north-west side of Corsica is called the Balagne. It is very popular with visitors, featuring seaside communities like Calvi and L'Ile Rousse. It also includes spectacular views away from the coast, a reconstructed village (Pigna) in the interior, and the stunning Sant'Antonino, one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.

Before reaching the Balagne, we again drove through the wine-producing area around Patrimonio and Saint Florent. Our first stop was at L’Ile Rousse, a small, attractive village with a busy ferry port. Obviously economically dependent on holiday visitors, L’Ile Rousse features include palm trees, several beaches, many restaurants and a few shop-lined streets. We spent a couple of hours in the village, with a pause for a morning café. A very pleasant interlude, but perhaps L’Ile Rousse might lose some of its charm at the height of the tourist season.

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On the edge of L’Ile Rousse on the way to Calvi, we turned left, away from the coast and drove up into the interior. Our first stop was at Pigna, the site of an ambitious cultural and ecological project. The village had been restored to a traditional settlement out of ruins. It features a recovered mairie (town hall), church, theatre, several artisan workshops and a typical architectural street plan. Motorized vehicles are restricted to parking areas at the edge of the village. But on that day, much of the commercial enterprises were closed for the season. A pleasant place to walk around, but not much reason to linger.



A few kilometers farther along, and after an uphill hairpin turn or two, we arrived at our goal.

Sant'Antonino is a small village perched atop a large rock outcropping in the Balagne region of Corsica, inland and up a winding road about midway between L'Ile Rousse and Calvi. Until about 20 years ago the only way up the outcropping was on foot or a donkey ride. However, now cars and buses can drive to the base of the village. Also, Sant'Antonino now appears as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, so it is a popular spot and was a "must-see" on our time in the area. The views were unforgettable and well-worth the effort of getting there.

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An unexpected bonus was our decision to pause for lunch at I Scalini, at the top level of the village. We had a light lunch - a pichet of red wine, a salad, some bruschetta and a couple of espressos. The food was good, the prices reasonable, the two guys running the place were great and the view was spectacular. I Scalini greatly contributed to our enjoyment of Sant'Antonino.

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Back down the hill to the main road and a drive along the N197 into Calvi for a brief visit, before retracing our route to Bastia. The Balagne would be near the top of our list for an extended stay on a return visit.

Again this evening, we walked back down to the old port area of Bastia, searched for and found the family-run Petite Marie restaurant on the small rue des Zephyrs, just behind the touristy Quai des Martyrs de la Liberation. We the only English speakers present, and had a great time. My plate was heaped to overflowing with grilled and herbed langoustines. Our interactions with the owners and other patrons were positive and the price was reasonable - approximately €75 for the two of us, including a bottle of wine, one dessert and two espressos. A highlight of our time in Bastia! Go there if you want to try langoustines!

Page 6: Two Days in Bonifacio - Friday-Saturday October 5-6

Two very warm, bright sunny days at the southern tip of Corsica.

We noticed the weather getting warmer as we drove south along the east coast of Corsica, which will make up the first stage to the 2013 Tour de France. Our trip from Bastia took about three hours, including a refreshment break in Porto-Vecchio, which will be the starting point of the first stage. There is already signage announcing the town's coup.

Arriving in Bonifacio early in the afternoon, we checked into our hotel. The 11-room Hotel Centre Nautique in Bonifacio, a vintage structure with traditional features, occupies an attractive quayside setting, and a reservation includes parking in an adjacent, if miniscule, lot.

We toured Bonifacio's marina area and, after climbing several steps through a commercial street, we also walked through part of the Bosco, a wooded elevated area, which provided some great views of the Bonifacio's dramatic landscape. Later we took a boat tour of the nearby area - again very impressive and stunning views.

We had dinner at the Cantina Grill in the port area. Cantina Grill is owned and operated by the same family responsible for the highly recommended Cantina Doria in the haute ville. There are many restaurants by the water in Bonifacio. Some were already closed for the season. With one exception the rest were almost empty. The Cantina Grill was full.

Saturday morning we walked from our hotel on the marina up into the haute ville, the oldest part of Bonifiacio with many buildings precariously perched on the edge of the cliff. After a brief tour we descended L'Escalier du Roy d'Aragon, the Staircase of the King of Aragon, a series of 187 steps (about the same as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris) cut into the side of the cliff. We had noticed the staircase on our boat ride yesterday. Like much of Corsica's history, the staircase has a fair amount of myth about it. Suffice to say, it has absolutely nothing to do with the King of Aragon. The walk down was more of a challenge than expected - the steps are quite steep - but at the bottom there is a walking area about a quarter of a mile along the cliff face. The walk back up was done in stages.

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We paused for a pleasant lunch in a tourist restaurant in the haute ville, before walking back down the hill, arriving at our hotel mid-afternoon. What to do? A bit late for starting out in our car on even an abbreviated day trip, but too early to hang around our hotel room. So we headed out, each with a book, looking for a park or public spot to read and take in the beautiful weather. We ended up sitting outside at one of the many bar/restaurants that ring the marina, ordered a beer and read for more than an hour.

In the evening we had planned to go to Cantina Doria in the haute ville. But Cantina Doria is closed on Saturdays, at least at that time of year. So we returned to Cantina Grill for a second evening. There was enough variety on the menu to provide a completely different, but equally enjoyable, dining experience.

My original plan was to spend three days based in Bonifacio, but I’m very glad we left after two. While there are some stunning views here, there's not much of a community or even very much to do. It really is a bit isolated from any other interesting parts of the island. A one night stay or even a full day trip would do justice to most of it highlights.

Page 7: Along the West Coast - Sunday October 7

We checked out of our hotel in Bonifacio and were on our way up the west coast of Corsica by 10:00am under a heavy overcast sky and lower temperatures. The west side of Corsica is wild - lots of rock formations with a sprinkling of vegetation and not much in the way of population until the town of Sartene.

We had been very impressed by the few Corsican wines we had tried since our arrival. Our favourite, and on any list of top producers on the island, was a white from Domaine Saparale in the Sartenais (the area around Sartene). And since we prefer to visit the property rather than just buy a wine in a store, we took a decidedly secondary road inland from Sartene on arrival. However, we should have read the description of the location more carefully - "buried deep in one of the wildest corners of the Sartenais." For one of the few times on our travels in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, we turned back before reaching our destination. The road was just too rugged and the journey too long.

As an acceptable compromise in this situation, we bought a couple of bottles of Domaine Saparale wine at "La Cave Sartenais", offering "Prudutti Corsi" (note the Corsican spelling), adjacent to Piazza Porta,the main square, and on the way into the vieille ville. We paused for a few hours in Sartene, enjoying a drink at a café on the square, touring the old part of the town and doing some window shopping in the main part. Liz saw a few things she was considering in one shop, but when she returned to buy them, it was after 1pm – closing time on Sunday. We had also planned to buy some food supplies for the next few days at the apartment as we were leaving Sartene, but the food store was closed, too. However, I did manage to buy a beach towel in anticipation of our time in Cargese.

We arrived in Cargese around 3:30pm and found our way to our lovely studio apartment a few minutes walk from Pero beach on the small Gulf de Pero, next to the much larger Golfe de Sagone. It feels great to unpack our bags, if only for five days. We usually book for one or two week stays - the Slow Travel way - but this year we were mainly in hotels.

Our dinner options were very limited. With no food in the apartment we had to go out. Fortunately, there was a hotel /restaurant (Ta Kladia) very close by. The restaurant closed for the season on the Wednesday after our arrival, but it was still open that Sunday evening - so that was where we went. Nice setting outside, close to the water. Some items on the menu were not available. We relied on our server's suggestions for some adaptations. The food was OK but l'addition came as a bit of shock. We don't plan a return visit.

Page 8: Piana and Les Roches Rouge - Monday October 8

Our first stop today was at the local supermarket in Cargese. The SPAR chain is found everywhere on Corsica.

After dropping off purchases at the apartment we drove a few miles north along the coast until we came to Piana, another of the Most Beautiful Villages in France. While its setting is not as dramatic as Sant'Antonino, Piana is a picturesque village, with several very attractive buildings and great views over the Golfe de Porto. The most impressive structure is Les Roches Rouge, an elegant restored grand hotel at one end of the village.

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After some time in the village we headed over to Les Roches Rouges for a late lunch on the terrace. While this was our first time at the hotel, several of the details of both the exteriors and interior were familiar from our viewing of the 2009 movie Queen To Play. We enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch on the almost-deserted terrace. The weather was perfect and the views from our elevation out over the gulf were spectacular.

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Back to the apartment by 5:00pm, a couple of hours on the beach, followed by dinner and a bottle of wine chez nous.

A short trip today, highlighted by a memorable setting for lunch.

Page 9: A Day in Ajaccio - Tuesday October 9

If you didn't already know that Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, you would figure it out pretty quickly from the banners, statues and store fronts as you walked around this attractive and prosperous community. According to a friend, a retired General in the Canadian army, Ajaccio has a colorful and turbulent history. It was a center of pirate activity in the distant past and the nexus of international smuggling in recent years. It is also the port of embarkation of the 2nd Parachute Regiment of the French Foreign Legion, based in Calvi. However, none of this was evident on our day trip from Cargese, a little over an hour away.

There was a lot of traffic as we approached the city shortly after 9:00am, but the roads were well-marked and we knew where we were heading. We drove down to the port area and parked for the day in a large lot. Ajaccio is a bustling community, with a metropolitan population approaching 100,000, but the areas of most interest to us are found in a compact district near the water in the older part of the city.

The main marché in Ajaccio takes up most of Place Foch. This market is unusual in two respects: it runs six days a week (except Monday) and it was the only market we encountered during our time in Corsica. Our walk to the market took us along the pedestrian-friendly rue Cardinal Flesch, named after a great art collector of the Napoleonic period. A small part of his original vast collection is on display in the Musée Flesch, an elegant building that is the most dominant one on the street. Of more interest to at least one of us were the shops. The rue Cardinal Flesch provided the best shopping of our time on Corsica.

There is a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte at the head of Place Foch, adjacent to the start of rue Bonaparte. A few steps along and on a small street on the right is a sign for "Maison Bonaparte." This family house, where Napoleon was born and spent his early life, is a national monument in France. For a former history teacher it was at the top of my list on a visit to Ajaccio. There were only a very few others visitors to the house when we were there. An enjoyable time - our leisurely tour took about 45 minutes.

Following our time in the "Maison Napoleon" we paused for a drink near the water and decided to split up for a while. I walked over to the Citadel, along the seashore and among the narrow streets of this part of the city, while Liz returned to rue Cardinal Flesch. We returned to our car in the late afternoon, bearing gifts for our sons, daughters, and grandchildren, drove back to Cargese, had a swim in the Mediterranean and enjoyed a bottle of wine on our patio, accompanied by some cheeses from the market. Dinner in the early evening at the apartment with the sights and sounds of the beach in the background.

Page 10: Vico, Soccia, Orto, Murzo - Wednesday October 10

Today we drove into the mountains inland from the coast to where the roads stop. We drove over to the crossroads village of Sagone, turned north and took the D70 up into the hills. Our first stop was Vico, described in one source as displaying “authentically Corsican atmosphere”, with narrow streets, a cafe-ringed central square, signs of erstwhile significance (it was once the capital of the Sagone region), a generally dour facade to many buildings with some attractive exceptions. We parked and walked around the village, considered pausing for an espresso, but decided to press on. We had little idea of what we would find beyond Vico.

Soccia was our next stop. Smaller than Vico and much more remote, it is in almost every way a more attractive place. It is situated in a wooded area along a high spur against a backdrop of rocky outcroppings. It is a popular starting point with hikers and is about a 90 minute walk to the interesting Lac de Creno. Perhaps unwisely in retrospect, we passed on the three-hour walk. Soccia has at least one cafe and a recommended restaurant, but there were no signs of commerce in the village on our visit. The only people we saw were three workmen. The season was over by the end of September.

Continuing on to the end of the road, we saw an amazing site. There was a road crew, pausing for their lunch break. One guy was sitting down and enjoying his lunch in the middle of the road – we had to navigate around him. In fairness, beyond Vico we saw very few vehicles – along with a fair number of cattle, pigs, goats and donkeys walking along and grazing at the side of the road. Orto was where the road ended. From a curve in the road a few kilometers from the village, Orto presents an attractive and dramatic appearance, but it is a very quiet place. We only saw one person, an elderly lady in her yard. Apparently senior pensioners make up the entire population. Food is provided by a delivery van or younger relatives who bring supplies when they visit. One of the vehicles we did encounter today was a small van coming from Orto. Perhaps it was the food truck.

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We left Orto and headed back down the winding road. We assumed that Vico was going to be our next stop for a drink and something to eat – not exactly an enticing prospect. Fortunately we came upon a friendly, lively spot, the Auberge U Fragnu, at the side of the road as we passed through Murzo. The setting (outside under umbrellas and some very attractive trees on a warm sunny day), food (pizza from a wood-fired oven), ambiance (among a variety of groups of family and friends) and service (including a complimentary glass of eau de vie offered by the owner who visited each table) combined to provide an unexpected and very pleasant experience.

One other feature of our road trip deserves mention. We knew that chestnuts had been an important feature of Corsica's economy in the past. While of much less importance today, la châtaigne is still found in many products, from restaurant desserts to Pietra beer, as mentioned in the introduction. But we had never seen a chestnut tree until today, when we noticed that much of the roadway in the higher elevations between Soccia and Orto was lined with chestnut trees. The chestnuts were ripe – many had already fallen from the trees while others, still on the branches were about to be released from their spiky pods that were partially open.

On our way back we stopped at the SPAR supermarché in Sagone, much larger than the one in Cargese, and bought some supplies for a couple of meals, including tonight's dinner. Back to the apartment in time for a late afternoon ocean swim.

A slightly different day trip for us - visits to two deserted communities, many more encounters with animals than vehicles, a stop to inspect some trees and a lunch break at the first place where we saw people. It may not sound exciting, but it certainly was memorable – and also, I suspect, perhaps an almost uniquely Corsican experience.

Even in mid-October tour buses are a common site on the roads of Corsica. We didn't encounter any tour buses today.

Page 11: Les Calanche de Piana, Porto, Ota - Thursday October 11

Shortly before 10am, we drove into Cargese, turned left on the D81 and retraced our route to Piana from a few days ago. However, we continued beyond Piana and soon came upon the impressive rock formations known as the Calanches. There are several hiking paths in the area which provide the best views, but we limited ourselves to several stops along the road, along with most other people we met.

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We also encountered several tour buses going each way along the narrow road. It was a bit of a mystery until we came upon Porto, a resort village at the bottom of steep mountain slopes a few miles from the Calanches. The village is divided into two parts - the beach and the marina, connected by an avenue dominated by small hotels and other commercial enterprises catering to the tourist trade. Attractive from a distance, Porto has the least appeal of any place we visited on Corsica.

A few kilometers east and inland is the village of Ota, surrounded by impressive rock formations. The road to Ota was typically narrow and there was a light rain, but the main driving hazard was a flock of about 200 goats trotting briskly along the road. It was pretty quiet in Ota, but we managed to find a café open for business. We shared a small interior dining area with about a dozen local men, engaged in lively conversations. Most of the guys seemed to have an opinion about any topic and they were not reticent about sharing.

Back to the apartment late in the afternoon, we start packing and planning our last evening meal. We were leaving the next day.

Page 12: Corte - Friday October 12

Today we backtracked a bit from Cargese toward Ajaccio and followed the N193 through the middle of Corsica, returning to Bastia. That's the reverse of the second stage of the 2013 Tour de France, which starts in Bastia and ends in Ajaccio.

If you look at Corsica on a map and stick a pin in the exact center, chances are you've located Corte ... Well, actually that's a bit of poetic license. Corte is a bit north of the exact center of the island, but it sounds better if I put it right in the middle.

Pronunciation of many place names is a real challenge on Corsica. For example, in Corsican, Ajaccio is pronounced "eye YACH u" and Cargese becomes "CAR geeze." However, Corte is a snap, especially for Canadians. It's pronounced "court EH."

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A vibrant university town, Corte owes its importance to history, in particular Pascale Paoli, an 18th century product of the Enlightenment, author of a democratic constitution and a Corsican patriot. If you didn't know Corte was there on your drive through the middle of Corsica, you would be amazed when you arrived. A visitor to Corte approaches the town in the modern lower section, but most of the interesting parts are in the haute ville, with the cours Paoli being the dividing line. Corte was the epicenter of Corsican nationalism in the ultimately unsuccessful struggle against, first the Genoese followed by the French over 200 years ago. This tumultuous history is reflected in the street names, cafés and statues in the 21st century. One of the "musts" on any visit to Corte is a walk up to the Belvédère and a photo of the Citadel. It was well worth the effort - an image I won't forget.

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Lunch at Café Paoli in the place Paoli, at one end of the cours Paoli. What can I say? I'm a Paoli fan. However it was a big mistake - mediocre food and service. You notice that in France, since it's not a common experience. But, the cashier in the mini-market opposite the café was great - friendly and engaging - a nice guy and much more typical of all our travel experiences.

Le Fortin de Pasciola, below, is near Corte. It provides a pretty good idea of the mountainous interior of Corsica. The small building in the distance was used as a jail by the local strongman back in the 18th century. He was not a popular guy.

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We arrived back in Bastia in the late afternoon after driving through heavy traffic in the commercial area around the airport south of the city. We spent our final evening at the same Best Western as our first few days on the island.

In the evening we returned to the old port area where there is a wide selection of restaurants. However, the reviews are decidedly mixed. On each of our three visits to the area we only had one or two options we were seeking. This evening we weren't looking for a memorable dining experience - just a pleasant dinner at a reasonable cost. Les Zephyrs, on the Quai des Martyrs de la Liberation, delivered - two salads, two plats, one dessert, one café, and a liter of wine - total €43. The food was very good, the reception and service was friendly. I would return, knowing what to expect. A husband and wife couple do all the work. Superior value.

Page 13: Nice, Monaco & Home Again - Saturday-Monday October 13-15

The ferry from Bastia back to Nice was scheduled to leave at 8:00am, but we didn't start boarding via a shuttle bus from the terminal until well after that time. We arrived back in Nice shortly after 2:00pm. When we were waiting to disembark, I noticed what I assumed was a sports team of young athletes, both male and female. I approached one of the young men and inquired as to their sport. It wasn't a team, but a phys ed class of university students from Denmark who had spent a week at the university in Corte competing in a variety of activities. From Denmark to Corsica for a week as part of a university class - looked good to me.

While we had taken a bus from our hotel down to the port, we decided to take a taxi back to the same hotel. The #7 bus from the hotel cost €1 each. The charge for the taxi was €23. Well, it was a Mercedes.

Our hotel, the Best Western Roosevelt, was on rue Marechal Joffre at the corner of rue Alphonse Karr. Boulevard Victor Hugo is one block north, rue de la Liberté one block south. It was a short walk to the attractive Place Massena.

Much of Nice is very pedestrian friendly. There are several restaurants in the immediate area, but when I checked several on my computer, none were reviewed very highly. From our experience, the best options would seem to be in the old part of the city, south of Boulevard Jean Jaurès, so that's where we headed around 8:00pm.

On our last full day we walked up to the train station in Nice and bought two tickets over to Monaco - about a 20 minute ride. I wasn't keen on Monaco - had heard it was over the top, but we had a great time. We arrived on a heritage day in Monaco - buses and museums were free - a pleasant surprise. We took the local bus over to the old town and walked through the narrow alleyways arriving at the Place du Palais, with tourist shops facing the Princely Palace across the open square. The Place du Palais occupies an elevated position, providing great views of most of Monaco on one side and Fonteville on the other. We toured the palace, then a local history museum on a side street, before walking over to the Cathedral and Law Courts, then down along the parcours Princess Grace to the harbour, where we paused for a light lunch at the Brasserie de Monaco. The outside seating area is actually on the track of the Monaco Grand Prix.

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You may read some discouraging words about Monaco, but I would recommend a visit if you are in the area. You won't see anything like it anywhere else.

In the afternoon, we stopped at Villefrance-sur-Mer on the way back to Nice.

Up early Monday morning and an uneventful return journey home - a short walk in the direction of the Promenade des Anglais, catch the #98 bus to terminal 2 at the Nice airport, 8.5 hour flight to Montreal, three hour drive to our home in eastern Ontario. We've had a couple of "eventful" return trips - much prefer the boring ones.

Page 14: Resources and Recommendations

Resources

First, an acknowledgement of the assistance of Kevin Widrow. His advice made our planning much easier and our experience of Corsica much more complete and enjoyable.

The topical guides we used were The Rough Guide to Corsica and Top 10 Corsica. The Rough Guide was OK. The text was fine, but there were mistakes in at least two of the city maps - Ajaccio and Corte - which caused some delay and confusion. This was the first time traveling with one of the DK Top 10 books - pleasantly surprised at how much we used it. Michelin map #345 was also an asset on our travels and excursions on the island.

In addition, I purchased, viewed and took with us a DVD of the 2009 movie Queen to Play (Joyeuse, is the original title), a French movie set on Corsica and starring Sandrine Bonnaire and Kevin Kline. A few years ago we came across the movie set of A Good Year at Chateau La Canorgue just outside Bonnieux in the Luberon. The movie is a good introduction to that part of Provence. Queen to Play is also as relevant for a visit to Corsica.

Which brings me to Granite Island by Dorothy Carrington. Dorothy Carrington first came to Corsica in 1948. She spent most of the rest of her life, until her death in 2002, living on and writing about Corsica. Granite Island, her masterpiece, was first published in 1971. It is a mixture of folklore, history and travelogue. I found it a bit difficult to read before we arrived on the island – not a big fan of the folklore part – but my appreciation grew the longer we were on Corsica. Besides, The Rough Guide has extensive quotes from Dorothy’s book. Why not read the original source? This is a great book to take on any visit to Corsica.

Recommendations

Corsica is different. I commented to a friend that I thought Corsica was perhaps similar to what familiar areas of Provence, especially the Luberon, were like 25 or 30 years ago. His opinion was that you would have to go back a bit farther in time. While there are many areas of stunning physical beauty, a diversity of experiences available to the visitor, a thriving tourism economy, innumerable beaches, at least one attractive urban setting, in my opinion the uniqueness of Corsica is found away from the coastal areas. Our few hours in Sant'Antonino, the day trip to Vico and beyond and our drive through the middle of the island from Ajaccio to Bastia, with a stop in Corte, are what will remain fresh in my memory for a long time.

On a map, Corsica appears quite small, especially compared to Sardinia, its southern neighbor. However, its size is deceiving. The terrain and small population means that it is very reasonable to move around on any visit to the island.

If you like hiking, Corsica would be an ideal destination. There are several long-distance, multi-day trails in Corsica, as well as shorter ones suitable for day trips.

We visited Corsica in early October, beyond the end of the tourist season. The weather was pleasant, the water warm, and crowds almost non-existent. However, May, June or September would likely be better options. Many seasonal enterprises - restaurants, excursions, shops - had recently closed.

There are two or three areas that I would recommend as a base to anybody considering a visit to Corsica.

  • The Balagne in the northwest. From our limited experience I think either Saint Florent or L'Ile Rousse would be good options for places to stay.
  • The West Coast. Cargese, Tiuccia or Piana would be my suggestions, based on our time in the area. There are likely other possibilities. I would most definitely not recommend Porto.
  • The Sartenais in the southwest. An odd suggestion, since we were only in Sartene for a few hours one Sunday. But the area has been described as the most Corsican part of the island. And Bonifacio is an easy day trip. Perhaps recommended more for those who have read and were attracted by Dorothy Carrington's descriptions.
Will I return to Corsica? Probably not, unless we are enjoying an extended trip to the south of France or the coast of Italy. Then, it might be an attractive option for a week or two. Otherwise, there are a lot of other places that are easier to get to. But I'm glad we went.
 

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