Saturday, 12 December 2009

Fiera di a Castagna, Bocognano - 11, 12 & 13 December

Roasted chestnuts – yum! Sadly, as I’m currently in the UK ‘chez maman’, I haven’t been able to go to the Fiera di a Castagna in Bocognano this year.

This chestnut is very important in Corsica, and the Chestnut fayre is one of Corsica's largest regional fayres. Chestnuts are gathered around the island during October and November, and the yearly harvest is an amazing 1200 tons not including those gathered by the roadside by people like me!

About 85% are ground down into flour used in cakes, pastries, bread, pulenda (a variation of the Italian Pollenta), nougat and in lots of delicious dishes, but I just like mine roasted.

All you do is cut a cross in the skin with a sharp knife so the air can escape, and roast them on a baking tray for about 30 minutes. The smell is absolutely devine.

Unfortunately, after a rather unfortunate incident with a kamikaze chestnut in Aullène I only managed to collect one lot this year!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Plages de Vitricella

It seems somehow fitting that the first and last blog posts of 2009 should both be the same place – les Plages de Vitricella.

It was here in April that I was feeling quite smug for capturing what I considered to be the best photo I’d taken of Corsica, but I think the photos I took today are perhaps even better. Mind you, after taking more than 3,000 shots in 2009, I’ve had plenty of practice and the family are now considering surgery to have the camera removed from my hand!

Yesterday we had what is known as a ‘mer d’huile’. Despite the warmth, the sky was covered and there was no wind at all so the sea looked as smooth as oil with hardly a ripple. Today however, the blue sky was back and the sea looked more like a lagoon.

This section of coastline is quite rugged so a little bit of ‘escalade’ is required to get to the prettiest coves. It wasn’t long before I’d managed to get my flip-flop (and the attached foot) stuck, so I decided to bite the bullet and walk through the water instead. I expected the water to be freezing cold, but actually it wasn’t bad at all.

I found myself a beautiful spot and although it was hot enough to sunbathe, this section of beach is a treasure trove of shells, and particularly sea snail shells (try saying that after too many glasses of Muscat!). There is one particular shell that I come across all the time but I’ve got no idea what crustacean it comes from – can anyone enlighten me?

I sat on the rocks with my feet in the water and reminded myself how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place. The sunlight dancing over the water made it look like the seabed was covered in tiny specks of gold, and rocks looked like they were made of jelly where the waves were gently swirling around them.

The sun was beating down so as the sea was so calm, I actually braved a dip! I think this is probably the latest I have swum in the sea in Corsica, but not bad for late November, eh? There were so many fish they ended up surrounding me and I couldn’t help thinking that it was shame that Guillaume wasn’t there with his net and his goggles because I could have made a delicious ‘grillade’ for supper!

The shape of the headland meant that by about 3pm, the sun had moved slightly out of sight so I decided to make my way back past the steps to the Plage de Marinca and beyond.

This is a beautiful stretch of beach and in the summer is used almost exclusively by the guests of the hotel, but today it was deserted. I spotted some gorgeous prickly pears backing the beach and just had to stop for a photo.

Sadly, I was so busy trying not to step on the fallen leaves on the sand, that I brushed my hand on another and ended up with so many spines in my hand that I could have masqueraded as a hedgehog!! It’s a good job the lady from the pharmacy gave me some training for removing spines after the chestnut incident at Aullène.

The beach here is backed by maquis which gave the water a greenish tint. I soon found myself back in the shallow waters and this time I was joined by a pointy electric blue fish that looked like a miniature swordfish. I wish I’d been quick enough to catch him on film.

So, as the sun started to sink behind the hills, I made my way back to the car, full of ideas for next years excursions…

Bocca Fina – produits de terroir

Tomorrow I am due to leave the Corsican sunshine behind and head back to England for Christmas. Whenever I make the journey by car, I always have a list of ‘must-haves’ to bring; cheesecake mixes, Christmas puddings and brown sauce for my Corsican neighbours, and wine, jams and various pates and terrines for the English.

As usual, I’d left my shopping until the last minute so I headed down to Bocca Fina on the Rue Pêcheurs.

OK, so I know I’d get the basics cheaper in the supermarket, but I love this little shop with its old fashioned painting of Corsica on the wall outside, and many jars and bottles of goodies as well as biscuits and artisanal food and drinks inside.

I settled on a few jars of Terrine de Sanglier à l’eau de vie (wild boar pâté) and some Pâté de Sansonnet aux myrtes (blackbird pâté) as well as a few others. The problem is that I am always tempted by too many things...

It was when I came out of Bocca Fina that it suddendly struck me how many decorative anchors there are in Propriano (and I don't mean the ones in the bank or on the road - that's a different spelling!!).

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Dolphins and the sunset over Campomoro

Thanks to Florence for these stunning sunset photos of Campomoro. The weather has been so fabulous recently that they couldn’t resist the temptation to take the boat down to Campomoro and see if they could see some dolphins.

The dolphins feed near the fish nursery in the bay so at this time of year you often see them. Florence says they tried many times to take a photo of them but you just never know where they will appear next.

Apparently, the most impressive thing about these stunning creatures is that when the sea is calm and everything is almost silent like it is at this time of year, you can hear their breathing. What an amazing experience – I am so jealous...

Thanks again to Florence for the fabulous photos.

No Stress Caffé, Propriano

As it was Sunday, we decided to take a stroll along the harbour front to work up an appetite. A huge amount of money has been spent on the harbour in Propriano, and it was nice to see people out and about in the sunshine, making the most of the promenade.

I was slightly concerned at the little girl leaning to ride her bike along here because although it’s nice and wide, she was obviously distracted by the pink Barbie tassels on the handlebars, and kept veering alarmingly towards the water! We decided to go and eat before be we were called on to do any ‘Baywatch’ type heroics, and settled on the No Stress Caffé.

Despite it’s name, the ‘No Stress’ is actually a restaurant with a good choice of simple and more gastronomic dishes, so it’s a good choice if you’re a big group with varied tastes. We decided to take one of the set menus with a choice of main courses and desserts.

I was torn between the risotto with slices of coppa (a cured meat) and Tomme (a strong local cheese) and the Spaghetti aux Gambas (big shrimps). In the end I plumped for the risotto and I think it was one of the best I have ever tasted. Yum!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Flummer at Marie-Diane

Does November count as Autumn or Winter? I’m never quite sure, but it doesn’t really matter because I’ve decided to invent a new season for these months which will be called FLUMMER (Fabulous Late Summer).

This year we have been spoilt rotten because the weather has been almost consistently good, and now it is hard to believe that it’s nearly the end of November with bright blue skies and temperatures in the mid twenties – fabulous indeed!

Friends who own the Residence Marie-Diane had asked me to pop over and do some new ‘Flummer’ photos to show people how lovely it is to visit outside of the season. Rather than go just once a click away, I decided to at all different times of the day over a period of about 10-12 days so that I could really catch the essence of the place.

I was amazed at the variety of plants that were still in full bloom; hibiscus, geraniums, arbutus and bouganvillea to name but a few (and lots of others I don’t know the names of!).

The colours against the sky were amazing, especially the leaves. The pomegranate tree was one of my favourites with the yellow leaves and red stems against the clear blue skies – mother nature certainly knows her stuff where primary colours are concerned! The Figuier (fig tree) was also super pretty and I think ‘flummer’ is when this tree is at its most beautiful.

I’ve never really taken the time to wander through the pathways that link the houses and terraces within the grounds so I felt like I was in the secret garden.

Every time I turned a corner there was something interesting to see; terracotta urns, oddly shaped stones sculpted by the elements and of course olive pots filled with brightly coloured geraniums tumbling over the side.

I even came across an old stone water fountain with a sprig of rosemary and a marigold type flower sprouting through the cracks in the old brickwork.

In the summer, the grounds are still just as pretty, but everyone is so busy thinking about the pool and the beach that they don’t really the time to stop and smell the roses (pardon the pun!).

One of the highlights for me was the sunset on Monday night. The weather has been fabulous for about a week that we’ve been treated to the most amazing sunsets in all colours from deeps red, peach to almost purple.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Restaurant Le Cocodile, Propriano

We’d been up to Sartène to see some new apartments this morning and the weather was just glorious so we decided to go and eat on the port. We didn’t want anything flash, just some decent salads with a drop of rosé and some decent coffee to finish, so we headed to Le Cocodile, opposite the ferry port.

We both chose the special which was ‘Salade de la Mer'; an enormous mixed salad with octopus, scallops, gambas, olives, grapefruit and cherry tomatoes all coated with a scrummy balsamic vinaigrette.

It was absolutely scrumptious and honestly I could have done with a quick siesta – especially once we got back to the car and discovered that temperature outside was 27 degrees. According to Corse Matin, 2009 has been the hottest November since 1985 and I can well believe it!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Porto Pollo

The thing about November is that when the sun shines, it can be boiling hot, but in the shade it can be a touch chilly. Today I was led astray by the cool’ish temperature indoors and found myself baking on the beach in a jumper – not ideal!

Porto Pollo is one of those places where there are lots of little paths and passageways that give access onto the beach. I chose the first one as you arrive in the village and there was a beautiful snapshot of paradise. Can you imagine living in one of these beachside houses? What a perfect spot.

The water was gently lapping the shore and the only other sound was children laughing and playing further down the beach. I hadn’t bought my swimming gear, so I had to content myself with paddling with rolled up trouser legs!!

I walked along as far as the restaurants (and even had a nosey on the terraces as they are closed for the season), then up to the main road and back towards the car.

It is at this point that the Mare e Monti footpath starts (or finishes!) and from here you can walk up to Serra di Ferro cross country. I’d seen the markers earlier in the year but like today, it was too hot to tempt me to do the 40-45 minute each way walk.

For me, one of the landmarks of Porto Pollo is the house with the blue shutters. A huge granite house of the traditional style, this one is larger than all the others in the village and is beautifully kept with Bougainvillea trailing over the gateposts and lovely flowered gardens.

Just next door were some goats that caught my attention. The babies were really cute – even when one of them tried to eat the cord of the camera while I was taking photos through the fence, but it was the daddy goat (is it called a Billy?) who was most impressive.

Look at the size of those horns – wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that!!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Nocturnal Dog Walking

When it’s cold and dark, it can sometimes be a chore to take the dogs out for a decent run, but fortunately that’s rarely a problem here! We left the house just as the sun was setting, so we were treated to a beautiful sunset between the trees.

It’s amazing how little notice we take of our surroundings on a day to day basis, and I can’t remember ever having seen this unusual rock tucked away in the gardens until Nonym used it as a makeshift drinking fountain.

So, after a decent run in the field (them not me!), it was time for dinner. Last night we’d had a barbeque ‘chez amis’ and Florence had been kind enough to give us some leftovers for tonight.

The Sanglier (wild boar) had been slow roasted on the bbq for five hours and was some of the best I’d tasted. To go with it, I made a simple ratatouille with rice and garnished it with shavings of Grana Padano – just the thing after working up an appetite!


Before I discovered the little creeks of Cappiciolo, Abbartello was my favourite place to sunbathe. Another series of little coves, there are lots of little hidey holes where you can pop your towel down and hardly see another soul.

The most picturesque section has been adpoted by the three restaurants here; Le Crique, U Farniente and another one I must admit that I can’t remember the name of! A little further along is a nice big stretch of sand with a with a huge granite rock right in the middle. There is a hole where you can see right through and I couldn’t resist trying to climb in!

There was a strange woman above the beach watching my every move which was a bit disconcerting, until I realised that I was doing pretty much the same thing, so in the end I decided to move along to the next section. I followed the little pathway through the long grasses, pampas and tiny purple and yellow flowers to the next section where there are normally huge great granite boulders

It was then that the most bizarre thing happened and I came across a new beach. Yes, the recent storms and strong winds must have actually cleared a lot of the rocks from the beach and there was now a nice sandy cove where previously it was almost impossible to pass without leaping from rock to rock.

In the true tradition of adventurers and explorers, I decided to name this previous undiscovered section ‘Plage Chall’ and I shall be writing to the Michelin map people to let them know!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Ajaccio, the Imperial City

Sometimes when you live in a small/seasonal town, you just need to escape to somewhere a bit more lively, so this afternoon we decided to do a spot of shopping in Ajaccio.

At this time of year, the difference between Propriano and Ajaccio is huge and it’s almost shocking to see so many people everywhere. We found a parking spot not far from the Place diamante, and although it was a little walk into town, it did give me the chance to inspect all the beautiful old Italianate style buildings.

As we passed by the building of the Conseil Général, we realised why we’d seen so many Policeman the workers were all outside protesting. We had no idea what the strike was for this time (they are common), but when we walked back the same way at about 5pm, most of them had gone home - Corsica is the only place I know where social protest only takes place during working hours and stops for lunch!

The colours were amazing and with the backdrop of sea and mountains, I could easily imagine myself living in one of the sun-bleached houses surrounded by palm trees (as long as it had allocated parking of course!).

We passed the statue of Napoleon and wandered along rue Fesch looking in all the little shops along the way. Being a city, Ajaccio is lively all year round so there was a good atmosphere even though it is the middle of November. We continued onto the Cours Napoleon to check out all the old fashioned boutique type shops selling handmade sweets and chocolates as well as more generic stores like Monoprix.

All this window shopping had whipped up a thirst so we headed off in search of coffee. It was incredibly warm in the sun, but the wind was a bit chilly so we chose a little café where we could sit inside and treat ourselves to Nutella crêpes before heading back to the car – yummy!