Thursday, 30 April 2009

Campomoro & the Genoese Tower

With a free afternoon, I wanted to do something near to home, so I headed in the direction of Campomoro.

There is just one road to/from the village which at this time of year is lined with wild flowers; poppies, lavender, yellow broom, asphodels, and a carpet of daisies. I’d already stopped a couple of times to take photos and I was tempted to stop off again at Portigliolo but I knew if I did I would never make it off the beach, so I pressed on.

As the road winds upwards there is a good vantage point with a lovely view of Portigliolo. It was here many years ago that I nearly managed to drive off the edge trying to get a Seat Ibiza into reverse instead of first gear (not as easy as it sounds, but it hasn’t put me off owning one since then), but fortunately since then they have added rocks as a barrier. As the road dips the other side, you have the most amazing view over the beach of Campomoro with the tower behind. The turquoise blue of the water was just amazing and it was just a shame that the road was too narrow to stop and take photos.

Campomoro beach is very shallow and sandy (like Calvi) so it is perfect for small children. We’ve been on a number of occasions and I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to improve on the photos I have already taken, but I happened to catch a glimpse through the trees and it was simply stunning. The bars and restaurants in the village were filled with divers and jetskiers as well as those admiring the view.

I wasn’t sure if I could be bothered to walk up to the tower as it is a walk I have done many times before and I was only wearing my trusty flipflops, but it was such a glorious day I couldn’t resist. As often happens in Corsica, I bumped into some friends at the starting point and we decided to walk up to the tower together. Since I visited last time, the tower has been converted into a mini visitor centre and there are now guided tours offered for 2.50 euros per person. I was a bit dubious but it was actually fascinating.

The guide explained that Campomoro is the largest of all the Genoese Towers on the island, and was originally designed to have two floors rather than just one. The plans were changed due to continual bad weather during construction so the tower is now the same height but almost twice the diameter of the others. It was predominantly used as a coastal defence and from here one can truly appreciate the strategic positioning.

One thing that always amazes me in Corsica is how they can over legislate for things like swimming pools, but at the same time allow people to walk along the ramparts goodness knows how many metres above ground with not even a simple guard rail!

Sunsets and Flowers

We've just had 3 days of wind which means that the beaches are clean and full of shells and fascinating bits of driftwood. It also makes for the most dramatic sunset photos...

Changeable weather can also be great because rain and sun = loads of flowers!

Thanks to FT for this stunning photo of an Iris in her garden.

Restaurant l'Ambata, Propriano

I don’t see Vanessa that often, so when we bumped into each other in the post office and she suggested lunch, it seemed like the perfect excuse to catch up and do something fun! We were torn between the No Stress Café and the l’Ambata, but I was really keen to have a Pizza, and the l’Ambata has a wood burning pizza oven so there was never any contest really.

It was a beautiful day – nearly 20 degrees – so we decided to sit on the terrace overlooking the port. The restaurant was quite busy for a mid-week lunchtime, but that’s always a sign that the food is good too.

I decided on a Pizza Quattro Formaggi (4 cheese) which was absolutely delicious; thin crispy base and not at all skimpy on the cheese, so just like those you get in Italy. Not good for the diet, but very good for the morale! Vanessa went for the healthier option of smoked salmon with citrus segments but then had to help me finish off the pizza, just to be polite! All in all, not bad for 30 euros including drinks and coffees.

Phrase of the day...

Etre pressé comme un citron / J'etais pressé comme un citron
(to have been pressed like a lemon / I was pressed like a lemon)

- to be taken advantage of or to have no more to give

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Bonifacio & the Gouvernail

This week is the start of the Easter school holidays here in Corsica (yes, I know Easter was nearly 2 weeks ago now, but we like to be different!), so our usual Wednesday excursion was put off until Thursday this week. We decided to do a walk that I’d never done before near to Bonifacio. We couldn’t have been luckier with the weather as it was the best day so far this week, and almost no breeze.

We decided to stop just short of the lighthouse for a photo opportunity, because from this point looking back, you get one of the very best views of Bonifacio and the Grain de Sel. Those who know me well know that I’m terrified of heights, but I’m willing to suffer for my art and this photo was taken at the very edge of the cliff (no barriers)

Having made the mistake of telling Guillaume that you could find fossils here, we then had a very slow walk back to the car with eyes trained on the ground! We did in fact find some crystalised rocks and some interesting stones with fossilized shells and insects, so all was not in vain. After another short stop for a quick picnic in the maquis and fending off a hungry seagull, Guillaume decided to share his camembert and jambon sandwich and started throwing bits at the seagull. We were wondering what we would do if it got hit on the head and died, but concluded that we’d probably pop it in the oven for an hour or so until done – perhaps we should have made a few more sandwiches as we were obviously hungry!

The walk itself is well marked and for the most part (from the new lighthouse to the old) is a well made ‘road’ with no cars. We turned off before reaching the old lighthouse and headed down to the gouvernail, so called because it resembles a boat rudder and is located at the very southern-most tip of the island. From here, the path becomes more of a cliff track with loose stones and you are actually walking on the limestone and sandstone terraces created by erosion, so not one for those with walking difficulties. I wasn’t sure it would be worth the walk down to the bottom, but boy was I wrong.

This is one of the most impressive places I have seen in Corsica and actually reminded me of two separate places. Off to the right is an arid, sandstone landscape reminiscent of the Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan and Petra. The wind erosion has created strange shapes in the rock and terraced plateaux and the whole place has quite an eerie feel to it. I haven't seen anything like it since we visited the Cascade de Sautedet in the Ardeche. There is a huge hole in the rocks leading down to the sea and again no barriers so take care. The colours were simply amazing and no matter how well the photos came out, they just don’t show the vivid greens and blues of the sea and the richness of the orange and yellow hued rocks.

Once our nerves could take no more with Guillaume rushing around all over the place and too close to the edge, we headed to the other side of the gouvernail where I could see a little beach. It didn’t really look that impressive at first, but as we rounded the corner, the views were absolutely stunning and the thick golden sand was a real surprise after the rocky terrain just a few metres away.

It is amazing to think that it is only 23 April and not only was it warm enough to be in the sea, but that the white and yellow rocks reflected the heat to such an extent that we could only stay a little while (we’d helpfully left the sun cream in the car and I for one was not walking all the way back to get it!).

We were so lucky to have had such a fabulous day out. At this time of year all the wild flowers are in bloom and although we saw a few other people about, we had the beach virtually all to ourselves. Anyone attempting this visit between May & September should remember to take hats, suncream and plenty of water, but it’s more than worth the effort!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Walking with Donkeys

Have you ever gone for a long country walk and wished you had someone to carry the picnic basket, camera, bottles of water, and other items essential for the enjoyment of a hike?

Whilst staying at our house in Olmi Cappella with our grandchildren, we discovered that you can hire a much loved and cosseted donkey to join you on your walk and carry all your belongings - including a small child if you like. Ours was called Sirocco, which means hot wind and gave rise to quite a few jokes!

You collect the donkey (or donkeys if you have a big party) complete with traditional luggage rack and leading rope, and set off on one of the many suitable walks that the owners will suggest. You could for example walk down to the river Tartagine, tie up your four legged friend, and sit and enjoy a leisurely picnic before sauntering back. The only disadvantage is that donkeys do like to stop and taste the plants and flowers growing along the footpaths, so be prepared for a slow relaxed pace!

Walking with donkeys is an unforgettable experience if you are staying either at our house Casa Altiani, or with our friends Antonia and Francois at Antonia’s chambre d’hote. If you happen to be staying with Antonia, for a little extra she will make you a copious picnic for your excursion, and as the former chef of the renowned restaurant 'La Tornadia' you can be sure it will be absolutely delicious!

Restaurant 'Le 20123', Ajaccio

We are often contacted by journalists looking for new angles about Corsica so I have recently been researching stuff for a food and drink article, and discovered the restaurant 20123.

Jan was the one who mentioned it to me initially as she’d eaten there years ago and said although the idea was a bit kitsch, the food was fab. Apparently, the restaurant was created by a family who originally come from the village of Pila Canale just south of Ajaccio (postcode for the village is 20123, hence the name of the restaurant). They wanted to recreate their village in the centre of town, and that’s exactly what they have done, complete with grocery shop and water fountain!

The emphasis at the restaurant 20123 is on time gone by, so you eat traditional Corsican food made from recipes handed down from generation to generation, accompanied by traditional Corsican singing all in a unique setting where guests are treated like family and friends rather than customers. They are also featured in a number of good food guides so that’s a good sign too!

I have never come across anything quite like this before and I am desperate to try it out, but at this time of year they are only open in the evenings so as Ajaccio is just over an hours drive from Propriano, it’s not really feasible. However, a friend of mine has an apartment for rent just about 10 minutes walk from the centre, so I might try to persuade her and a couple of others that we need a girly night out in Ajaccio…

Supermarkets and Pea & Mint soup

OK, so it IS annoying that every time I want to go to the supermarket it’s shut, but I suppose that’s part of the charm of Corsica. Rudy, who works at the local supermarket was absolutely horrified when I told him about 24 hour Tescos and Asda and just couldn’t understand what people might want to shop at times convenient to them ‘but what about the siesta for the people working in the shop?’ – what can you say to that?

Anyway, although they are open for less hours than a cell in a maximum security prison, the Corsica supermarkets do have one redeeming feature, and that is that you can only buy food that is actually in season. Yes, that may not seem like an advantage, but until I moved here, I didn’t realise how limited my diet had become. When you can buy anything at anytime of the year you tend to stick to what you like rather than experimenting.

We are also blessed with huge amounts of wild herbs that just spring up all over the place. In the grounds where we live we have wild asparagus, fennel, mint, thyme, rosemary, and wild garlic. The asparagus is coming to the end of it’s season now and those that haven’t been picked are going to grain, so having picked handfuls of mint this morning I thought I’d make pea and mint soup – yum!


In Corsica, people tend to share and share alike with their neighbours whether it’s a batch of soup, sanglier off the barbecue or a delicious tarte made with fruits from the garden, so the quantities given below should be enough for two families;

- 1kg peas – tinned are actually best
- 1 medium onion
- 1 medium potato
- Handful of mint (or less if you prefer)

Chop the potato into small cubes and boil for approx. 15 minutes with a sprig of crushed mint. In the meantime, finely chop the onion and remaining mint. When the potatoes are cooked, put the peas, onion, mint and drained potatoes into a large saucepan with just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes. Blend with a hand blender and add more water to bring to the desired consistency. Delicious served with crusty bread and Roquefort cheese! The soup will also freeze well.

Bon appétit!

Phrase of the day...

Avoir un poil dans la main / il a un poil dans la main
(to have a hair in the hand / he has a hair in the hand)

- to be lazy or avoid work at all costs!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Calvi Citadel - step back in time!

Calvi Citadel must be one of the most visually striking places on the island, surrounded by ancient buildings, steeped in history, and absolutely breathtaking panoramic views of the bay and the port.

I was very excited about staying in Apartment Mattéo, with its pretty white bedroom and superb views from the open-plan sitting/dining/kitchen area, which I found equally stunning in the sunshine, with the little boats clustered together on the blue water of the port, and at night, when the lights of the port and the town sparkle like jewels in the water. You seem to be stepping back in time as you enter the beautifully restored apartment building, with its original central staircase (although care should be taken when descending the staircase, as the original steps have been retained and some do slope slightly).

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the winding streets of the Citadel and discovering several different places to join the cobbled road which winds down to the town - this is fairly steep and uneven, and although I certainly didn't find it a problem, and would have managed it in under ten minutes (downhill, anyway) if I hadn't had to keep stopping to take in yet another stunning view.

On reaching the bottom you have the thrill of discovering all the delights that Calvi has to offer, with its winding streets full of quaint shops, lively restaurants and bars along the port, reminiscent of a mini St Tropez, and the beautiful white beach, fringed with pine trees.

I decided to try a small restaurant/bar near the apartment one evening and while enjoying my meal and taking in the view from the small patio outside, I was enchanted by the traditional Corsican two-part harmony singing coming from inside the restaurant.

Afterwards I spent a long time just drinking in the view from one of the many vantage points, finding it hard to tear myself away. I was there on my own, but I can imagine no more romantic place for a honeymoon.

Sunset over the Valinco Gulf

Last night was just the most amazing sunset I think I have ever seen and surprisingly I was straight out on the balcony to take photos...

Baracci & Vitricella

Well as it was Wednesday and I worked over the Easter bank holidays, I thought I'd take a proper day off today. I think today has been the best so far this year weather-wise so I just couldn't resist making the most of it; glorious sunshine, clear blue skies, lots of degrees and no wind - superb!

How pretty is this? It was just like a woodland walk but is actually the path behind Baracci beach. Unfortunately there were some very inconsiderate people in the spot I wanted and it was unexpectedly windy so Vitricella (below) was better.

For me, this is one of the best photos I have taken of Corsica. Of course there is a story attached because to get to this beach there is a little public footpath and steps that lead down the cliff, but the guy who lives next door to the path has put a high wooden gate so people think it is private property. Naughty...

Sea monsters - help!! I've also decided to start a circus school - an idea originally inspired by Anne P but cemented this afternoon when we managed to teach Guillaume and Elise to do galipettes (forward rolls). It was lucky that the beach sloped downwards as I think gravity helped!!

OK, that's your lot for today and don't forget that I love to see your photos too...