Saturday, 30 May 2009

Plage de Campitellu & the Tour de Calanca

It was absolutely sweltering today, so I decided to abandon plans for a sandwich on the balcony in favour of a lunchtime siesta on the beach. I didn’t have long so I decided to head to the plage de Campitellu. This section of beach is a protected area of coastline and is very beautiful. It is also dominated by a stunning Genoese tower – La Tour de Calanca.

The beach was relatively busy, but then it is Saturday so that’s hardly surprising. The beach has two distinct areas; to the right is a sweep of golden sand which was busy with families, but I headed left to the rocks where I managed to find a little cove all to myself.

I’d chosen Campitellu specifically as there is often wind here, and with temperatures of over 30 degrees, I thought the breeze would be a welcome relief from the heat. I stayed just long enough for a quick dip as the sea was so inviting and then a short snooze on the sand while I dried off, but what a lovely interlude to the day!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


It’s hard to believe, but in all the years I have been visiting Corsica and have lived here, I have never been to Porto! Perhaps because the main road doesn’t go through the village itself, I have just never had the time to make the detour before, but today was different and I was looking forward to seeing one of the emblematic sights of Corsica…

I wasn’t sure whether to follow signs for the village or the Rive Gauche, but in the end I needn’t have worried as they both end up at different ends of the waterfront. I headed down to the Rive Gauche which turned out to be the port side of the town. From here, a path leads to the beach on one side and the tower and the town on the other. The coastline in this area is more for discovering than swimming/sunbathing, so I crossed the little footbridge and headed into the town.

The Rive Gauche consists mainly of shops and stalls of a nautical nature; boat trips, diving, fishing and beach stuff and a smattering of hotels, but I was more interested in the tower which dominates the bay. Unlike most other Geneoese towers, the one at Porto is square and not round. I bought a combined ticket for the tower, heather museum and the Aquarium which cost 6.50€.

The heather museum turned out to be an old bergerie with fairly boring written information about the part heather has played in Corsican history, so I wasn’t that interested. However, the tower, like the one at Campomoro, has been arranged inside with colourful information panels and the view from the roof was amazing. It was a shame that it was a relatively hazy day as the colours were not as crisp and sharp.

I wandered through the town to the aquarium which was much better than the one at Bonifacio, and reminded me why we always used to pester our parents to take us to the Dolphinarium in Brighton when we were kids! It wasn’t huge, but I managed to see barracudas, moray eels, sars, lobsters and crabs as well as anemonies and other species that I don’t know the names of.

After lunch I headed up to the tourist office and managed to buy a leaflet of walks in the area including the nearby villages of Ota and Evisa, amongst others. It may have taken me 15 years to get here, but it won’t take another 15 years before I’m back!

Walking in Corsica - Evisa and the Foret d’Aitone

The road up to Evisa from Porto is very scenic, but full of potholes and wildlife, so take care! Having picked up a guide to the marked trails and walks in the area from the local tourist office, my main aim this afternoon was to walk up to the natural rock pools in the Aitone Forest which is an easy walk of an hour or so, following part of the ‘Mare a Mare’ walk up to the Col di Verghio.

It has been exceptionally hot the last few days and I’d run out of water so I decided to stop off first and fill up at the water fountain in the village. Evisa is a deceptively large and sprawling village, but I managed to find a parking spot in the centre just overlooking the church.

I could see the black clouds hovering overhead and was praying that the weather would hold, and as so often happens in Corsica it had cleared by the time I’d filled my water bottles. I took the time to wander through the village which seemed quite busy, and the caffé di a Posta in particular was full of Americans who, a bit like Withnail, seemed to have come on holiday to Evisa by accident if their conversation was anything to go by!

The walk starts about a mile or so out of the village heading in the direction of Vico, and it is easy to find as there are nearly always cars parked. The first trail you come to heading out of the village is ‘La Chataigneraie’ which is a nice walk lined with chestnut trees, heading back towards the village with some amazing views over the gorge. The second trail starts shortly after and heads down to the cascades. This walk starts as a wide path through the pines and ferns, with information posts along the way.

You soon come to a junction where you can head down to the first lot of little waterfalls, or continue on to the right following the orange waymarkers and the Mare a Mare Bocca di Verghju sign. The path here becomes more rocky and steeper, but brings you down to some pretty little cascades and flat rocks which if you can negotiate your way down, are ideal for sun bathing.

It was here that I was too busy looking at the scenery instead of where I was going and managed to twist my ankle and lose my footing, nearly pitching myself headforwards over the edge! I already had a gammy toe and a blister from wearing my walking shoes without socks earlier in the day (not clever!) so I was not best pleased.

Shortly after, the path reaches a section where you have to cross the gorge on a bridge suspended by wire with metal steps. The moment you put your foot onto one of the metal plates, the bridge starts to move and reminded me of yet another reason why I will never be on ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’. At that point I decided that with my various injuries I should probably call it a day and head back.

Piana & the Calanches de Piana

I visited Piana many years ago on a work visit and vaguely remembered the pretty little village, but as I was in the area, I thought I’d stop off and wander round. The village itself is fairly small, but that didn’t seem to bother the three coach-loads of tourists who arrived shortly after me!

Life in Piana seems to centre around the pink and white church with intricately painted doors, and the small village square where there are a number of bars and restaurants covered with brightly coloured geraniums, ivy and palm trees. As well as the obligatory souvenir shop which was packed with French OAPs, there is a little bakery where the locals seem to spend a fair amount of time chatting and catching up on local gossip, so don’t expect to get served quickly!! From the car park there is a nice view of the village with the Calanches, but this morning they were shrouded in cloud.

Just 2km from the village is one of the most famous sites in Corsica and a UNESCO World Heritage site – The Calanches de Piana. The scenery was not at all how I remembered it, but perhaps even more awe inspiring with huge red granite peaks jutting up almost from nowhere.

The road through the Calanches is actually only about a mile, but it can take forever when it’s busy. Today we had to contend with coaches trying to navigate windy narrow stretches, tourists doing the same as I was (looking more at the scenery than where they are going), photographers stopping every two minutes and the odd goat/pig who wandered into the road!

One of the most famous ‘tafoni’ which is the name for rocks sculpted by the wind is the Tete du Chien (head of the dog), which is really only recognisable when you approach the Calanches from the Porto direction. If time permits, I’d recommend a round trip to really get the best from the visit. There are also a number of walks that start from the parking area at the Tete du Chien and the café Roches Bleues – some easy, some not so easy – so it was a shame I didn’t have more time.

Just as pretty but less well known is the route that continues on from Piana to Porto and then on to Evisa on the D84. Here the hillsides are covered with chestnuts and the verdent greenery offers a stark contrast to the red and grey granite peaks.

Walking in Corsica - Spelunca Gorge

I have wanted to walk the Spelunca Gorge for as long as I can remember. I first saw it from the road, but you really don’t get any idea of the sheer scale until you are on foot.

The gorge links the villages of Evisa and Ota via an old mule track which has now been restored using stones from the site and using the traditional methods. For the most part, the track is more a collection of rocks than a path so in many places you will find yourself walking like you are on stepping stones, but trust me, it’s worth it.

I chose to do the most picturesque section from Les Deux Ponts (follow the D124 to Ota and you can’t miss the starting point of two bridges) to the Pont A Zaglia which is an old Genoise bridge. The route follows the left side of the gorge, and I particularly liked the first section which was closer to the floor of the gorge and has good access to the lovely rock pools and mini-waterfalls as well as large flat rocks which many hikers were using to sunbath.

Of course I had forgotten to bring the guide with me so I had no idea how long the walk would take or ever roughly how far along I was, but between the two points took approximately 40 minutes going and a few minutes more to get back. The Pont A Zaglia is quite a feat of engineering for the time and I was miffed to find that the best spot for photos was already taken by some picnickers, so I had to content myself with scaling down the bank to the middle of the river to get the shot I wanted. One bloody leg and a grazed knee later, and I was on my way back.

This is a relatively easy walk for all the family if the kids are fairly agile (not one for tiny tots), and it was easy to find the way by either following everyone else – there were quite a few visitors even for early season – or the orange waymarkers or cairns. After the Pont A Zaglia, the route starts to climb up to Evisa, so this extension is probably more for the serious walkers/hikers.


It occurred to me today that there is no reason why I shouldn’t go away for the weekend (Wednesday and Thursday) even if only to another area of Corsica, so on a whim, I booked a hotel in Cargèse for the same day!

The idea was to take a picnic, drive up to Cargèse, stay overnight and then spend the morning exploring before heading up to the Calanches de Piana and Porto. This is an area I don’t know well as directCorsica don’t currently have any accommodation here, and the coast road is quite windy so you need at least a day or two to explore properly. Sadly during the afternoon the clouds arrived so I was hoping the weather would be clearer further north. Propriano to Cargèse takes about 2.5 hours so I stopped off at the Plage d'Esigne just before Sagone and ate my picnic dinner on the beach.

It was very hot and sticky, and looked like it might storm so I was glad of the strong breeze on the beach to cool me down. This stretch of coast has very strong currents so there are warnings posted on all the beach accesses, but there were still some stupid people allowing a small child to swim unsupervised. Perhaps this is why in France swimming pools have to be fenced to protect children from their parents inattention.

Cargèse is only about 15 minutes further on, so I’d arrived at the hotel by just after 7pm and still had a bit of time to explore before the sun started to set. Cargèse is unusual as it has two churches; one Greek and one catholic which are sited opposite each other with fab views of the sea and the raggedy coastline. Even more unusual is that the same minister presides over both churches! I wandered down to the churches where there is a lovely view over the port below. It’s a shame that it was still a bit hazy as I am sure in full sun the colours would be amazing.

There was also a very ancient tree with an amazingly thick knobbled trunk. It was lucky it was planted and Florence wasn’t with me as I felt sure she’d have tried to take it home to decorate her terrace! I think I am also being stalked by vintage car drivers (after my visit to Tizzano) as there were three or four ancient Fords parked in the car park of A Volta.

Cargèse has a big Greek influence and much like when I’d visited Cap Corse last April, I almost felt like I was in a little Greek village rather than in Corsica. I found the people a little less forthcoming than in other areas, but perhaps they were suspicious of me with my camera so early in the season. That said, the smattering of cafes and restaurants were busy with people chatting in the early evening sun, and from my room overlooking the main street I was able to discern a number of different accents from visiting tourists.

The town/village is actually much larger than I’d first imagined, so when I went to retrieve the car to find a more suitable parking spot, I discovered a number of souvenir shops, colourful houses and restaurants lining the route heading up towards Piana.

Busiest of all seemed to be the Restaurant ‘Le Saint Jean’ which seems to have been recommended many times by the Routard guide according to their advertising. Also busy was the ‘le Continental’ hotel/snack bar almost next door. They both have lovely views over the bay so perhaps next time I will try one of them. Just another good reason to return really!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

When is a private beach not a private beach - when you're Indiana Jones!

There are no private beaches in Corsica, but there are a number that are only accessible by sea or by risking life or limb scaling sheer rock. The beach we visited today falls into this category and as we are lucky enough to know the proprietor of the land behind, we only had to hack our way through the overgrown path Indiana Jones style to reach our goal.

Our progress was only impeded when Florence thought she'd seen a huge snake which turned out to be a big dirty rope, which was lucky really as it was about 50km long and could easily have had the starring role in ‘Anaconda 2’. The water here is shallow and exceptionally warm so today, for the first time this year, I was tempted to swim. We collected shells, sea urchins and cuttle fish bones along the shore and ventured up as far as the rocks where there was an interesting little archway in the stone that makes a grotto.

It was too deep for Guillaume to walk through and I didn’t want to get the camera wet, so we had to content ourselves with taking photos from the side. Maybe next time we’ll venture further…

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Serra di Ferro & Cupabaia

It’s not often I get the whole day to myself, so after a leisurely breakfast of coffee, toast and marmite on the balcony (old habits die hard!), I decided to venture a little further afield and head up to Serra di Ferro.

Serra di Ferro is a pretty flowered village slightly inland of Porto Pollo and Cupabaia. It’s fairly small, but there is a nice café/restaurant with terrace where they sometimes hold Corsica evenings with polyphonic singing, a little shop selling Corsican products such as charcuterie (local cured meats), wine, honey, souvenirs and handmade knives, and an interesting little chapel with double belltower and al fresco pews!

I was still unsure of my intentions for the day, so I’d packed both my walking shoes and beach gear in the car. From here there are several marked walks; Porto Pollo (40-45 minutes), Cupabaia (30m) and Olmeto (6h). My hayfever has been really playing up recently so a hike across the Maquis probably wasn’t a great idea. Fortunately common sense kicked in and I headed through the village and about 10 minutes further on, came to the fine white sand dunes of the Plage de Cupabaia.

Most people arriving at Cupabaia tend to stick to the first stretch of beach they come to, but I prefer to head to the far end by the rocks where the sand is a little coarser and it’s generally a bit quieter. By 11am it was over 30 degrees with no breeze so the water looked more like a lake than the sea. Although I’m a bit of a sun-seeker, after a couple of hours even I was too hot and decided to head back to the Valinco.

It’s amazing how much the beaches change from one area to another, and within 20 minutes I was alongside the granite outcrops and more golden sands of Abbartello. I was in no real rush so I decided to stop off at ‘La Crique’, one of the beachside restaurant/bars dotted along the coastline. Of course I really should have been shopping in preparation for tomorrows bank holiday (yes, another one), but then again…

Monday, 18 May 2009

Parc de Saleccia

It was Jan and Iain who recommended the Parc de Saleccia to me after they visited at Easter with their grandchildren. I’d often passed the sign on the main road, but for some reason never been tempted to visit – what a mistake!

The park is really well organised with a laminated map to show first time visitors the best route round the gardens. There are separate sections such as the Mediterranean Gardens and information posts all along the path to explain the importance of certain specimens such as the olive tree, mulberry trees and of course the maquis.

What I really liked about it was how family friendly the whole place was. I arrived just behind a large French family and the children were given laminated sheets of flowers that they had to find within the grounds to win a little prize. Their excitement lasted about 5 minutes until the lady at the ticket booth mentioned the goats, and it was clear where they were heading first!

There were also some unexpected surprises along the way such as the metal animal sculptures including a huge colourful giraffe, a baby elephant, a vulture perched on a tree root and even a monkey swinging from one of the branches!

With ponds, and little quiet spots for the adults, childrens play areas and huge lawns, this really is one for all the family. I particularly liked the ‘Jardin des 4 couleurs’ (garden of 4 colours) which is a circular seating area with four separate walled gardens leading off in different directions. I suspect the colours change with the seasons, but were lucky enough to have yellows, pinks, whites and blues.

The walk finished back at the refreshment area and gift shop where you can pick up some locally made jams, olive oil, honey, essential oils and soaps. I shall definitely be back when I’ve got more time to dawdle and really appreciate the gardens to the full.

Restaurant u Minellu in Calvi

Despite my adventures, I am a creature of habit at heart, and whenever I am in Calvi I always try to eat at u Minellu. Tucked away in what presumably was once a thoroughfare, this little place looks a bit touristy from the outside with its gingham table cloths, but the food is excellent – really good traditional style dishes, well presented and very reasonably priced.

Outside of the main season, the ‘salle’ is the place to be, with its vaulted ceilings and cosy ambiance. Once the weather starts to get warmer, the covered terrace is nice as it is protected on three sides, so you can often eat outside here when it’s too chilly elsewhere. During the summer, try to get one of the tables on the terrace area to the side as you might be lucky and get a gentle breeze.

I chose the set menu which is one of the best value around; 19 euros for 3 copious courses! I chose the charcuterie to start which was a mixture of coppa, lonzu and saucisson served on a board shaped like Corsica, then the Sanglier à la mode Corse (wild boar in a red wine, mushroom and olive sauce) which was served with traditional polenta in a sizzling skillet. I wasn’t sure if I could manage a desert but it seemed rude not to as it was included! It was a tough choice, but in the end I plumped for the Fiadone which is a cheesecake flavoured sponge made with brocciu and normally served with a splash of eau de vie. Absolutely delicious as always…

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A Capulatta Turtle Sanctuary

With an extra half an hour for the journey up to Calvi, I decided to stop off at the A Capulatta turtle sanctuary, about 15-20 minutes north of Ajaccio. I have been here before and remembered that the entrance fee was quite high, but I was still surprised to be charged 9.50€ for an adult! That said, I do think the park is quite well laid out with lots of information about turtles and tortoises for the kids, and a few ‘did you know’s for the adults too.

Did you know…
The temperature at which turtle eggs are incubated can help determine sex. 28 degrees seems to be the magic number and of those eggs incubated above 28° the majority will be males, and of those incubated below, the majority will be females.

The first section I found a little bit boring – we have Hermann’s tortoises in the grounds where we live – but as you move round to the gigantic and exotic varieties, it gets more interesting. I inadvertently entered into a staring competition with one of the Galapagos turtles and got quite freaked out! The sheer size of these animals is seriously impressive, especially their feet/paws or whatever you call them.

They have tried to make the park as much like their natural habitat as possible and there are some really lovely ponds in the exotic section, as well as beautiful Irises, water lilies and a gorgeous Japanese maple.

Did you know…
I was amazed to see cats sunbathing in various enclosures, but apparently it’s essential to they help keep the mouse population under control as rodents often attack the tortoises and turtles, particularly during the hibernation period. The cats play such an important role, that they are actively encouraged.

So was it worth the 9.50€ entrance fee? If you’re planning to stay the whole day, picnic there and really study all the information available, then maybe. If like me you only wanted to pop in for an hour and be nosy, it’s perhaps a bit pricey.