Sunday, 28 June 2009

SNCM Ferries – The Napolean Bonaparte

Whenever I travel to the mainland by car, I normally leave from Propriano which means that I have the choice of the Scandola or the Girolata – both mixed freight and passenger ferries operated by CMN. This time, I’d been staying with friends in the north so I decided to leave from Bastia, and managed to bag a place on the Napolean Bonaparte.

SNCM have two ‘cruise’ ferries which are the Danielle Casanova and the Napoleon Bonaparte. I’d travelled on the Danielle Casanova before when we went to the Ardèche last summer, so I was hoping that the Napoleon Bonaparte would be the same. I was really surprised at how huge it was, and although I’d taken the cheapest grade of cabin, I was still impressed.

Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to give my mobile number when I made the reservation, as I had a text from SNCM the day before to say that due to festivities at Bastia port, I should check in at 16h30 instead of 19h. I was slightly miffed to say the least, but it turned out to be good advice as the journey to the port which should normally take an hour and a half actually took two and a half hours – eek! Luckily they also let us board early so we could explore the ship, swim, go to the shops/restaurants etc. so it wasn’t all bad.

The next morning we were due to arrive at 7h30 and I wanted to be up and on dock before we arrived to see if I could replicate the photo I took last year which was on an SD card that subsequently died. It was really windy and I was worried that my glasses would blow overboard (or worse, me!) so I gave up in the end and went back inside. Maybe next time.

Olmi Capella

I have been trying – unsuccessfully I might add – to photograph one of the pair of Red Kites who live just behind us in Propriano for some time now, so when I was invited to stay with friends at Casa Altiani in Olmi Cappella where they are in abundance, it seemed a fab opportunity.

Hugh suggested that we try flinging little bits of beef into the air from the terrace so that we could photograph the bird as it swooped to catch it, but after a few glasses of wine, we decided that we were wasting our time and went back to the barbecue. Hugh is the BBQ King and has even been known to cook his Christmas turkey on a Barbie, so I had high expectations. Fortunately I was not disappointed – delicious lamb with a redcurrant jus, and Gill’s special lemon chicken and roasted vegetables flavoured with herbs from the garden. We sat out on the terrace until very late, but still no luck with the blasted Red Kite!

It’s been so hot that even though we were up in the mountains, we were finding it hard to motivate ourselves to get moving. However, all that changed Friday morning just before breakfast. We were quietly enjoying our coffees in the kitchen when some visitors arrived – four donkeys! Apparently, they used to live on the land but kept eating Jan’s flowers, so they have now been evicted, but still come to visit from time to time, to see what’s going on.

I felt quite brave as we were separated by the sturdy iron gates so I stoked one of their noses, but jealousy is obviously rife (or they thought we were going to provide breakfast) as they immediately started jostling for space. I found a little bit of grass to feed them, but one got a bit over-enthusiastic and bit my finger. The big grey one who seems to be the ringleader decided enough was enough, and off they trotted.

Our plan was to walk up to the Col (about 2 hours), have lunch at ‘A Merendella’, the restaurant at the top and then drive back. As with all best laid plans, that quickly went by the wayside. We were still breakfasting at 10am, so as our table was booked for 12:30 and it was another glorious hot sunny day, we decided to take the car as it’s only about 10-15 minutes drive.

We managed to bag a prime spot outside on the terrace – enough shade for those who wanted it, but enough sun to even up my car-sun-tan (one arm only!). It was only once we’d happily settled ourselves that the proprietor mentioned that they’d laid a table for us inside! The inside is just like a ski lodge or proper mountain auberge, and apparently in the winter is it lovely and toasty warm, but fortunately they were very understanding and happily transferred everything outside for us.

Lunch was a simple but delicious affair; salads, crêpes and tarte du jour (which is always onion in case you were wondering), followed by ice cream, apple tart or fiadone which was easily one of the best I’ve tasted. We even saw a huge Red Kite swopping back and forth in the road just below, but by the time we’d all got our cameras out, he had gone…

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Dominique's Table d'Hote & the Restaurant l'Alloru

One of the reasons I don’t need a television in Corsica is because I often have the chance to visit places like Olmi Cappella which is like a total immersion soap opera. Think the League of Gentlemen (you’re not from round here are you?) crossed with a Mediterranean Coronation Street with all the gossip and intrigue that involves, and you’re sort of half way there!

Whether it’s a feud with the lady from the biscuit factory, a dustman who turns up to a medical emergency and does a superman style change of clothes in the bathroom to become the local paramedic, or Antonia serving breakfast to her guests in her curlers, there is always something to keep me entertained.

The first time we went to stay at Antonia’s chambre d’hote was a real experience. We were given a wonderful welcome by Antonia and shown to our rooms, where the shutters were thrown open to reveal breathtaking views of the mountains and village. We arrived early evening and Antonia suggested that we have dinner at Dominique’s Table d’Hote in the village. She sent us off with sketchy directions so I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place as we seemed to have arrived in someone’s living room! Luckily Dominique was so welcoming and charming, and the food was just to die for.

We’d chosen the Corsican Menu, not realising quite how many courses there were or how huge the portions would be, but it was absolutely delicious. We started with a little homemade aperitif followed by charcuterie (cured meats) while Dominique explained that she only uses local produce and knows all the suppliers personally, but luckily the beignets arrived before I started having flashbacks to the film ‘babe’.

I absolutely adore beignets and those made with courgettes are my favourite. Beignets can be sweet (doughnuts) or savory (fritters), and you find them all over Corsica. The best I have tasted have been the cheese beignets at La Tornadia many years ago when Antonia was the chef, the leek beignets at l’Oliveraie in Corte and the ones at Dominique’s! The alternative was a salad of tomato and Mozzarella which arrived looking like a lobster which was slightly surprising!

Unfortunately they are VERY filling so I was already stuffed before main course even arrived. Being in the mountains, the main course on the set menu is always meat rather than fish, and varies according to the season. We were lucky enough to visit towards the end of the year and were treated to a creative dish of Figatelli (a special type of pork liver sausage) with filet mignon in a wild mushroom sauce and roasted potatoes. It’s not a combination I would immediately have thought of, but it was one of the most delicious dinners I have ever eaten.

I really wasn’t sure that I could manage anything more, but we still had two more courses to go! The cheeses were again all locally produced and served with fig jam (another favourite). I particularly liked the Tomme which is a hard cheese with a creamy texture and quite a strong taste. For dessert there was a choice and I plumped for the Fiadone which is made with brocciu cheese and lemons and has the consistency of a sponge cake, although I was seriously tempted by the fondant au chocolat and in fact all the other choices. Fiadone is usually served with eau de vie – a very strong liqueur which I am sure has its roots in moonshine! We were feeling slightly uncomfortably full by the time the coffee and fruit based digestifs/liqueurs arrived, but what great value for money at 25€ a head.

Unsurprisingly, there has been such demand that Dominique has now taken over the Restaurant L’Alloru in the village itself, behind the Bar des Amis, and does a roaring trade during the summer (Table d’Hote on request out of season). They have a nice terrace at the back overlooking the mountains, but I prefer to sit in the little vaulted dining room inside which has been decorated with Antonia’s water colours and oil paintings.

Fortunately, I have learned my lesson so the last time I went I had just a starter, main course and dessert but still came home stuffed!!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Marinca Plage

I couldn’t take a full day off today, so after an early start and interesting conversation with Guillaume about how people are cremated – (there was a bonfire at the cemetery) we were on the beach by 8:30am.

The beach was deserted and the water as flat as a millpond. Flo and I were tempted to go and install ourselves on the sunbeds of the hotel just next door, but these are technically reserved for guests so in the end we settled ourselves on the sand between the huge red rocks. As the temperature was already nearly 30 degrees by 10am, it wasn’t long until we were tempted into the water.

This stretch of beach is superb because although the rocks are really picturesque, there are very few in the sea, so you can swim out a long way and still see what’s swimming with you. I saw two big fish that I thought would have been delicious if we’d had the net with us!

Thursday, 11 June 2009


Ever since we did our short tour of Cap Corse last April, I have wanted to come back to Erbalunga and have a proper look around, and today was the day! When I set off this morning, it was a little bit cloudy but as so often happens here, the early morning cloud gave way to glorious sunshine and blue skies.

The village centre in Erbalunga in pedestrianised, so it was a real treat to wander round and not have to pay too much attention to where I was going. I quickly discovered that Erbalunga is my idea of a typical Corsican village, and as such is a hidden gem not to be missed. The first thing I came across was a pretty little ‘place’ where there were some ramshackle old buildings of the shabby chic variety, mixed in with some colourful little restaurants and the odd souvenir shop.

I headed to the right of the church down towards the tower, and was rewarded with some amazing sights. The first was the ruined house next door to the restaurant ‘Le Pirate’ which itself occupies a plum spot on the waterfront. The roof is completely gone but the walls and windows remain giving a pretty snapshot of the sea beyond.

From the edge here I could see the small harbour to the left, and a glimpse of the tower to my right, so this where I headed next. The tower itself is a little bigger than the one at Miomo, but not nearly so well preserved. The village side is almost intact but of course what intrigued me was the ruined side facing the sea. I vaguely attempted to scramble down but as I was wearing my trusty flipflops instead of walking shoes, common sense eventually prevailed and I had to admit defeat.

From the tower I lost my bearings slightly and ended up at someone’s front door, but a quick reverse and I found myself at the little harbour. I was surprised once again to find more cafés and restaurants, and an amazing view of the terrace of the restaurant ‘Le Pirate’ with tiny fishing boats bobbing gently in front. I also discovered an old ‘laverie’ which is now just a water fountain (hopefully!).

I’d parked just in front of the brightly coloured Saint Erasme Church – patron saint of fishermen – and as I wandered back, I thought that I would happily have spent a week in Erbalunga snapping away, and would probably have been able to find something new and photogenic every time I whipped out my camera.

I had been a little bit concerned that I wouldn’t be able to park in the village itself as it is relatively small, but in fact I shouldn’t have worried as there were plenty of roadside spaces, and as I headed north in an unsuccessful attempt to find the convent, there was also a designated parking area at the far end of the village. I’ll know for next time!


I spotted Miomo whilst I was on the way to Erbalunga but all the parking spaces along the roadside were taken (it was lunchtime), so when I saw the parking sign at the edge of the village, I decided to stop on the way back and take a look.

The tower is relatively ‘twee’ compared to most, and I suspect more decorative than functional, as it is about half normal height and almost perfectly preserved. The beaches here are less picturesque than the sandy ones in other areas, but nonetheless very striking. Miomo beach is pebbles which coupled with the Bizzy Lizzies that have been planted everywhere, made me feel like I was back in England! The pebbles are actually very attractive; round and flat, and their grey colour gives the sea an unusual green/blue tint, different to the colour you get with sand.

The village itself was quite busy, and all the trees seemed to be covered in posters for various activities such as a treasure hunt, new DJ in town and even the chance to join in restoring old footpaths. There is obviously a lot more to this small village than first meets the eye.

The Restonica Valley and the Gorges de la Restonica

It has been ages since I’ve been up to the Restonica Valley and bizarrely, it was not at all how I remembered it! The lower section from Corte to Tuani is quite easy and popular with sunbathers as the river here is relatively shallow (at this time of year) and the large flat rocks make perfect sunbeds. The colours were simply amazing and I was tempted to stop, but I wanted to head up to the gorge.

Only certain types of vehicles are permitted to continue past Tuani (i.e. not caravans). This section is one of the most hair-raising roads I have driven on in Corsica, and I think they should have a sign to say that it should only be attempted if you are adept at manoeuvring your car on the head of a pin, and have nerves of steel. If you can stand the nervous tension, the rewards are many and varied from interesting rocks formations such as this one which seems to be a face looking at a tiny tree, to waterfalls and beautiful woodland walks.

The problem is that for the most part, the road is not actually wide enough for two cars to pass, and there is a sheer drop with no barrier – eek. Fortunately, most people are sensible and with a bit of patience and to-ing and fro-ing, you can continue to enjoy the drive. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the goats or the Parisians, neither of whom seem to have even heard of the highway code. The goats do at least have an excuse.

It is a triumph of the French number plate system that you always know who you are dealing with, and the Parisians never ever give way, even when it is obvious that they should. There is a VERY narrow section just before the Pont de Tragone and I found myself face to face with a Parisian couple, unable to move forward or backwards. They had a passing area just about 2 metres behind them and everyone else had stayed well back seeing that the only option was for them to reverse and allow me and the cars behind to pass. Sadly they had other ideas and simply sat there indicating that they only had an inch of space to their right. I think I have probably been here too long as sitting patiently until they figured it out in true British fashion was clearly not an option, but after 5 minutes of frustrated shouting and Mediterranean style gesturing, they simply closed their windows so they couldn’t hear me any longer!

Eventually, a very fit looking local bloke got out of his car at the back of their queue, and came to make my point rather more forcefully than I had done. His impressive array of insults in French and Corsican together with a quick round of twenty questions (Are you blind? Do you have a driving licence? Can you see there are now 12 cars stuck? Do you expect her to take a hammer and smash the rock out of the way?) still failed to have the desired effect, so he wrenched open the door and ordered the woman out of the driving seat. 5 seconds later and he had neatly reversed round the bend at about 50kph and was waiting opposite the passing area for us to go through. I gave him a wave and a ‘merci’ which netted me a gleaming smile and ‘Je vous en prie’ (you’re welcome). My hand gesture to the Parisian couple was not quite so cheery.

Two minutes later and I was at the Pont de Tragone. I’d decided not to continue right to the end as I didn’t have time to do one of the longer walks such as the Lac de Melo or Lac de Capitello. This is a good spot to start/finish one of the shorter forestry walks as there is a nice little snack/restaurant ‘Chez Cesar’ with a terrace overlooking the river. Food is only served from midday until 4pm so be warned!!

Just next to the bridge you can scramble down to the rocks at the edge of the river and sit next to the waterfall. At this time of year there is still snow on the mountains so the water was very fast flowing so this is not one for kids. I found myself a good spot on one of the big flat rocks and spent an hour reading my book in the sunshine.

Of course what I’d forgotten was the wind. It wasn’t particularly strong but the breeze was blowing the spray all over me. It wasn’t until I was ready to go that I realised that I was completely soaked!

Tour of the villages of the Nebbiu

I’d planned a tour of the picturesque villages nearby starting with Oletta. I’ve seen photos many times but I have to confess to being slightly disappointed. The village was quite small and I’d managed to do my military style sightseeing in about 10 minutes flat without finding any artisans, but maybe it was too early in the season.

The church is impressive and the ochre/orange colour makes it even more so, but even the local bloke who accosted me in the street and tried to tell me how beautiful it was really didn’t do it for me. I did make friends with an over exuberant border cross puppy who was absolutely gorgeous, but his owner appeared before I could entice him away! One thing did give me pause for thought which was the old general store. Nowadays it has been converted to a souvenir shop selling gifts made from organic local materials, but the sign above harked back to days gone by and read simply ‘Telephone number 6’!

Olmeta-di-Tuda was next on my list and I almost missed it. It was interesting to see that many of the churches in this area (Bastia, Oletta and Olmeta-di-Tuda) do follow the same style of a triangular support above the door topped with two distinct turrets, but I didn’t stop. At Murato, I got a bit lost and took a long but pretty detour through the countryside before I eventually arrived back at the Col San Sabastianu.

This time I took the D82 passing the pretty church of San Cesareo and San Pieve, heading towards San Gavino di Tenda. The tourist office in Saint Florent had given me a tourist map showing the picturesque villages in the area, but when I got there, I realised that the photo for San Gavinu di Tenda was actually Santo Pietro di Tenda opposite! That said, the church was quite interesting and the views of Santo Pietro di Tenda framed by Lauriers Roses was lovely.

By now I really didn’t have much idea whether it was quicker to carry on along the tiny village roads or try to head back the way I’d come and pick up the main(ish) road from Murato. In the end I decided to carry on, and I am really pleased I did as the Church of Sainte-Maria-Majeure in Santo Pietro di Tenda is well worth a deviation. There were restoration works in progress when I was there, but it didn’t detract from the stunning setting at all.

The D62 eventually links up with the D81 which is the road across the Desert des Agriates. This is an area of wild maquis and rocky outcrops, which is also home to two of the most stunning beaches on the island; Loto and Saleccia. I had intended to do the boat trip to the Plage du Loto and then maybe the horse drawn carriage which takes you on the Plage de Saleccia where the John Wayne film ‘The Longest Day’ was filmed. Unfortunately, I am a terrible cowardy custard where boats are concerned so even a slight draft is enough to put me off.

Along the way I came across some friendly looking donkeys. As well as a fear of boats, and I also terrified of large animals (large being anything bigger than a sheep). That said, I am fascinated by donkeys so I stopped for a photo opportunity. One of them thought he was getting dinner, and I ended up having to wipe donkey slobber off the camera, but I also got really brave and fed him some grass through the fence.

The end of my tour was to be Lozari Plage, but I hadn’t counted on cabaret being laid on for me. When I arrived, I could see someone kitesurfing but as I got closer I realised he didn’t have a surfboard. It turned out that he was trying to land, but every time he got two feet on the ground another gust of wind came along and off he went again! He was nearly in the car park by the time I reached the sand!!

It was amusing to watch at first, but after a while two sunbathers came to his rescue with one grabbing his legs and keeping him grounded and the other grabbing the kite next time it dipped onto the beach. He looked ever so grateful…

Saint Florent

Ah, Saint Florent! What a beautiful town full of colourful buildings, equally colourful characters and huge yachts that look like something off a film set.

Most people visiting Saint Florent for the first time park in the car park on the port, but a few years ago the town hall realised they were missing a trick and starting charging. I always park in the parking area in front of the citadel which - so far - is free (follow the road in the direction of Bastia, turn left immediately before the Hotel Bellevue and follow the signs). The views from up here are lovely and it’s hard to know whether I prefer the view down over the rocks with the church in the background, or the mellow yellow Citadel against the deep blue of the sea…

It was over 30 degrees and very humid so I wandered down to the waterfront with the help of two scoops of mandarin sorbet (I think it’s the law when it’s that hot!) and did a spot of people watching. Saint Florent is a two star ‘village fleuri’ and June is the perfect time to see it as all the flowers are in bloom and it is simply lovely.

There were lots of people around which gave the town a really vibrant feel, but I still managed to find a quiet spot in the shade by the water fountain to enjoy my lunch.

From here it was just two steps to my next point of call – The Cave Lazzarini. The Lazzarini family produce a whole range of wines and aperitifs (the Muscat and Reds are particularly good). I always come away having spent more that I’d intended, but never regretting it! Today I was particularly envious of the clients who book their apartment and are treated to a full tasting without having to worry about the car afterwards!

After having been force-fed chestnut cake for the journey, and persuaded that I really couldn’t go another day without some home-made fig jam, I was on my way again, this time to the tourist office. I picked up a leaflet of the walks in the area, and although it was too hot to do one of the longer walks – anything up to 6/7 hours – I fully intended to do the first section up to the start of the Sentier du Littoral which is about 45-50 minutes each way.

However, once I arrived at the starting point of the end of the Plage du Roya, I realised that I’d forgotten my socks, so not wanting a repeat of the Evisa/blister incident, I decided to content myself with half an hour on the beach instead. I also managed to lay my hands on a bargain pair of rock shoes for 9.90 euros to replace the ones I melted last year in a cave in the Pays Basques. Hurrah!


I’ve had a bee in my bonnet for a while now about visiting Patrimonio, so as I had two days off together this week, I decided to find a little hotel and spend 48 hours exploring the area. The route from Bastia to Patrimonio takes you over the Col de Teghime which is quite a curiosity because from here you can see the sea on both sides of the island at the same time.

This area is principally known for its AOC wines and Muscats (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) which are excellent. There are 33 Domaines in total surrounding Patrimonio, and there are information panels everywhere indicating the ‘Route des Vins’. You’ll get the best prices buying direct from the ‘caves’ and most producers are happy to let you taste.

Two of my favourites are the Domaine Louis Montemagni in the heart of the village and the Domaine Lazzarini overlooking the convent. These two produce two of the best Muscats I have tasted. I wandered up past the post office and spotted what I thought was a tomb, but turned out to be the smallest church I have ever seen!

I came across the Hotel La Palma purely by chance but it looked just my sort of place; simple but with character and some nice outdoor space. The staff were really friendly when I made the initial enquiry, and seemed pleased that I’d found their newly renovated hotel. I had the choice of a Mansarde room with velux (sloping ceiling) or a superior double for very little extra, so that’s the one I went for.

The hotel is out of the village which didn’t bother me at all and there was a really nice terrace with palm tree where breakfast was served. In the evening I sat out on my balcony and enjoyed a chapter with Agatha (Christie). The next morning the sun was shining and I was lucky enough to grab a prime spot on the terrace for breakfast under the palm tree.

I was soon joined by my new friend, who looked like a black and white braque (hunting dog). I asked the owner and she admitted that it wasn’t a braque, but that her husband had taken his hair clippers to it so that it wouldn’t feel the heat so much in the summer. She seemed rather embarrassed and sure enough when I took a closer look, I realised that it wasn’t a short haired dog, but one that had been rather inexpertly shorn! It was hard to tear myself away from the lovely terrace, but the main reason for my visit to this area was the Church of San Michel de Murato.

This church is extraordinary not only for the Pisan architecture and almost Pagan style adornments, but mostly because of the colour. Dating back to the 12th century, the church is built in a striking combination of white granite and extremely rare green granite. There is a panel at the entrance to the site explaining all about the church, but I was far too carried away taking photos to really take that in.

The view from up here is quite stunning too and when I arrived there wasn’t another soul so it was a nice place to just sit and collect my thoughts for a while. Shortly afterwards a caravan of four rather loud French visitors and their dog arrived so I decided to push on.

I got a bit muddled with my map as it had been accidentally ripped at a crucial point earlier in the day, but I decided to take a chance and keep going in the same general direction and see what happened. The village of Murato turned out to be much larger than I’d imagined and seemed quite lively with children playing and people chatting outside the bar and general store.