Friday, 31 July 2009

Walking in Corsica - Sentier du Littoral, Campomoro

Now that July is here, and August is just around the corner, it gets a bit too hot to do a full day hike, so this morning we decided to leave early, and by 8:30am we were heading down behind the tower at Campomoro to the Sentier du Littoral.

Last time I walked this route I headed north from I Pozzi towards Capo Bianco, so this time we headed south towards Conca. I’d read that there are some huge, animal shaped rock formations along this stretch, but although we saw some stunning wild coastline, I’m not sure that we ventured far enough to see the best of this walk. We did manage to capture what looked like the face of an old man staring out to sea (think Mr Punch with the sun shining on his left ear).

The walk itself was lovely. We picked our way through the maquis, stopping from time to time to take photos or admire the view. We came across a surprising number of people taking an early stroll, and I could quite happily have stayed all morning. The sun was in the perfect position for taking photos of the rocks and I was fascinated by the holes where the wind has managed to pierce the granite.

In the distance, my hawk eyes picked out the reflection of a camera lens on top of the rocks, so although I couldn’t actually see any people, I suspected there was a fab shot to be taken. I am perfectly prepared to suffer for my art, so despite the heat I found myself scrambling up and over the rocks, but what a beautiful sight.

I was disappointed when the first yacht passed before I’d had a chance to steady my footing and snap off a few shots, but luckily it was such a glorious day that it wasn’t long before another boat picked up on my telepathy and positioned itself perfectly – merci!

Sartène – the most Corsican of Corsican towns!

Sartène – the most Corsican of Corsican towns according to their blurb, and a claim it’s hard to dispute when you are wandering amongst the imposing granite buildings, some of which date back to the early 16th century.

We were actually on the hunt for some shorts, but to be honest it was a great excuse for a wander round the town followed by a refreshing ‘diablo menthe’ (mint syrop and lemonade) on the main square while we watched the world go by.

We discovered a new ceramic workshop between the Place de la Liberation and the Post office, which had beautiful hand made tiles and even ceramic jewellery, as well as the usual bowls and jugs.

From here we headed under the archway to the little streets behind the church. We went into the shop selling local produce just on the left as you come out of the archway, and I was shocked to see the Domaine Orsini Muscat on sale for 11.50€ when I’d paid just 8€ in Carrefour the day before! Moral of the story folks – be a canny shopper.

Between us we managed to find a lovely souvenir photo frame, some organic/natural anti-mozzi spray and an unusual rough blue coral necklace, but I also spotted some beautiful jewellery, some nice dresses that were way over budget and some cute little ceramic animals that I was really tempted by. Maybe we’d better make another trip towards the end of the summer when the sales are on…

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Restaurant A Marinasca, Portigliolo

We were wracking our brains trying to think of somewhere different for a quick spot of lunch when we remembered ‘A Marinasca’ at Portigliolo. Now a campsite restaurant is not something I would ordinarily advocate, but this is one not to be missed!

Tucked away amongst the pretty oleander and colourful flowers, the restaurant is like something you’d find in the Caribbean or Africa. The main section is a huge round structure with thatched roof and curtains and if, like us, you time it just right, you can bag a plumb spot just overlooking the pool with a view through the trees to the beach beyond.

Yes, that’s right, this restaurant has a pool! OK, so it’s only a childrens pool about a foot deep, but it does mean that the little ones can play in the water while you enjoy a leisurely lunch undisturbed. What bliss!

As soon as I saw the menu, I knew it would be difficult to choose so we decided to start with a cocktail and then order two different dishes so we could share and try twice as much! I wanted the maracchioni with Gorgonzola and walnuts and was persuaded that we should also try the Carpaccio d’Espadron (finely sliced raw fish).

Both dishes were absolutely delicious but the Espadron in particular turned out to be a really refreshing change to a salad on a hot sunny day.

Plage de Baracci

We don’t often go to Baracci which is a shame because every time we do, I am reminded how lovely it is. The beach does shelve quite steeply in places, but today there was no wind and the water was as warm as a bath (even at 8:30am), so we waded out and dunked ourselves before settling onto the sand.

This morning was destined to be one of excitement; horses wandered along the back of the beach before a quick canter through the water, jet-skis whizzed across the bay, and a huge yacht moored itself in the middle of the bay surrounded by colourful sailing boats.

A new sailing school seems to have sprung up since my last visit, and we watched as a number of the novices made their maiden voyage under the watchful eye of the tutor and safety boat. However, the highlight for me was when I thought I’d spotted a seal and her cub, but sadly it turned out to be a rather portly bloke and his son scuba diving!

Despite all the activity, we had a huge stretch of beach all to ourselves which is amazing when you think that it is almost August and the height of the holiday season…

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Porto Pollo

If ever there was anywhere less deserving of its name, Porto Pollo is it! Known locally as Porti Poddu – literally meaning troubled port – this little village is a real haven of peace and tranquility outside of July and August, and even the sea is calmer and shallower here than in most areas.

I was looking for a quiet spot to relax and read my book for an hour, so I chose the end furthest from the port. This section is backed by pretty flowers that grow almost anywhere and are known as witches fingers because they have 5 succulent leaves that look like an upturned hand with pointy green fingers holding a flower!

There were lots of families with tiny tots as the water is really shallow so you can often paddle here even when it’s too chilly elsewhere. We also discovered that this is one of the best places for sand castles, although they weren't quite in the same league as the Sphinx and Pyramids we'd seen at Roccapina!

Each year at Easter there is a fair of the type we’re used to in the UK (rather than the food based Corsican versions) with a bouncy castle, games, dodgems and all sorts of exciting stuff. I completely forgot this year, but last year we all had a great time rounded off with yummy Nutella crêpes that we eat on the beach. Roll on Easter 2010…

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Circus - La Cirque est Roi...

Here in Corsica, circuses are really popular, and during the summer there is one nearly every week. I am just like a kid when the circus comes to town and have been a number of times, but the French and Italian circus companies still feature live animals so I am always torn between a desire to see these beautiful creatures up close, and a slight revulsion that they are made to perform.

The posters and huge plastic animals outside promised big things, but unlike the last circus we went to where we saw camels, dancing ponies, elephants and white lions, there seemed to be just three ponies and a donkey grazing under the trees. Fortunately, the kids didn’t mind, and the fact that there was an 8 year old clown – not much older than most of the audience – seemed to amuse them even more. They opened the show by announcing that they were a family circus and were not going to tell us that they would show us anything that we hadn't seen before - not exactly a good start!

Luckily some balancing acts, a mini acrobat and a bit of yummy popcorn were all we needed for a fun evening out, so it really didn’t matter. Actually, it was quite bad but almost so bad that it was good, with only 3-4 people fulfilling all the roles, and thinking that a change of name and costume would fool us. Plus I am sure the horse was giving me the evil eye so every time it came near our bit of the barrier I had to fight the urge to run away!

The show lasted nearly 2 hours, so no mean feat for such a small circus company, and afterwards we fed the pony with some stale bread. Tonight was the last night so personally, I was just relieved that I won’t have to listen to the promotion vans passing by anymore – two or three choruses of ‘Volare, oh oh, Cantare, oh oh oh oh’ is probably more than enough for any sane person to bear!

Plage Casabianca - Cow beach

What a strange couple of days it has been. Yesterday, the temperature suddenly dropped 10 degrees and we had huge gusts of wind, but to be honest it was a bit of a welcome relief from the scorching heat of the rest of the week when it got up as high as 37 degrees - phew!

Within 24 hours, normal service had been resumed, and this morning was so calm and quiet, I was woken by the announcement on the ferry that had docked in the port a kilometre away! As I was up and about, I decided to pop down to ‘Cow beach’ as it’s known locally. The Plage de Casabianca, to give it the correct name, is a huge stretch of sand that runs alongside the Chemin des Plages from the town round towards Portigliolo. In the summer it’s a popular site with walkers and sunbathers, and in the winter a herd of cows take up residence, hence the name.

If you look at any map you will see that there is, in theory, an estuary with the Rizzanese river, but over the last couple of years the dunes have gradually shifted with the aid of the wind and the tides, and now the river comes to an end in a little lake surrounded by the beach.

The river water attracts a variety of birds and I spotted a baby seagull tucking into his breakfast. He was so cute that I decided to stalk him and try to get a photo, but as I got closer I remembered how bloomin’ big they are. I must have spooked him because he ran towards me with his wings flapping and I started having flashbacks of the Alfred Hitchcock film ‘The Birds’!

This particular stretch of beach does have strong currents, and the waves were really impressive which was surprising because when I looked out of the window this morning, the collection of coves between Propriano and Cappiciolo were as flat as millponds. Apart from the sound of the waves crashing against the sand, it was really calm and quiet, so I wandered along the sand (avoiding eye contact with any birds) before heading home.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


The wind brings with it its own problems in Corsica. Sure, your washing dries in about 10 minutes flat and it doesn’t feel so hot when you’re out and about sightseeing or relaxing on the beach, but by July the Maquis is as dry as tinder and it only takes one careless cigarette to destroy hectares of beautiful countryside in a matter of hours.

Since the start of the summer, about 50 hectares of Maquis have been destroyed by fire, so we now have two ‘bombardiers d’eau’ (water bombers) stationed at Corte and a fleet of Canadairs which are dinky brightly coloured planes that skim the sea picking up water which they then jettison over the fires.

We are lucky enough to live under the route for the water collection in the bay at Baracci. Some may not think that lucky is the right word, but it is absolutely fascinating to watch them swooping down behind the hills and then appearing again as they pick up water and zoom off. I have always been terrified of being mistaken for a seal (or sadly a whale) while swimming, but I’ve been assured that the hole isn’t big enough to pick up anything larger than the odd small fish. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that!

About the Canadairs;
  • Canadairs have a water Capacity of 6130 litres
  • They can make an average of 6 to 10 drops per hour according to the distance between the fire and the water
  • Their speed of water collection is 75 knots (135 kph)
  • It takes 10 to 12 seconds to fill the plane with 6 tons of water
  • The maximum height of the waves to be able to bail out is 1.5 meters
  • They can drop 30/35 meters at a speed of 110 knots (200 kph)

This week with the hot Scirroco wind we’ve had, 250 firefighters have been on full alert. You can often see them sunbathing on top of their trucks – a bit of an attraction in itself!

Roccapina & the Lion

Roccapina is renowned as one of the best beaches in the south of Corsica; soft, fine sand and clear shallow turquoise waters sheltered by rocks at either end – sheer bliss! It is also one of the beaches that I have never visited before, as I didn’t know where the access track was, so when Florence suggested we go together, I jumped at the chance!

We arrived shortly after 9am and bagged a prime parking spot under the trees. The beach at that time was almost deserted and lived up to all my expectations. We wandered along and took photos of a pretty red sailing boat moored in the bay, and collected a few shells before settling ourselves on the sand. The sand here is perfect for sand castles and a little further along, someone had shown off their artistic talents by building not only a fairytale castle, but also an Egyptian scene complete with pyramids and a sphinx!

The sea is so shallow that even kids can wade out for miles before getting out of their depth, and there were virtually no waves unless a boat passed by. Guillaume and Rolande le Requin (the inflatable shark) had a lovely time in the water whilst Florence and I indulged in a spot of sunbathing.

Little by little, the beach started to fill up and we soon found ourselves with a number of ‘neighbours’. Even during July and August it’s possible to find the odd deserted stretch of beach if you’re prepared to look, and I was reminded why I tend to avoid the more well known places during the peak season. That said, it was fascinating to do a spot of people watching, and I nearly had to call the fashion police on a number of occasions. Can anyone tell me why French men are obsessed with speedos? There was also a woman who’d brought a cushion but for her boobs, not her head! Best of all were the kids canoeing in such shallow water, I wondered if they’d put their legs through the bottom and were actually walking along Fred-Flintstone style…

The sun was incredibly hot and the sea was as warm as a bath so after a picnic lunch of yummy pizza and sandwiches, we decided to head back to the car. What we hadn’t banked on was the appalling parking ability of most visitors, and it was a miracle we managed to get out!

Sitting above the beach is the Lion de Roccapina – a wind sculpted rock that has taken on the shape of a lion, with the ruined structure on top making it look like the lion is wearing a crown. The best view is from the road between Sartene and Bonifacio/Figari airport, but this photo was taken from below.

Legend has it that a bandit called Barrittonu had his hideout in the caves surrounding the lion and was there on the 17th April 1887 when the luxury steamer ‘Tasmania’ sank. The ship was carrying a cargo of jewels from the Rajahs of India, destined for Queen Victoria’s jubilee. Most of them were recovered except a small box of diamonds. It is thought that Barrittonu found and buried it shortly before his arrest and deportation, never to return. Anyone for a treasure hunt??

14 July - Bastille Day

Generally speaking, the Corsicans aren’t keen to be labelled French (even though they are really!), but if there is a chance of a celebration and more importantly a day off work, they’d be quite happy to paint themselves green and claim to be martians!

The 14th July is Bastille Day, and here in Propriano there is always a fireworks display on the port. Unfortunately, when I woke up this morning there was a 40kph Scirocco (hot) wind, so I was worried they might be cancelled - fireworks next to wooden boats with a strong wind is not a good combination unless you want a really spectacular display!!

Fortunately, the wind dropped during the evening so the display started at 11pm as planned. It was while sitting in comfort and listening to the ooh’s and ahh’s of my neighbours that I was reminded how luckily I am to live in such a beautiful place (and have a balcony with a view over the port…).

Monday, 13 July 2009

Banks in Corsica

Banks in Corsica are air conditioned buildings full of smiling helpful people, unless of course you want any money (even your own!). Today I had to make a withdrawal of cash larger than the amount allowed from the cash machine, so I joined the lengthy queue inside.

ME (in French): Hello, I’d like to make a withdrawal please
Société Générale (bank) : OK, do you have your account details?
ME: Yes
SG: Do you have some identity?
ME: Yes
SG: How much do you want to withdraw?
ME: 1000 euros
SG: Sorry, you can’t have it today because we don’t have enough money here
ME: But the man in front of me paid in lots of cash – certainly more than 1000 euros
SG: Yes, but you can’t have that
ME: Why?
SG: Because we need it for the counter. In case someone wants to make a withdrawal
ME: But I want to make a withdrawal!
SG: Yes, but you can’t
ME: Why not?
SG: Because you didn’t ask in advance. We didn’t know that man would pay in any cash
ME: Yes, but he did, so can I have it?
SG: No. Come back tomorrow

Arrrgghhhh!!!! Now I know why everyone here owns a shotgun!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Canyon de Baracci

Truth be told, it’s a wonder I am able to write this blog after a bit of an accident at the river this morning. We only had a few hours and didn’t fancy the beach so we decided to set off early and walk down through the Canyon de Baracci to the river below.

What a beautiful place – all we could hear was the birds singing and the echo of our voices as we picked our way carefully down the canyon. This is not a path of the hiking variety, but rather a small granite gorge with ledges to walk along and hang on to. We made it down safely to a really pretty spot where we could sit on the rocks in the sun and Guillaume could paddle in the water.

We decided to take turns walking upstream a bit further to take photos. I couldn’t believe the colour of the rocks which looked almost blood red under the clear water. We also came across a shallow section where people before us had arranged the stones like mini sculptures.

It was whilst walking back that I realised the importance of rock shoes as I lost my footing and ended up head first in the river. Most of the little pools are shallow, but this one was a very deep section with a gushing waterfall so I managed to go right under, backpack and all. Florence’s main concern was of course my camera (in my back pack at the time), not whether I was going to drown! Luckily I was saved and managed to make it back to the flat rocks completely soaked, with a twisted knee, gammy toe and slightly dazed!

After we’d built a dam out of rocks in the small waterfall just below, and played pooh sticks with pine cones, we settled in to a lunch of magret de canard with French bread and delicious fresh apricots and cherries – yum!

Some German canyoners arrived shortly afterwards to find me still in my underwear while my clothes were drying on the rocks, so it was lucky it was a matching day and could have been mistaken for a bikini. We watched in awe as they leapt off the top of the canyon into the deep rock pool below, and swam through the gorge to the next section. On the way back up to the car we heard screams of delight and managed to catch a glimpse of them abseiling down the rock face in front of yet another huge waterfall. What a fabulous morning!