Thursday, 27 August 2009

Plage de Campitellu

It’s been very hot and humid recently – not surprising really as it’s August - but we wanted to go to the beach, so we chose the Plage de Campitellu where there is often a breeze. We decided to avoid the main part of the beach and settled close to the headland where there are rocks and the water was relatively shallow.

The sea was an amazing shade of turquoise blue, and when we first arrived there was hardly a ripple except for the odd snorkel breaking the surface. We’d hardly had time to lay the towels out before Guillaume was in the water looking for fish amongst the rocks. Those goggles turned out to be a superb investment for 2€!

The sea was as warm as bath water but as the breeze picked up, the waves were pummelling the shore, taking us with them. Guillaume loved it, but after I’d crashed into the rocks twice and injured my leg, and Florence had made a daring sea rescue to haul Guillaume out by his arm like a limp haddock, we decided enough was enough and we retired to the beach to play tennis on the sand.

We’d been idly watching a bloke fishing from the shore while we ate our picnic, and had been quite impressed at the number of fish he’d caught. After a while a diver appeared and he got quite cocky showing off his haul until the diver imitated the ‘you call that a knife’ scene from Crocodile Dundee, reached into his net and pulled out a huge rascasse on a spear! It went quiet after that and he moved further along the beach…

Rascasse are also known as Scorpion fish, and it’s easy to see why! They have a huge head and spines, and live amongst the rocks and plants at depths of between 5m & 800m. They can be either brown or red in colour and taste much better than they look – yum!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Plage d'Arena Bianca

This week was the AGM of the residents association where we live, so faced with a choice of that or taking the kids to the beach, Pete and I were in the car with our beach bags packed before you could say ‘don’t forget the suncream!’. We found a fabulous spot virtually to ourselves at the far end of the Arena Bianca Plage.

The kids were happy to swim and play in the rock pools, and we spent the afternoon gossiping on the beach, disturbed only from time to time by cries of ‘j’ai vu des poisons!’ (I’ve seen some fish!).

There were a couple of cuts and grazes from the rocks which required us looking very serious and saying 'oh you'll live' in a variety of languages, but nothing needing medical attention which was a bit disappointing as a helicopter airlift would have made a very exciting blog entry!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Restaurant du Golfe, Tizzano

Tizzano is known as ‘the port at the end of the world’ and it’s easy to see why as it really wasn't too busy even in August. We’d looked at the menus for Chez Antoine (too much sushi for my taste) and the Restaurant l’Escale (fully booked), so we wandered back towards the village and came across the Restaurant du Golfe.

It didn’t look much at first, but when we looked at the menu, we decided that this was the one for us! We also realized that the terrace was the place to be, and managed to grab the last table right on the water front. From here we had a fabulous view of the sea and the boats moored in the bay. The sunset was just stunning, and we had to stop eating every now and then to take yet another photo as the colours just got better and better.

Choosing what to eat was tricky as there was so much choice; goats cheese crustinis, sanglier (wild boar), local veal and a whole range of seasonal seafood dishes depending on the catch of the day. I really fancied the sanglier but that is more of a winter dish and it was still so hot, that I was almost relieved when they said it was sold out. In the end, we both chose the Linguini de St. Jacques et Pancetta Fume (pasta with scallops and smoked bacon in a creamy tomato sauce).

The dishes were tasty and well presented, and offered good value for money. Fortunately we’d both left room for dessert which was equally scrumptious; homemade apple tart with ice cream and a crème brulee with myrte (a liqueur). I think we’ll be back.

Walking in Corsica – Tizzano & Punta di Barcaju

Normally when I walk in this area I tend to do the circuit of the archeological site of Cauria which is a nice walk with things to see and do on the way. This time however, we decided to head straight through the town and walk the headland where the old fort is located.

The track was surprisingly busy so we parked up and decided to go the rest of the way on foot. It’s a packed dirt track, so ideal for walking, but the 4x4’s do tend to bomb along at a terrific pace, so do be prepared to leap into the hedge at a moments notice or get your dust masks out!

The headland is very rocky in stark contrast to the beautiful sandy beaches at the other end of the village. It was 36 degrees by the time we arrived – 5:30pm – so once we’d hacked our way through the maquis ‘Indiana Jones’ style I was seriously tempted to take a dip but I knew once I took my walking shoes off, I’d never get them back on again.

We found some pretty little flowers and plants clustered amongst the rocks, and equally interesting flora and faura in the numerous rock pools. I spotted some huge boulders and was sure that the views from the top would be worthwhile so I clambered up, only to find that getting down wasn’t so easy!

We sat on the rocks by the shallows to admire the view, and we spotted a fabulous yacht hugging the coastline. I know I’m not really a boat person, but still…

Sunday, 16 August 2009

15 August Celebrations / Fireworks

This weekend is the 15th August which is the largest ‘fete’ in Corsica, and celebrated all over the island. The events are carefully co-ordinated so they don’t clash, and everyone can see as many as possible. At 11pm, the harbour lights were turned off, and the fireworks started. What a superb display. They were much better than I’d remembered from last year, and this year they were also set to music which added to the festive atmosphere.

After the main display, the fireworks started again across the bay and I could make out the glittering colours illuminating the inky water of the bay from my balcony. The Corsicans really go ‘all-out’ for the 15th August and although Propriano did a great job this year, the most impressive I think have ever seen was the fireworks and laser light show over the Citadel in Calvi.

The Calvi display is perhaps the most popular on the island, and each year attracts approximately 50,000 people, so you are best to do what we did and choose a property which has a terrace facing the show!

Each year they have a different theme and it is one of the best ‘son et lumière’ shows I have seen for a long time.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Svegliu d'Isula in Concert

Once of the great things about living in Corsica is the summer celebrations. Tonight there was a free concert on the Port de Plaisance by Svegliu d’Isula, a polyphonic group native to the Valinco.

The tradition of Corsican polyphonic singing had nearly become extinct until its revival (riaquistu) in the 1970s. Thirty years on, polyphony is now a central part of Corsican national identity. The songs often have their roots in tragedy of some kind and the hymn-like a cappella singing is extremely moving. Some popular modern groups include Svegliu d’Isula, Terra and of course I Muvrini.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Sunset over the Valinco gulf

It was such a beautiful evening, that I found myself on the balcony with a glass of Muscat watching the most amazing sunset.

The colours were so vivid and as the sun sank, they got deeper and deeper until the sky was almost blood red and the sea an unusual purple colour.


It must be about 10-15 years since I visited Corte last and all I remember was that it was grey and cold, but as that was November, that’s not surprising really! Today, the reality couldn’t have been further from what I remembered, with brightly coloured houses and shops providing a sharp contrast to the blue skies.

I started off in the Place Paoli and headed straight up to the ‘Haute Ville’ at the top of the town, and found myself in the Place Gaffroy. Named after Pascal Paoli’s predecessor General Gaffroy, a statue has been erected in his honour just in front of his old house which still has all the old bullet holes from the siege in 1750 – eek!

From here I wandered up to towards the Citadel but got distracted by one of the houses where a group of friends had decided to have a sing-a-long. They started with some polyphonic Corsican harmonies and it wasn’t long before a crowd gathered, but once they started on the Monkees and ‘I’m a believer’, I thought it was time to move on!

I wandered up through the archway, regretting that I hadn’t changed my trusty flipflops for walking shoes which would have been much more comfortable on the cobbles. It wasn’t long before I was reminded that Corte is the ancient capital of the island, and here you can feel the independent spirit everywhere from the flags on houses to the spoken word and even Radio Corti Vivu!

I’d seen a sign for a Belvedere (view point), so I followed the cobbled streets as they wound up towards the citadel, and was amazed to find a whole quartier that I have never seen before. There were a collection of three or four restaurants, and everything was really green and fresh looking which was quite a contrast to the sun-bleached look of the old buildings below.

I carried on up to the Belvedere and was surprised to find that the wind was really blustery which was a bit of a welcome relief from the heat. I climbed up to the top and looked out over the lower town and surrounding area which is really nothing to write home about, but the view of the citadel from this angle was fabulous.

I was getting peckish and hadn’t yet explored the lower town and the Cours Paoli which is the main street, so I took an easy stroll down and settled myself in one of the bars for a quick snack and a drink. There were loads of yummy looking restaurants to choose from and I’d been recommended to ‘La Trattoria’ but as it was such a short trip, I wanted to make the most of my time sightseeing.

This is the one place that I do remember from last time – A Casa Curtinese – a little grocery shop selling, well, just about everything really! I waited for ages for the old bloke with a bike to move. He could see me waiting and deliberately moved in the direct line of my shot until he was right in front of me. Why is there never a spade handy when you need to whack someone with one?

Just time for a quick look in the souvenir shops, and then I was back on the road for the south. Amazingly, it rained whilst we were coming back through Vizzavona. It was lovely after the heat of the day so we left all the windows open in the car, but within about 5 minutes it had stopped again. Oh well, back to watering the plants tonight then…

Libellule (Dragonfly)

There is no story attached to this one, it's just an amazing photo of a dragonfly taken on the river bank in the Restonica Valley.

Congratulations to Florence for capturing such a stunning shot.

Scala di Santa Regina, Niolo

The Scala di Santa Regina is a huge Canyon that runs from the Niolo to just north of Corte. I love Gorges and this is one of the most impressive I have seen in Corsica, with rust coloured granite rocks that plunge down deep ravines to the river Golo at the bottom.

We’d found ourselves on the road by accident, and once on it, there are very few opportunities to stop and admire the view. The most impressive section for me was of course the viaduct, but there were also some interesting rock formations, tunnels carved into the granite rock, and the sheer scale can’t fail to impress.

Luckily, the road is only just wide enough for two cars to pass, so as we were following a huge great truck and a caravan (gggrr!), there were plenty of opportunities to take photos out of the windows!!

The name Scala di Santa Regina means ‘Stair of the Holy Queen’ and legend has it that St. Martin was ploughing a field when the devil seized him and threw him on top of the Niolo. When he fell, the mountains shattered and he started to fall into the valley. He prayed to the Virgin, and she created the Scala to allow him to descend safely.

Calacuccia & the Col di Verghio

The Col di Verghio is one of the points along the GR20 which is a gruelling hike across the island, but it is also a pretty spot to stop and enjoy a picnic on the grass amongst the pine trees and wonder why people put themselves through that!

There are a number of marked walks from the Col, including tracks to bergeries and refuges where walkers on the longer routes can stay the night. Today there were people milling all over the place – it is August after all – so we decided to stay just long enough to take some photos of the view and also the statue.

Unsurprisingly with a name like the Col di Verghio, the statue represents the Virgin Mary and bears the inscription ‘As I loved you, love yourselves, one and another’. It is absolutely huge.

Forêt d’Aitone

We hadn’t actually planned to stop in the Forêt d’Aitone as I’d been walking there quite recently, but as we drove up through the forest of tall pines, it was just so beautiful that we had to stop.

We’d chosen a spot with huge granite plates of rock, so that we could scramble across. Of course it wasn’t until we’d been there about an hour that I realised that I still had my flipflops on instead of my walking shoes – not exactly the most practical footware for rock climbing!

The scenery in this area really reminded me of Bavella rather than the other areas of the forest I’ve previously explored, and as we clambered down over the huge boulders, we were treated to a view of the red-hued rocks of Piana and Porto in the distance.

Below the boulders, we discovered a huge taffoni which is a rock sculpted by the wind which normally resembles a cave. This one was really unusual because of the number of smooth deep holes in the rocks which almost looked like cubbyholes.

I wanted to take a photo of the view from under the taffoni, but I’ve obviously watched too many horror movies as I was terrified that there were bats living inside the holes that would fly out at me!


From Soccia to Corte, the easiest route is through Vico and then up through to the Forêt d’Aitone. We knew we’d want to stop en route for lots of photo opportunities, so we were on the road before 8am.

We’d smelled the warm croissants as we left the hotel, but at 7.50€ per person we thought it was a bit expensive as we only wanted a coffee and a pastry, so we decided to stop in Vico for a spot of breakfast.

We parked in front of the church which was surrounded by colourful oleander bushes, making a lovely contrast against the clear blue skies. We walked down through the village past some brightly coloured houses to the unusual war memorial before stopping for coffee on the square.

It’s a good job that I'd dusted off my Italian language CD recently, as Vico is very old school and the patron told me how much the coffees were in Corsu – the Corsican language, rather than French. Luckily ‘two’ – due - is the same in Corsican and Italian, so despite his heavy accent we were OK!

A couple of Pain au Chocolat from the patisserie and we were on our way again.

Walking in Corsica- Lac de Creno

I should have learnt from my experience in Bavella, that when Flo said that the walk to the Lac de Creno was relatively flat and shady, she meant flat compared to the north face of the Eiger, and shady compared with the Sahara!

OK, so we were being a bit silly to hike to 1400m above sea level in the middle of August, but what a stunning walk, and it was certainly an adventure. It all started when we saw that the cars were parked all along the road as far back as 3km from the start of the walk, but we took a chance and drove straight up to the car park anyway, and bagged a spot just next to the donkeys and horses for hire.

If I wasn’t so scared of them, I would have seriously considered this otion as the ground was arid, and I could see straight away that this was going to be a long, hot slog. The walk climbs 500m from the car park to 1344m above sea level (4,298 feet). It doesn’t sound like much but in 30 degrees with very little shade, and a very steep ascent in places, I was quite envious of the children that passed while we were taking a well earned rest.

I am a motivational complainer, so the harder something is, the more I complain! We’d run out of water only about half way to the lake and I was finding it hard going in the heat, but it was a bit of a toss up whether I might expire from heat exhaustion, or from being pushed over the edge by Florence who was fed up with my whinging! Luckily, with a few stops, we made it to the lake and it was well worth the effort and the near death experience!!

Having started late in the day, we were lucky to have the lake almost to ourselves. The reflections in the water were amazing and so clear. In the summer, pink and white water lilies cover the surface, and although it was August, a couple were still in flower.

We walked further round the lake and discovered a view point hidden amongst the trees. From here you can really appreciate how high you are, and it was a bit scary leaping from rock to rock to get the best shot. We were starting to lose the light a bit so the colours were more vivid in real life than they look on the photos.

We walked back down amongst the tall pines, and continued our tour round the lake. We came across a small family of pigs (mum and two babies) who weren’t at all scared of people and were obviously hungry, but we didn’t have anything to give them.

On the other hand, they were lucky I’d only brought my small rucksack because they were so cute that one of them would have almost certainly been coming home with me, and I’m not sure if they’d have been too happy living on my balcony in Propriano…

We carried on back to the beginning and sat for a while just enjoying the peace and quiet as well as the beautiful views, before heading back.

When we got back to the hotel, I had a good laugh at Florence when she showed me how dirty her legs were. That was until I took my socks off and realised that I looked like I had dark brown footless tights on where all the dust had settled. Yuk!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Restaurant A Merendella, Soccia

We’d spotted a couple of restaurants whilst negotiating the tortuous bends and exasperating one way system of Soccia – this is not a village for drivers of a nervous disposition – but we’d spotted an interesting sign for the Restaurant A Merendella on the Route de l’Eglise, so we thought we’d take a look before making a final decision.

The restaurant is well signposted, but what they don’t tell you is that it’s almost impossible to negotiate the narrow streets even in a small car. We came to an impasse with walls sticking out into the road in three directions and a huge drainage ditch about 20cm deep – eek! A friendly local came out to help guide us through it, but Florence was having none of that and started berating the woman for living in such a badly designed village!! We eventually found the restaurant and it only took one look to know that this was the one.

The rustic tables and chairs are arranged in a garden with a beautiful view of the valley, and pretty lanterns hanging from the trees. There was a small kitchen garden in the corner where the chefs were gathering aubergines and herbs for the meals, so we knew we’d chosen well.

The restaurant offers a choice of 5 entrées and 5 main courses as well as a selection of scrummy looking desserts and cheeses. We chose two different starters and main courses as we like to swap and try as many things as possible, but I would have happily eaten any of the dishes they proposed as they all sounded absolutely delicious.

We started with Aubergine Farcis (aubergines stuffed with Tome, a Corsican cheese) and served on a delicious tomato sauce, and Croustillant de Chèvre (crunchy goats cheese parcels) on a bed of salad with a tasty dressing and sundried tomatoes. The main courses were duck with caramelised onions and vegetables, and figatellu (a Corsican style spicy sausage) in an artistic potato tower served with courgettes julienne. I am sure the desserts would have been delicious, but we were just too full to try!

The sunset behind the mountains was absolutely stunning with hues from peach through to deep purple, but all too soon it was time to head back to the hotel. The meal was really good, and for 25€ a head I thought it was good value for what we'd had, but this is definitely one to visit on foot.