Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Promenade en Mer - Corsica from the sea

What a fabulous day! I should start by saying that I don’t do boats – well not for the last 20 years or so anyway – so I have never seen Corsica from the sea. Long story short, after a couple of glasses of wine over dinner with Patricia and Serge ‘Le Capitaine’, and a rash promise to give it a try, I found myself on the Port at Propriano heading off for a tour of the Valinco Gulf!

We set off slowly out into the bay where there were some gorgeous sailing boats and the odd yacht moored. Apparently the harbour is often fully booked during August, so those arriving on spec sometimes have to drop anchor in the bay, but that didn’t look too dreadful to me!

The sea was as flat as a millpond, so we headed out past ‘les îles des oiseaux’ as it’s known – a collection of rocks in the middle of the sea where the seagulls and cormorants perch waiting for dinner. There weren’t many this morning, so perhaps they were all sunbathing somewhere else.

Our first stop was planned for Campomoro which is a beautiful sheltered bay. En route, we passed Portigliolo where the Rizzanese river usually joins the sea, but each year with the change of winds and tides, the estuary shifts and now it seems to have formed a huge lake. I was amazed to saw a horse and rider swimming with a dog through the surf, but we were a bit far for a decent photo.

We came alongside a little fishing boat. Apparently, Hervé and ‘Le Capitaine’ often fish together so he was happy to show off his catch. I was slightly more disturbed when he showed off his lunch which was fresh bread and saussison all washed down with a couple of bottles of chilled Rose, so I found myself praying that he’d make it back in one piece!

It’s here that we saw the strange penguin shaped rock which as you continue eerily turns into an almost exactly the shape of Corsica. Weird! As we rounded the next outcrop of rocks, we could see the huge tower of Campomoro sitting above the bay. The water here is exceptionally calm and there were boats everywhere. We stopped for a while near the fish nursery. They farm Loup (bass) here so it attracts dolphins as there is always a steady supply of food. We stayed a while in case we caught a glimpse, but no luck so we decided to press on and try again later.

Next on our agenda was the ‘Tapis d’Orient’ which is an area where the sea is an amazing emerald green colour and so clear that you can see the sea bed even at depths of 5-10 metres. The sun was shining on the surface giving the impression of a mirror. It was absolutely amazing.

The next creek along is called Aguila which takes it’s name from the French ‘Aiguille’ meaning needle. This inlet is almost invisible from the sea and had it not been for the masts of the sailing boats above the rocks, I would have thought we were on a collision course! The entrance in very narrow and then it opens up like the eye of a needle, hence the name.

The sea here was so green, it was incredible and even the photos don’t do justice to the vibrancy of the colours and the reflections of the sun on the water. All too soon we were on our way, heading south again towards Conca.

This stretch of coastline is incredibly rugged like most of the west coast, and we passed lots of tiny ‘islands’ in the middle of the open sea, so I was glad that Serge - ‘Le Capitaine’ - is an excellent navigator and that Patricia has the eyes of a hawk as some of the rocks are so close to the surface and yet almost invisible. Eek! Conca is another creek hidden from view by the rugged coastline, but what a glorious spot.

The bay was filled with sailing boats of all shapes and sizes, and there is a little beach at the end. The water was more turquoise here – perhaps because the bay is larger – but still so clear that you can see the bottom even though we’d dropped anchor at about 9 metres. We watched as a group of canoeists arrived, hugging the shore. This area is renowned for the amazing rock formations such as a giant turtle and further south a bear and a gorilla or wild boar depending on your imagination.

Patricia had packed a picnic of ham and cheese sandwiches which we ate on the boat before sharing the leftovers with the fishes. When she first suggested feeding the fish, I thought she was mad as I looked over the side and there was not a fish to be seen, but a few crumbs dropped overboard, and there was soon a whole school of Oblade (similar to bream) leaping and diving behind the boat. That has to be one of the highlights of my day!

The coastline here is fascinating, as is the people watching. As we were leaving Conca we spotted a man who was exactly the same colour brown as his wooden boat! There are so many little creeks and coves that we hugged the coastline for a while looking at the variety of boats on the water, from tiny old fishing boats to luxury yachts and even one that reminded me of something you’d see in Asia or India!

Apparently, the darker sections of rock are where the water still washes over in wind, and the lighter sections remain dry for the most part, so now I know that if I am ever shipwrecked in one of these coves, I need to make camp on a pale bit of rock where there is vegetation growing! Here again the bays are very shallow and I was intrigued by the seabed as well as the rugged rocks of all shapes and sizes.

We managed to get really close to the land and this one section was particularly impressive as the rocks have formed a natural barrier in the sea which is quite low so you can see both sides at the same time. A beautiful ‘voilier’ passed at just the right moment for me to catch him in the gap so I was delighted!!

We passed by the Senetosa lighthouse and Genoese tower and out into the open sea again heading for Cala di Longa. This is where most of the excursions stop so people can swim and picnic before heading back in the evenings, and we came across the boat that had been parked next to us in the port that morning.

This is also where the double headed rock of the polar bear and Gorilla/Wild boar juts out into the sea. For me, there was no question that the head on the right was a Gorilla, but there was a lively discussion on board as not everyone was in agreement! Like clouds, each person sees something different which is one of the pleasures.

It was difficult to keep track of all the little creeks so when ‘Le Capitaine’ said he would take us to his favourite, I stupidly forgot to ask what it was called! It was a tiny little inlet with a few impressive boats who’d bagged the prime spots. Next to us was one displaying the English flag so I got a bit excited but they turned out to be French. It was here that we saw a tiny pink jellyfish so we couldn’t swim as planned, but it was actually nice to just sit and watch it glide effortlessly through the water.

After a quick view of Tizzano, Mortoli and the Plage d’Argent (not sure if that is because of the silver colour of the sand or the amount of money you need to stay there!), we found ourselves in the bay of Roccapina. This is one of my favourite spots for swimming although the water is some of the saltiest I have ever had the misfortune to accidentally swallow!

The water was clear and turquoise like you see on the postcards for the Caribbean, but hardly a ripple. The beach was busier than the others we’d seen, but the setting is stunning and there is access by road to this one, so that’s really no surprise. We swam at a depth of 4 metres and Serge gave me a shell from the sea bed to keep as a souvenir.

Apparently, just about 200-300m walk from the main parking area for the bay of Roccapina is the access to another stretch of beach behind the tower. This was much quieter as you’d never know it was there from the land, but the sea was also a bit rougher so I was glad we’d stopped where we did.

Just a little further along is Mortoli – an immense private Domaine which is closely guarded for those who like a bit of privacy. The boats moored here are huge and I can’t begin to imagine how much they must have cost. The highlight at Mortoli was seeing some people feeding a paddling of ducks from the back of their boat. It was also educational as I had no idea a group of ducks on the water is called a paddling!

After a quick visit to the port side of Tizzano, and a race with a wind powered catamaran that managed to keep up with out motorboat for a good distance, we headed back to Campomoro to see if Flipper would put in an appearance.

Once the engine stopped, the sun was almost too hot to bear, even at 7pm, but it was so calm and peaceful just bobbing along with the water. We watched two fishermen just at the very limit of the fishery taking advantage of any escapees and even tried singing. Apparently, the last time Serge and Patricia were here with guests, they waited for ages and the little boy got quite upset that he didn’t see a dolphin, so they started singing the Flipper theme tune and the dolphins arrived and even swam along side the boat as they left the bay. We gave it our best shot, but I suspect there were too many people (or my singing put them off), so in the end we called it a day and headed home.

We sat on the front of the boat as ‘Le Capitaine’ put his foot to the floor and we shot across the bay. It was thrilling and terrifying in equal measures! We saw their house from the water and cruised alongside ‘their’ beach which was a pretty little cove with sun and shade. I hadn’t realised it was so close to the Plage de Campitello, but then I have only ever visited by road before.

So having expected a short trip round the bay at 9am, I finally found myself back on the dock at nearly 9pm having seen some of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. No photos will ever recreate the vibrant colours of nature and it has to be seen to be believed. I wouldn’t say that I am completely cured of my boat phobia, but it’s a step in the right direction, so thanks again to Patricia and of course ‘Le Capitaine’ for a truly unforgettable day!

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