Wednesday, 30 September 2009


The best thing about Pianottoli-Caldarello is that the most amazing collection of beaches and coves which are tucked away behind the little village out of sight.

Being the slick travel professional that I am, I’d set out without a map and with only sketchy directions (i.e. I’d seen the word ‘mer’ on one of the signposts!), so I turned off just after the Spar and headed down towards the port, thinking that the beach would be nearby. The port area looked more like a lake, and after surprising some Germans who’d spent the night in their campervan and weren’t expecting to see me taking photos when they opened their curtains, I came to the conclusion that I was in the wrong place.

From where I’d parked, I could see a hotel on the little bit of beach opposite but I knew from postcards that there is a tower on the beach at Pianottoli so I carried on, on the basis that there were signs for snack bars and restaurants, so there had to be something further on worth seeing. A combination of luck and judgment brought me to the parking area of San Giovanni which is part of the Bouches de Bonifacio nature reserve. I could see the tower in the distance, so I set off on foot and after a couple of false starts, found myself on the beach I was looking for.

There wasn’t a soul on the beach and the water was so still that it hardly seemed to ripple as the water lapped the shore. I took off my trusty flipflips and walked through the water to the strange trees growing in the sand. It wasn’t long before I noticed that the water was actually full of tiny fishes so I stood still and sure enough they were soon swimming between my feet. I caught a glimpse of some larger ones that would have been delicious on the barbeque, but as the only option was to catch them in my hands and take them back to the car in my pockets, I decided to leave them alone!

Pianottoli has a network of little paths backing the beach that lead through undergrowth to other coves, and as I had plenty of time and didn’t fancy lying on the beach all day, I decided to explore. I retraced my steps almost to the parking area and followed the worn footpath behind the sign reminding visitors that fishing for sea urchins is strictly forbidden between 30 April and 1 November. Before long I was walking between wetlands and I was beginning to think that I should head back, when the path opened up on the most beautiful stretch of sand.

The water was so inviting but I hadn’t brought my beach bag with me (clever!) so I took my flipflops off and paddled my feet. This beach is basically a collection of coves, each one like a miniature swimming pool with a shallow edge and then a deeper section where the sand shelves quite steeply so it wasn’t long before my clothes were wet as well as my feet...

There still wasn’t anyone to be seen on the beach which was amazing considering the weather – 29 degrees and just a light breeze, so I wandered further and further exploring the rocks and creeks. The sand underfoot changed from the fine white sand where I’d emerged from the path, to a coarser grain sand, and as I was pondering how far I’d walked I was reminded how close Pianottoli is to Figari airport as the CCM flight from Nice came in to land and I was able to wave a cheery welcome to the passengers on board.

I’d reached a natural barrier in the beach which was too deep to cross fully clothed, and too rocky to climb over barefoot, which was when I realised I had no idea where I’d left my flipflops.

I retraced my steps worried that I would have to pick my way through the paths to the parking area barefoot, and then break out my emergency back up flipflops (I always carry a spare pair in the car!) when I noticed something gently bobbing in the water. Yes, amazingly my flipflops were floating in one of the little creeks! Perhaps next time I should put my rocks shoes on when I get out of the car...

Santa Guilia

The plan was to go to Rondinara Plage as it is reputed to be one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. However, after a long and tortuous drive along a road full of potholes (one that was large enough to be a well or a tunnel to Australia!), we were confronted with a barrier and a demand for 3.50€ for parking and very quickly decided to head to Santa Guilia instead!

I love Santa Guilia. Coming from Propriano I normally arrive from the north and arrive at the port end. This time as we were was approaching from the south, we ended up at the beach end where I was relieved to find that the parking was free and there were plenty of spaces – hurrah! I also discovered that there is a little market just behind the beach and loungers and caribbean style parasols for hire.

The beach this side had a bit of seaweed on it – perhaps because it was out of season as the beaches are cleaned during the summer, so I headed to the port area. I was glad I’d parked the other side as the road leading down to the port is virtually completely taken up by privately owned parking spaces, so the small free area right in front of the beach was packed.

From here, there is access to two distinctly different beaches. To the left is a sandy beach with a paillote (snack bar) right on the sand serving salads, pizzas, pannini and drinks. The sand here is very fine and the water shallow, and an amazing turquoise blue, so there were lots of families with small children in the water.

To the right is the main beach area and pontoons for the colourful fishing boats and small motorboats. The Restaurant de la Plage lives up to its name sitting directly on the sand. They offer loungers for hire and cocktails on the sand as well as delicious smelling lunches and dinners with a view to die for...


What I like about Palombaggia is that firstly, it’s not miles and miles from anywhere like some of the other beaches (unless you miss the huge great sign and arrow like I did), and there are plenty of places to park amongst the pine trees backing the beach which means that even when it’s boiling hot like today, the car stays nice and cool while you’re roasting yourself on the fine white sands…

Palombaggia is known as one of the most beautiful beaches on the island and it is easy to why as soon as you set foot on the sand. For me what sets it apart from the other beaches are the colours; deep red rocks, fine white/golden sands, absolutely amazing turquoise blue waters all backed by pines and maquis. I was surprised that the rocks didn’t seem to affect the colour of the water and I ended up taking just as many photos of the rocks as the beach!

I wandered past a couple of beach restaurants which were offering simple, delicious sounding dishes at reasonable prices when you consider the location, and was really tempted by the gambas but I managed to restrain myself as I'd already eaten. There were also loungers and pedalos for hire.

From here, I clambered up over the red rocks that form a natural barrier between two huge crescents of beach. Incredibly, there seemed to be trees growing out of the rocks and sand, but the sun was in the wrong place for the shot I really wanted – maybe next time. I stood on top and realized that the crescents are virtually identical. I wonder why I have never noticed that before. Anyway, it was here that I first discovered how they get jetskis into the water – they say you learn something new every day!

I know it’s the end of September, but I was still surprised that the beach wasn’t busier given the weather – 30 degrees and hardly a cloud in the sky. Normally there is a that ‘deep breath’ moment when you go from the hot beach into the relatively cool water, but the sea was so warm that I just waded out, hardly noticing any change in temperature at all.

I can imagine that Palombaggia is really popular in the peak season so I’d perhaps ferret out the quieter spots during July and August, but at this time of year it was just perfect. The colour of the water was the most amazing I think I have ever seen, and something I’ll remember for a very long time.

Walking in Corsica - Filitosa (Prehistoric Site)

What a glorious day – 30 degrees, bright blue sky and lots of sun, so we decided to make the most of it and squeeze in a late afternoon walk.

It was too hot for hiking up the chemin de Fozzano and I didn’t think my blisters could stand it (I stupidly put my walking shoes in the washing machine and realised that it was only the dirt holding them together!), so we decided to do a more leisurely walk around Filitosa. As often happens, we were greeted by a friendly member of the Cesari family – the founders – who was happy to chat to us about this important historic site.

This one is an easy walk for all the family and takes about an hour to see the site if you don’t dawdle. You can buy a guide to the site for 4€, but as we’d been before and knew that there were multi-lingual information points along the way, we didn’t bother.

The first menhir is Filitosa V and in my opinion, one of the most impressive. It is accompanied by what looks like a huge stone sarcophagus, but I’m not sure it is really because whoever would have been inside would have had to curl up like the assistant in the ‘lady sawn in half’ magic trick! We continued on, stopping only to take some photos of the pretty pink cyclamen until we reached the first information point.

The setting is so beautiful and peaceful, and from the lookout point it is easy to see why this site was chosen as you can see for miles. The first ‘dwelling’ is is actually just a tafoni style shelter (tafoni are rocks eroded and shaped over time by the wind), and on to the more structured settlements. These buildings were surrounded by Menhirs which are standing stones with faces and sometimes more detailed carvings such as limbs, weapons and even capes.

There are a couple of what presumably were early homes and I was tempted to go inside, but it was tiny and my slight claustrophobia reared its head. It was amazing how cool it was inside compared to the ambient temperature.

We could see the main site down below, so we made our way carefully down the hill, all the time regretting that we’d have to climb back up again, but actually it looks like the path has been improved since my last visit as it was easier and more structured. The smell was heavenly as we brushed past the wild mint and basil which was sprouting all over the place.

The lower site consists of 5 Menhirs standing is a semi-circle facing outwards as though they are warning off intruders. They are very different in terms of size and detailing and we wondered if perhaps they were sculpted by people with different skill sets. The Menhir above is the most detailed. One of the great things about most historic sites in France is that there are no barriers and you can approach and touch the exhibits which I love. It was amazing to think how these people with very few tools had sculpted and erected these statues in granite – we have enough trouble getting a granite worktop in place!!

There is a third site behind the five menhirs which is where you can see the ‘dinosaur’. I think that rock formations are like clouds in that everyone sees something different depending on your psyche. I first saw a tortoise and then the face of an old man in profile with bouffant curly hair and a Mr Punch chin.

We walked all round and eventually spotted what we thought was perhaps the dinosaur, but I spotted a big snake so I was far more excited in chasing him across the rocks trying to take a photo, before he got fed up and slithered into his hidey-hole under the rocks

We walked back down towards the main site with the sun setting fast, and took a quick tour of the museum before heading home. The museum is home to 3 more menhirs, one with a horn!! One of them is exceptional for the detail of his arm and hand, but I hadn’t noticed it until I was standing slightly to the right of it.

We looked at all the artifacts that had been discovered on the site but the weird thing is that where I’d been keen to touch all the other menhirs, I had a distinct aversion to these and became increasingly freaked out by them!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Man the lifeboats!

One of my walking buddies is going home on Thursday, so yesterday we decided to reward ourselves with a coffee on the port after a circuit of the Chemin des Plages. We weren’t sure whether to go to ‘Le Napoleon’ or ‘Le Royal’ – a choice that was made harder now that they have both been redecorated and I can’t tell which is which!

We settled into ‘Le Royal’ (or perhaps it was the Napoleon...) for a gossip and a big dose of caffeine when a siren went off. No one took much notice until it happened again a few minutes later. Eventually, a couple of the port staff ran towards the lifeboat and jumped on, but it still didn’t go anywhere. We were convinced it was a training drill until a bloke in an apron came running from one of the restaurants and jumped on board. Obviously he had to finish the crêpe order before he could embark on his life saving mission!!

By now, I was slightly concerned that someone was in real danger and not a lot was happening, but after a quick round of kissing each other hello (presumably there might not be time later), they shot across the bay whilst the big lifeboat was performing a complicated 54 point turn to get out of the port. Surely whoever allocated parking should give the coastguard one nearer to the entrance of the port. I shall have to make some new placards to protest that!

Moral of the story folks, always wear your waterwings just in case it’s lunchtime and the lifeboat men are busy cooking, or the ones who used it before didn’t park it properly!!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Corsican logic - slightly skewed...

Today saw me bombing along the road from Pianottoli-Calderello to Sartène at slightly more that the legal speed limit, with the wind in my hair and a dodgy 70’s disco anthems CD blaring out in the sunshine. I thought I’d got lucky when the handsome bloke in an ongoing car flashed his lights at me, but all became clear when I spotted the two ‘flics’ (motorbike policemen) hidden behind the hedge ready to pounce.

Luckily I’d slowed to a sensible speed which gave me more time for my mind to wander on the way home and I was reminded of another instance of ‘Corsican logic’ that occurred last year – the names in this one have been changed to protect the guilty.

I was chatting to – let’s call him Jim – who was very upset because his best friend had been fined and got some points on his licence for speeding on the ‘A Balanina’ in north Corsica. This is a very long straight stretch of road so it’s tempting to put your foot down, but it’s also very dangerous which is why there are nearly always ‘flics’ ready to make up their quota of fines. Apparently, his friend – lets call him Jeff – was very miffed as he has a very responsible job and really shouldn’t have blotted his copy book. You can see how Jeff would be upset, but apparently his wrath was aimed not at the policemen for stopping him, or himself for being caught but at ‘Les Continentaux’ (the French tourists coming the other way) who should have flashed their lights to let him know the police were there!

You can’t really argue with logic like that...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Restaurant Chez Charlot, Viggianello

Viggianello is a little village of the blue shirt and beret variety, not far from Propriano – think the set for ‘Allo, ‘Allo and you’re not far off! As you often find in these little out of the way spots, the church is enormous for the size of the village, but the most amazing thing about Viggianello is the setting.

We decided to have lunch at Chez Charlot which has staked its claim on the best spot from which to admire the view. From here, you can see the whole of the Valinco bay, and it’s difficult to know whether the view is better during the day when you can see Propriano and the sailing boats weaving too and fro, or at night with the harbour lights twinkling in the distance.

We went for the set menu at 19€ including a pichet of wine, but even then I found it tricky to choose! There was a choice of 8 starters which all sounded mouthwatering, and about the same number of main courses. In the end I plumped for the Melon au Cap Corse (melon which has been hollowed out and filled with Cap Corse, a local liqueur), followed by the Brochettes de Veau avec beignets de Courgettes (skewers of free range veal with tomatos served with Courgette fritters).

The set menu offers cheese and fruit as opposed to a dessert, but of course you can always add that on. We decided to be good as it was lunchtime, and I was amazed when we were given a good hunk of 3 or 4 local cheeses, what tasted like home-made fig jam and a whole basket of fruits which included orange, apples, kiwi, plums and black Muscat grapes which are my favourite! Great value and really tasty.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Lunch at Villa Carpe Diem

It has been a week of eating out and today was no exception, as I’d been invited for lunch with some friends at their villa across the bay, Carpe Diem.

Serge is a keen fisherman, and he’d prepared for us a mighty feast starting with fish soup made from fishes he’d caught, served with home made rouille (garlic mayonnaise) made by Patricia. To properly appreciate fish soup, you rub a clove of raw garlic onto toast, cover it with rouille and grated cheese and then pour over the hot fish soup. It sounds a bit odd until you’ve tried it, but it is absolutely delicious.

Patricia & Edwina (the men were talking gadgets by then!)

The main course was squid stuffed with scallops, prawns and spinach cooked in a tasty tomato sauce and served with rice. The ‘calamars’ were huge and I was worried I wouldn’t get through all of mine, but I made a valiant effort and ended with a clean plate like everyone else! There was some slight amusement when Patricia warned us to look out for the cotton she’d used to seal the squid and I was convinced I’d eaten mine along with the squid, but luckily it was still there masquerading as some rice!!

Patricia is very keen on organic produce and you know you’ll always eat well at their table because nearly everything is grown in their garden or caught by ‘Le Capitaine’. We finished with a delicious gateau, figs from the garden and a home made limoncello digestif. Patricia also has pineapple and banana trees in her garden, but we were too late in the season for those.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Crêperie 'Le Bellevue', Propriano

With two staff members off this week, my prospects for a day off were slim, so we decided to make the most of a quick trip into town and have lunch on the port.

We were feeling quite naughty so we headed for the Bellevue where their speciality is crêpes, cooked to order in the open air – yum! They actually offer a set menu for 10 euros which includes a savoury crepe to start followed by a sweet crêpe and bizarrely (for Corsica anyway) all washed down with a bowl of cider!

I went for the Crêpe Berger to start which was Corsican ham, goats cheese and tomato which was absolutely delicious. The sweet crêpe was Nutella and although the crêpe itself was cooked to perfection, there was too much filling and it was too sweet for me. Of course, I ate it anyway!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Vasques de Solenzara (natural rock pools)

The Vasques de Solenzara are a collection of rocks pools in the Solenzara River, separated in part by round white rocks and a series of small waterfalls.

It was hard to imagine that we were actually in the heart of the mountains here. The first section we came to even had a sandy beach, but there were quite a few people swimming, sunbathing and snoozing in the shade of the huge parasol pines that line the banks of the river, so we decided to continue a bit further.

We found the most amazing swimming spot with turquoise green water, and I was seriously tempted to jump right in, but it was incredibly deep and I could see an accident just waiting to happen so we decided to carry on a little further.

Soon after we spotted the perfect place which was a shallow pool, (just about waist height at its deepest point) where we could just bask in the water and admire the view. I wanted to walk upstream a little further, but it was almost impossible to walk on the big round rocks without fear of breaking an ankle, so in the end I had to admit defeat.

It wasn’t long before Guillaume found a rock to jump off giving us all some heart stopping moments, but the water was deep enough with sand on the bottom so that he couldn’t come to any real harm.

We got a couple of fabulous action shots before it got too hot and we had to call it a day. I shall definitely be back as this was a wonderful spot.

Cascades de Polischellu (waterfall)

I came across the Cascades de Polischellu whilst I was updating the ‘Things to see and do’ section of the directCorsica website and have been desperate to visit ever since. I’d looked up photos on the internet so I had very high expectations and I wasn’t disappointed as it was absolutely stunning.

We only had sketchy directions to find the place, but we were quietly confident. We found the bridge and path leading up so we assumed we were on the right track. We headed up into the maquis and found a fabulous panorama of the Bavella Massif, but no waterfall.

We’d wandered away from the banks of the river so headed down to where we could hear people laughing and shouting, and eventually came out just before the waterfall.

What we should have done is taken the path leading down on the left hand side of the bridge (stand with the parking area behind you and to the left), and we could have waded upstream in less than half the time!

The water was such an amazing colour – deep emerald green, that I was sure it wouldn’t reproduce as vividly on the photos. We’d been worried when we’d heard lots of people from above that the place would be packed, but once we arrived we realised that there are a whole series of cascades and most people were continuing on up, so we had the place to ourselves.

We waded across the river; bags, 5 year old and all, and found ourselves some big flat rocks with a superb view of the falls. We took a quick dip, but the water was glacial so we sat on the rocks to dry off in the sun. It wasn’t long before some canyoners arrived.

Canyoning is an absolutely mad sport or perhaps a unique way to commit Hari Kari depending on the level of your adrenaline addiction! It is basically an adventure sport that involves hiking, wading, swimming and rock climbing through canyons and often over waterfalls, and looks absolutely terrifying. The first canyoners were a couple who literally leapt into the flow of the top waterfall, slid down into the natural pool between the two, and then jumped into the main pool. I could hardly watch was they didn’t have any safety gear and the descent is deceptively steep.

The next batch were clearly an organised group with a mixed bag of participants from about 10 years through to 40’s-50’s. The little ones went down first – head first – and shot off the end of the middle pool and down into the main pool. After that, the instructors laid themselves across the path of the river to block the flow.

We couldn’t work out why until they moved and we realised that they’d been waiting for the water to back up so the waterfall was more forceful and the bigger ones were literally shot down the rocks into the big pool with their arms and legs akimbo! The canyoning drew a crowd of spectators as it was seriously impressive, so after a picnic lunch on the rocks and a quick chat with a neighbour we bumped into (small world), we decided to head back down river and see if we could find another spot.

Just next to the bridge where we’d started, we found this lovely pool but it was too deep for a little one so we decided to head back to the car. This has to be one of the most impressive places I have visited in Corsica and my friend Suzy tell me that Polischellu can be walked/swam/waded/climbed up to a 17th vasque/waterfall but it is quite hairy in parts, especially as you come back down - eek!