Monday, 29 March 2010

Cupabia beach

Driving in Corsica at this time of year is a real pleasure; virtually no one on the roads and masses of colourful wild flowers lining the roadside. I even had a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ moment when I came across this tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere!

It’s not often that I find myself at Cupabia at this time of year because a) there is normally a herd of cows grazing on the beach and I am terrified of cows, and b) did I mention the cows?

Luckily today they were obviously off on their Easter hols as I had the beach all to myself except for a little fishing boat laying their nets in the bay.

Cupabia is basically a collection of fine white sand dunes and, to quote the film, the river runs through it. There is a little estuary where the river meets the sea, and like at Casabianca, the course of the river had managed to cut a channel in the dune that resembled a natural harbour.

The water was amazingly clear and still, so the reflections were virtually undisturbed by ripples, so of course, it wasn’t long before I had wet feet where I was so busy looking at the scenery and not watching the waves from the other side! It probably wasn’t one of my smartest ideas to wear my trainers - wet sand and black suede isn’t generally one of those combinations that work well together.

Despite the ‘ciel voile’, it was amazingly warm and on the way back to the car I amused myself by looking at all the tiny plants that seem to spring up from nowhere in the middle of the sand. At this time of year the back of the beach is a carpet of tiny pink flowers, but I also found miniature succulents and some gorgeous tiny yellow plants.

Word of the Day...

Today I learnt a new word – FOUINE – while discussing chicken rearing with the neighbours! At first I thought it was a weasel, but after checking with Jean-Michel (and then google) it seems that although they come from the weasel family, they are actually cat sized weasels found across Europe - eek!

However, the story brought back a fond memory of when I was a child and was known for some considerable time as Claire Weasel because one of my siblings couldn’t pronounce Claire Louise Hall. I wasn’t terribly amused at the time but today it brought a smile to my face!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Rameaux - Palm Sunday

In Corsica, you can often see people in the cafés and restaurants looking like they have just stepped off the set of ‘The Sopranos’ but even I was a bit shocked to see the priest giving mass in dark glasses!

Not so much ‘Bless me Father’ but ‘Bless me Godfather’!

Although I’m not particularly religious, I am fascinated by all religions, and living in Corsica gives me the opportunity to see it all up close and personal. I’ve never really thought much about Palm Sunday , but when I received this photo from Patricia, it prompted me to find out a bit more.

The feast commemorates an event mentioned by all four Gospels and marks the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in the days before his Passion (crucifixion). It is called Palm Sunday because apparently palm leaves were used to wave him through. In Corsica in the week leading up to ‘RAMEAUX’ we see dried palms being woven into crosses and intricate designs, which are then blessed by the priest. Tiny crosses made with a single palm frond are called ‘crucetta’ and can also be found in houses and also hanging from the rear view mirrors of cars.

These mini works of art are the kept until the following year to bring good luck, and are then burned in churches to be used as the source of ashes used in the Ash Wednesday service. Fascinating stuff.

Sunset & Sea Spray

Yesterday was bright and sunny, but a bit gusty, so it produced the most amazing sunset. Everything seems to have been bathed in a reddish glow, and if you view the photo full size, you can actually see the spray blowing onto the rocks at Cappiciolo!

Fortunately, today normal service was resumed, and I was able to work outside on the terrace with my laptop (and a dab sun cream to stop my nose from burning!)

Thursday, 25 March 2010


Despite eating at the restaurant ‘A Marinasca’ at a nearby campsite (sounds slightly dodgy but what an amazing place!), it has actually been about 4-5 years since I was last at the beach at Portigliolo.

It’s funny how some beaches seem to be more prone to wind and Portigliolo is one where there is often a breeze, hence the sailing and windsurfing school on the shore. However, today the water was as calm as a millpond and the colour was just incredible.

Situated right on the headland with a terrace overlooking the shallow sandy crescent is the Restaurant ‘Le Robinson’. I wasn’t expecting it to be open at this time of year, but the sound of chatting and children playing caught my attention and I realised it was probably the family enjoying a beach barbecue before the start of the season.

The sand here is much paler than at neighbouring Propriano and I discovered that the beach is actually protected as it is home to the ‘Buglosse Crepue, a rare flower indigenous to Corsica and Sardinia, and a community of small soft water tortoises (Cistude d’Europe) that are known to breed here. Ahhh!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Val d'Ese and the ski station

Yesterday I was sent some ancient photos of Propriano which were incredible and I wanted to try to re-create them for a ‘before and after’ blog, so this morning saw me out and about on the port bright and early.

Unfortunately, the sun was in the wrong place for the shot I wanted, but I did get a lovely shot of the coloured buildings lining the main street. At this time of year the cafés are open so I decided to make the most of the glorious weather and have a quick coffee in the sunshine.

So imagine yourself on an island like Corsica where the beaches are empty, it’s already 16 degrees at 9am and you have a day off. What would you do? That’s right, I decided to go skiing!!

I’ve never been to the Val d’Ese ski station before, so it was quite an adventure. We passed Bastelica, famous across the island for the charcuterie, and nearly made some of our own when a pig leapt out in front of the car with its babies. Fortunately there was no traffic so I just stopped in the middle of the road to take a quick photo.

The road from Bastelica is long and windy, but very picturesque, so we stopped a couple of times to take photos. It’s amazing how quickly the temperature drops and I was glad I’d brought some proper ski clobber to put over my t-shirt.

It was quite surprising to arrive at the parking area and discover that the ski station itself is basically a shed! That said, as it was Wednesday (no school in France) so there were a fair few people skiing with the kids. As well as the hut selling tickets for the chair lift, there was also a hire shop for skis and raquettes (snow shoes) as well as other ski equipment.

As always seems to happen in Corsica, I hadn’t even finished putting on my new super-duper walking boots when I bumped into a friend from the Valinco! I have a serious affliction whereby in any given set of circumstances, I can always be relied on to have a freak accident, so we decided not to ski, but instead to follow the walking trail.

This area is actually very dangerous for walkers and it’s always best to take a guide even if you’re not going far. This is because it’s covered in Pozzines which are small holes, often filled with water, like little ponds under the snow.

The top layer of snow melts as the air temperature rises (9 degrees may not seem like much, but it’s still warmer than freezing point!), but what you can’t see is that the water underneath is melting the snow from below, so what you end up with are very thin layers of snow covering holes full of icy water – lethal!

We decided to be sensible and follow the snow shoe tracks on the basis that – in theory at least – someone had passed that way before and it should be safe. Of course it wasn’t long before we were distracted by the pretty waterfalls and the amazing colours of the river, and had wandered ‘off-piste’.

Fortunately this time it wasn’t me who got their foot stuck in a hole – hurrah! – although I did almost get mown down by someone practicing their luge technique (unsuccessfully) for the next winter Olympics!

Amazingly, given the size of the ski station, there is a little café at the top where you can sit and top up your tan and maybe indulge in a Figatellu sandwich, but as it was a bit overcast today, it was too cold to sit still for long, and we decided to head back down to the coast. What a fab day!

Tolla & the Barrage de Tolla

As a slight deviation from our trip up to the Val d’Ese, we decided to stop at Tolla on the way back. I have never been to Tolla, but it turns out that it is a pretty little village just on the banks of another man-made lake (see l’Ospedale).

The temperature change was amazing – 9 degrees at the ski station and not 30 minutes away nearly 20, phew! Apparently there is a marked trail right around the edge of the lake which must be spectacular in the summer. We didn’t have time for that today, but the dam itself is a feat of modern engineering that you can cross on foot so we decided to be nosy.

I think this was one of my favourite sights of the day! Pretty much says all you need to know about swimming in this part of the lake! I’m not very good with heights, and the dam itself is HIGH, but it was so impressive that I had to get near enough to the edge to snap the sheer scale of it.

Click to view full size and see the steps down. This is so high I couldn’t take the top and the bottom in one photo even at a distance.

The vegetation in this area is thick with briar which at this time of year is full of white and pale pink flowers. Apparently this is one of the best woods for pipe-making as the trunk often deforms naturally into the shape of a pipe.

Briarwood was discovered to be the best material for pipes, because of its cool smoking quality and its durability. Prior to briar pipes, the most popular materials were clay and any other type of hardwood, such as Cherry-wood. Clay pipes were too fragile and broke easily, and non-briar pipes ended up in smoke along with the tobacco smoked in them. Briar was discovered around the 1850's and it has remained the most popular wood for pipe making ever since.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Plage du Phare

The Plage du Lido and Plage du Phare are basically two ends of the same beach. I tend to favour the Lido end because it’s so easy to step straight from the parking area onto the beach, but today I fancied a change.

We can see the lighthouse from where we live, but I have never actually visited, so having parked just along from the U Fanale restaurant, I decided to explore. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised that as part of the development of the port, the lighthouse has now been closed off to the public, so I had to get creative!

After some recent wind, the sand had obligingly stacked up against the retaining wall at the far end, so I decided to climb up and walk along so that I could photograph the other side. Of course, those who know me will have realised this was a mistake as I am terrified of heights!

I was terrified I would be blown off the wall and surely fall to my death, which is ridiculous as sadly I had enough ballast to keep me grounded in the (very) slight breeze! I made it about half way before I was crawling along clinging to the wall, and realised that I should just give up! Next time, I shall just stay on the sand...

Friday, 19 March 2010

Casabianca Beach

Today was one of those days that felt more like June than mid-March – it was so clear that you could see for miles and the colours were just amazing.

When I was at Porto Pollo a few days ago, I could see right across the bay and it looked like the estuary at the Plage Casabianca had actually closed up.

Each year the course of the river changes according to the tides and the winds which makes for some beautiful ponds and sand dunes. As it turns out, the river had carved a channel through the dunes making the shape of a natural harbour with what looked like an island of sand between the river and the sea.

Along the banks of the river, the water had carved some interesting shapes and the birds had taken up residence in what they clearly thought was their new reserve! The river was quite full so there was no way across to the opposite side without wading and I wasn’t equipped for that!

Coming from the other direction you can walk all the way from the soft pale crescent at Portigliolo to the huge golden dunes of Propriano, but walking in the thick soft sand is more of a workout than walking on packed earth or concrete, so it wasn’t long before I decided that this was definitely one for another day!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

La Miséricorde

Well, they say that you learn something new every day, and today was no exception. I’d be warned that it was ‘La Miséricorde’ in Propriano this week which means that lots of shops and businesses would be closed. Of course I’d completely forgotten until I came across the procession in the town this morning, and it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t actually know what ‘La Misericorde’ was!

Apparently our church in Propriano is actually called ‘Notre-Dame de la Miséricorde’ – have I been living in a cave? How did I not know that? Anyway, it turns out that this is one of the main religious ceremonies celebrated each year such as the Catenacciu at Sartène and basically a Saint’s day for the town. Religious fervour is still very strong in the region, and I was surprised by the large following of the precession as it made its way through the town back to the church.

The name seems to derive from the Latin ‘misericordia’ (meaning Mercy) and a quick Google search also through up some interesting facts. In medieval times a misericorde was a long, narrow knife used to deliver the death stroke (the mercy stroke, hence the name of the blade) to a seriously wounded knight. It also lends its name to narrow wooden ledges or folding seats known as mercy seats which can be found in churches to give relief to those who have to stand for long periods of prayer. Basically Mercy seems to be the theme and I can’t think of a better saint to celebrate than our Lady of Mercy.

Bacon and Red Pesto Pasta

After being out in the sunshine nearly all day, I needed something quick to put together for dinner, so I opted for Bacon and Red Pesto Pasta with Courgettes.

For 2 people;
- 1 large onion roughly chopped
- 3 medium/ large mushrooms roughly chopped
- Approx. 100g bacon chopped
- 4/5 teaspoons of red pesto according to taste
- Two portions of pasta
- Parmesan to garnish

Lightly dry fry the bacon but don’t crisp, add the onion and mushrooms and soften. Keep over a low heat and cook the pasta. Add 2-3 teaspoons of red pesto to the sauce and stir. Home-made pesto is best but if you want to cheat (like me!) use a good quality rough chopped pesto. Drain the pasta and stir through 1-2 teaspoons of pesto to the pasta. I served mine with courgettes that I had blanched and then roasted with garlic cheese – yum!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Porto Pollo

Today was an interesting day; I discovered a new beach (which doesn’t happen all that often these days), and also found out that what I thought was a house was actually a church!

Strictly speaking, I did actually know of this beach as I’d seen it before when I was visiting the site of the Marines de Porto Pollo, but I had no idea how to get to it. As it was a beautiful day again today – 18 degrees at 2pm – I decided to go off and explore.

Just before you get to the main village of Porto Pollo, there is a little collection of shops with a café, so I decided to park here and poke about a bit on foot. I knew that sooner or later there would be a little cut through from the road to the beach – there always is! I glanced to the side as I passed the first house and saw a bell which is when I realised it was actually a church.

I walked right round and was amazed that it was no bigger than a single car garage! There was nothing to give the name of the church and a Google search when I got back didn’t throw anything up either. Hopefully one of my Corsican Facebook friends might know.

There was a little path to the left of the church and being a nosy sort I decided to follow it to the end where it opened up onto the most beautiful stretch of sand.

There had been a few waves on the other side of the bay, but amazingly here there was barely a ripple. I walked along towards the village, nosily peering into gardens along the way. People here obviously love their boats as there were lots of buoys and chains anchored to rocks along the way.

Cloud had been forecast for this afternoon but it was so clear that from where I'd settled myself on the sand, I could see right across the bay to Propriano and the Chemin des Plages.

The sun was so warm and there was hardly a sound apart from the water lapping the shore. It was quite soporific, especially as I’d brought my beach bag complete with cushion for my head, but luckily the French now produce a version of ‘Closer’ magazine, so the gossip managed to keep me awake until it was time to go.