Thursday, 30 September 2010

Le Rocher Vacilliant, near Aullène

As the weather has now cooled down a bit after another scorching summer, we can finally start doing some of the mountain walks which are too exposed during the height of season.

I am still suffering from a knee injury, so we decided to play it safe and choose a walk from our book of ‘walks for all the family’ with a difficulty rating of 1. OK, so it’s maybe a bit cowardly, but I didn’t want to get stuck at the top and have to be dragged down the mountain by my ankles!

I am very easily persuaded to excursions of any kind, so as usual, I hadn’t paid much attention to the details of exactly what we were going to do. It came as a bit of a shock when I found out that the Rocher Vacillant is a 50 ton rock perched on top of another so you can climb up onto it and rock it from side to side – eek!

Did I also mention that it’s a climb of 100-150m up to it? No, well that came as a bit of a surprise too!

I wasn’t at all convinced that we could really move such an enormous slab of granite, so I got a bit over excited when Florence tried walking up and down and I could see the gap opening and closing.

The scenery was amazing and although there was some cloud, it sort of added to the moody atmosphere, especially when we discovered the 'Tete de Mort' which is a huge boulder in the form of a skull!

We spent ages taking photos of ourselves with it, but didn’t discover that there was actually a tomb inside until we were on the way back down the track and bumped into someone we knew. It makes you wonder if there was an ancient settlement up here in the middle of nowhere, or whether the dead were brought up especially...

Sanglier (wild boar)

I have only ever seen a sanglier (wild boar) once in Corsica and it was absolutely huge so I was glad I was in a 4x4 at the time! That said, I absolutely love sanglier and as you can’t buy it from the butchers, the only way to get some is from a hunter.

I was always very against hunting when I lived in England, but when you live in Corsica it is a way of life and something you have to learn to accept. Yesterday while I was out walking I was given a huge chunk of sanglier in a carrier bag from the back of a 4x4. I wasn’t even sure which bit of the beast it came from so I had no idea how to cook the damn thing!

After taking advice from my neighbours (and the discovery of a kidney and some ribs), general consensus was that it was a piece of belly, so I marinated it in red wine and herbs for most of the day, and the slow roasted it on a low temperature for about 3 hours in wine, with garlic, rosemary and bay leaves.

Unlike most red meats, sanglier needs to be well cooked all the way through (not pink). The taste is very strong and the texture is actually more like beef than pork- delicious!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A visit to Grasshopper Island... The Mill at Monticello

It was during a recent trip to the Balagne that I found myself trundling down the track to ‘Le Moulin’ wondering once again at the wisdom of low profile tyres for my Corsican adventures, but what a treat awaited me...

As soon as I drew up in front of the gates I was enchanted, and when P & G told me that the house had actually been the setting for the children’s film ‘Grasshopper Island’ my imagination started to run wild!

The film was serialised in several countries and apparently, when the current owners started renting the house for the summer, they had an email from someone in Germany who had loved the series as a child and now in his forties was hoping to make it here one day – how lovely is that!

We went into the house via the terrace at the side which opens straight into the farmhouse style kitchen, and first glance convinced me that there would be more delights to come.

One of the problems with renovating old/character properties is that people can get very carried away which leads to the ‘yellow plastic door handles mixed with flagstone floors’ horrors of another mill I have visited. I was delighted to find that here, a great deal of taste and restraint has been exercised. Every piece of furniture has been hand-picked and seems to have almost become as one with the house. That’s real skill!

I am a huge fan of exposed stone work, but as I am someone who is nearly always chilly (I am the mad woman wearing trousers and a jumper when the tourists are all in shorts and t-shirts!), I was worried that it might be cold in the winter. G assured me that old Corsicans knew what they were doing and the stones actually hold the heat so the house feels quite cool in summer and doesn't lose the heat until the depths of winter when the roaring fire warms them up again!

Whilst I really liked the living room with its unusual iron gallery, it was love at first sight when I got to the first bedroom. I don’t know why, but this room really captured my imagination. I really liked the idea of transforming the original cupboards into built in book cases and it seemed to just sum up the character of the house.

The house is set in about 5 hectares of land which is mostly covered with olive trees which are still harvested and taken to the local co-operative to be turned into oil. The first year, the manager was surprised at how few they had since he had seen the trees which, like this year, were dripping with fruits. The owners had been very selective when collecting the olives, not collecting bruised ones etc., instead of just sending them all to be turned to extra virgin olive oil which is what is normally done. Needless to say they have had more oil in subsequent years!!

The pool has been fenced with a childproof gate so I was a bit worried that there might be a repetition of the incident at Les Hameaux where I had to be rescued by one of my neighbours because I couldn’t get out! Luckily, no such drama today.

We took a tour of the land and saw the train stop – apparently you just step out of the gate and stick your arm out! – before coming across the little bergerie hidden at the far edge of the land.

What a gorgeous little spot P & G have created here. They told me that when they rent the main house out during the summer, they de-camp to the bergerie which has been converted to a little studio.

Again, they have managed to keep and make the most of the original features, working with the original materials to ensure that everything blends seamlessly into the landscape. There is a little garden at the back where they were growing delicious looking tomatoes, and pots of herbs.

The welcome committee of three beautiful if slightly over excited dogs was unleashed and I was treated to lots of tail wagging and leaping about. It wasn’t until they raced off into the grounds that I realised that one of them only had 3 legs, not that it seemed to slow her down at all! It’s no wonder they all looked so happy – I know I would have been equally enthusiastic to be living in such a fabulous place!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Restaurant Chez Doumé, Calvi

There’s always one who wants something different to everyone else (you know who you are!), so having scoured Calvi for a menu with a nice bit of lamb on it, we finally settled on Chez Doumé in the rue Clemenceau which is overlooked by the impressive Eglise Santa Maria.

I have never eaten here before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was absolutely delicious. I chose the set menu for 19.50 euros which had loads of choices including Corsican specialities such as charcuterie (yum) and Sanglier (wild boar in a delicious sauce served with tagliatelli – double yum!).

During the main course, we could see a busker on the steps of the church who proceeded to serenade us with various French and Corsican songs. We were sitting right on the edge so it was a bit loud, but the funniest thing was the baby who screamed every time he walked towards us! I know it’s mean, but once he started his rendition of ‘Help’ by the Beatles (or ‘elp as he was pronouncing it!), we just couldn’t ‘elp thinking of Inspector Cluseau which caused riotous laughter!!

Thanks to Sam who managed to capture the moment on film (I was too embarrassed for once!)

Friday, 24 September 2010


Having been to Calvi so many times, and lived there for a while, it was great to go back with friends who were new to the area and see it through fresh eyes.

Our first excursion was in the evening when we headed out to eat. I was amazed at how many people there were in the narrow cobbled streets because normally by this time of year where we are in the Valinco, it has calmed down considerably, but Calvi seemed to still be buzzing.

The other thing that surprised me was how much things have changed since I visited last. New restaurants and bars seem to have sprung up, and there were lots of people picking over tapas style snacks with their aperitifs.

We finally chose ‘Le Nautique’ on the port as they had a reasonable variety of dishes. They seem to specialise in mussels here where they are sold by the kilo(!), but after stuffing myself on fresh bread and jam earlier in the day, I decided to opt for the Corsica Salad which was all different cured meats and local cheese – yum.

After a delicious dessert of Tarte Tatin – my favourite – and huge profiteroles for the others, we decided to wander along the port and have a good look at the huge yachts. One boat, the Albacora, was lit from below lending the water an eerie glow. Sam was slightly freaked out and convinced that a creature from the deep was going to leap out onto the quay, but fortunately we all escaped without incident!

I was so pleased that I’d brought the big camera out with me. OK, so it does weigh just over a kilo which is a not insignificant weight in your handbag, but it does take fab night shots and I still can’t get over the range of the zoom...

We were so lucky with the weather that it was hard to drag ourselves away from the pool during the day, but eventually we decided that we really ought to do a spot of souvenir shopping in the town.

It wasn’t long though before we found ourselves down on the port, distracted by all the pretty flowers and fabulous photo opportunities.

So after a spot of shopping and some scrummy ice creams (it would have been rude not to!), we decided to head back via the beach before taking on the more serious task of stocking up on the ‘English’ products from the Super U that we just can’t get in Propriano like proper cheddar and McVities digestives!

The water was as flat as a mill pond and I really wasn’t sure the colours would come out as well as we could see them in real life, but I needn’t have worried...

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Villas Ronduli, Calvi

No matter how lovely the place you live, we all need a break from time to time, so this week I am ‘on holiday’ in the north of Corsica with some friends.

I think this is the first time that I have really appreciated how different the north and south are. The north to me has a distinctly more Italian feel to it whereas the south west definitely feels more French.

As we were travelling with a little one (and it’s the end of September), we chose the Villas Ronduli as they have a heated pool. The water was like a bath and I have to admit that yesterday I must have dozed off while I was floating on the lilo in the sunshine surrounded by the scent of the flowers.

Unfortunately, I got rather a rude awakening as I must have shifted in my sleep and found myself taking a rather unexpected dip! That said, it was the most relaxed I have felt in months.

The best thing about it for me though has been that I can swim in the evenings – what a treat!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Corsican sense of humour

So last Sunday I found myself at Ajaccio airport waiting for a slightly delayed flight to arrive so that I could say ‘au revoir’ to various family members, and ‘bienvenue’ to some friends that I haven’t seen for far too long. As I had some time to kill, I soon found myself in the gift shop, giggling like a schoolgirl at the new series of postcards by BROUTCH.

Find the walker who woke Doumé up during his siesta

The series centres around ‘Doumé’, your stereotypical rural Corsican, and pokes fun at life in Corsica much along the lines of ‘l’Enquete Corse’ which is a must-read for anyone who knows the island well!

An intruder has infiltrated Doumé’s herd
can you find him?

According to their website, creating this collection was based on two assumptions:
   - You can laugh at Corsica and the Corsicans.
   - The Corsicans have a sense of humour

For the first is easy (especially when you have no second home on the Island of Beauty!), but for the latter, it’s necessary to live on the island.

Recycling Corsican style

However, it was slightly dangerous because, apparently, among the Corsicans the laughter gland is very close to that of irritability…

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Plage de la Barrière

OK, so it probably wasn’t a good idea to go to the Plage de la Barrière when three out of four of our party have ongoing knee problems and there are other beaches where we could have driven straight to the edge of the sand, but it’s just so stunning here, that we couldn’t resist!

This particular stretch of beach is one of my favourites in the Valinco area. Not only are the colours absolutely amazing, but you can nearly always find a nice stretch all to yourself – today was no exception.

The sea was as warm as a bath, so we all dipped our feet before we settled on the sand. We’d chosen a section with rocks in the water, because not only does that it look good on my photos (always a consideration!), but it’s also great for snorkelling.

Actually, it was here a couple of years ago that I spotted a long bright blue fish that looked almost like a swordfish, but apparently it might have been a flying fish. I did try to capture some of the smaller fishes but the current was quite strong and was pulling the sand from around my feet, so I was terrified that both me and the camera would end up doing a Jaques Cousteau impression!

In the end I decided to amuse myself from the sand instead and got some amazing full zoom photos of the cormorants sunning themselves on the rocks. Apparently in the water they look like penguins when they are diving for fish, so I suspect I might be investigating underwater camera cases on the internet this afternoon!

Restaurant l’Oasis, Propriano

Today was a funny day. It started off really hot but slightly overcast, but as often happens in Corsica, it wasn’t long before the sun made an appearance.

We really fancied a beachside restaurant but couldn’t be bothered to drive round the bay to La Crique or the paillote at the Roc e Mar, so we headed down to the Bar l’Oasis at the far end of the town. At this time of year not so many people venture down this far, so it was far less busy than the restaurants in the town and we managed to find a nice table right next to the sand.

I’ve only ever had salads here before, but when the other dishes of Caramelised pork kebabs and huge wood baked pizzas arrived, I realised that I had seriously underestimated this place! Goodness knows how I managed to resists the Tiramisu!