CORSICA?…OF COURSE! 4 DAYS IN THE LAND OF NAPOLEON, WILD BOARS AND WINE

The decision to spend four days in the nearby mediterranean island of Corsica whilst on our annual sojourn to the motherland of France was an easy one, as getting there is as simple as buying a ferry ticket and boarding the boat! Whether you are a walk on passenger or a traveller with a car, caravan or any two wheeled variety of vehicle, it is worth it! To be perfectly honest, MB (Monsieur Bleu) et Moi did not go for an injection of culture rich experiences or to marvel at every church or ancient site, but to simply ENJOY the place, with her abundance of beaches, snaking mountain roads and French/Italian medieval charm! Four days and on a motorbike will do that to you… stop when you want and if you want and just take delight in the areas as you pass through.

Lying between France and Sardinia, Corsica is a land rich in diversity. Shaped like a hand subtly giving its forebears the finger, it is referred to as the ‘rock in the sea’ with its rugged mountains and craggy cliffs, pockets of secluded beaches and bays, sleepy villages, vineyards, olive groves and dry barren hills. Its people are as robust and strong as their wine and local cheese, as temperamental as their savage swines and as proud of their culture and famous leader as any nation. The language is French but the Corsican dialect is mostly related to Italian (having being ruled by the republic of Genoa since 1284 before being handed over to Louis XV) and this hot, passionate combination is the driving force behind the land and its people. Even many of the street signs have their French translations smeared with black paint in the hope of maintaining and reminding visitors that Corsica is a land in her own right and a force to be reckoned with.

Our loose plan was to arrive in Bastia (at the top of Corsica) from Nice (refer to the blog Nice is Nice for more info) and then gradually work our way across and down to Ajaccio, swimming in as many beaches as possible along the way and spending a night here and there in some of the major towns, where then we would take the return ferry to France.

View on the way from Bastia to Calvi

First of all, I must give a big round of applause to Corsica Ferries! We affectionately renamed them The Love Boats as most of the Italian male staff seemed to be constantly on heat! At 30 euro p/p return with a motorbike and a recliner chair if you wanted to sit inside (we never did) it was a bargain! A leisurely 6.5hr sail from Nice, the crew was lovely and everything was super organised and on time. More like a mini cruise ship than a simple ferry, our boat came fully equipped and could give the Titanic a good run for its money! In addition to a range of (pre booked) sleeping quarters to choose from, there were plush carpeted and brass railed staircases and softly piped classical music! It also had two upmarket restaurants, an inside bar, a cafe, a souvenir shop AND a pool deck complete with its own bar, with funky tunes blaring and striped 1930’s style deck chairs haphazardly positioned around the small, circular plunge pool! Everything was super clean and the top deck was spacious and comfortable. We chatted to a few of the staff and had a swim, a snack and snooze in the sun whilst pods of dolphins followed us and played in the ships wake.

Pool deck on the ferry
Corsica ferry

Arriving into Bastia at 7.30pm, we quickly located our basic little hotel, aptly named The Hotel Bonaparte, that was to be our home for one night and subsequently partook in a room black out in the middle of shower time! Note: I was not the culprit and didn’t even touch the barbie doll sized hairdryer with not even enough puff to blow out a candle, that is usually the cause of bizarre electric surges in out of the way European lodgings! By 8.30pm we were walking along the small stunning marina, crammed with bustling restaurants with a backdrop of ochre coloured buildings. Not too long after, we joined the masses and were soon indulging in heavenly bowls of steaming mussels in local white wine, laughing with the cheeky waiters and relaxing into our first night in true Corsican style.

Sunset in Bastia

The following morning, our plan was to ride to the medieval town of Calvi, approximately 3hrs from Bastia, passing through the gorgeous L’lle-Rousse on the way. So after a quick le petit déjeuner in the square and an attempt to covet a gorgeous red Piaggio Ape van, we sped off into the sunshine and through the mountains on the first leg of our journey. Breathtaking views, twisty roads and a quick coffee in the gorgeous seaside town of St Florent made for a lovely start. FYI: St Florent looked amazing and if we could, we would have spent a night there just for the hell of it! The restaurants and tiny boutiques alone were an instant drawcard and its tiny golden beach with little bobbing boats looked inviting!

The dangerous combination of heat and constant winding roads eventually took its toll on my delicate system and by the time we reached the postcard beach of Plage de Lozari, I was ready to faint, throw up, have a coronary, die of heat stroke or all of the above! Trés glamorous…lucky MB! Trekking down the white sand to the sea edge and diving into the heart stopping cool azure water was the only medicine required to re align our dehydrating corps and help us ‘keep calm and carry on’!

Gorgeous Piaggio Van in Bastia
Beach on the way to Calvi

The lure of lunch in L’lle-Rousse (meaning redhead), a picturesque area not far from Calvi kept us going for another half an hour and certainly did not disappoint! An old village, similar looking to Menton in the south of France, with beaches, a marina and an old centre was another place we could have easily stayed in if the promise of encountering Calvi hadn’t beckoned the intrepid travellers within us! Dining al fresco on salmon tartare and sipping apricot coloured Corsican rosé in a local brasserie was a day made in heaven. Full and satisfied, it was back on the bike after a quick walk around and we were off to Calvi for the night…

Lunch in L'lle Rousse
1920's Calvi Plage poster

A final dip in the sea after lunch at a secluded beach near Algajola (yet another ridiculously pretty little village not far from L’lle Rousse) and we rode our weary bodies into the big smoke of Calvi. Larger and more populated than I expected and with an enormous citadel looming over her majestic marina, we took a quick spin around the main town centre, fruitlessly looking for accommodation. Nothing was available, so with panic beginning to set in, we eventually made our way further afield and lucked upon a quaint little three star gem of a hotel called Aria Marina. Merci! Complete with sea views and a huge balcony, the 60 euro a night price tag was laughable! After a quick refresh we were settled in and ready for our reconnaissance mission in town. We opted for a walk around the citadel to stretch our cramping bike legs, to marvel at the views over the bay and meander around her cobbled streets, spying a very Italian outdoor pizzeria that had our name on it for dinner along the way!

View of Calvi marina from the citadel
Our little hotel in Calvi

Our pizza dinner at A piazzettta was scrumptious of course and the wine and waitstaff were equally fantastic! Just right for a relaxed meal after a somewhat arduous day! The ride home was the highlight of the night as we had to stop the bike to allow one of the famous wild boars to trot cross the road! Only in Corsica! I thought this was very cool as MB and I had just been talking about maybe sighting one and then voilà, just like that…there it was! Eerie stuff…

La Piazzetta

The next leg on the trip was the longest as we needed to ride from Calvi all the way to Bonifacio (approximately 5hrs as we were doing the scenic drive), stopping for lunch at famous Porto Vecchio. The first leg of the journey was interesting as we seemed to be on the road kill trail as we passed not one but two dead foxes, two squashed hedgehogs and a live snake! We were also swooped by an enormous eagle as she attempted to feast on the one of the freshly flattened carcasses! Must have been the season for a Corsican carnage wildlife safari! It was all a bit exciting in a warped way!

Don’t be fooled…riding in a European heatwave is fun but not for the fainthearted! With the hot, burning June sun blaring down combined with our itchy and sweaty helmet heads, many water stops were required, but the endless beauty of craggy grey mountains, rows of olives trees and the pungent aroma of hot gravel mingled with pine trees was never lost on us. It was a beautiful and peaceful journey and we felt as if this area of Corsica was just for us as, at times, we were the only ones on the road!

On the road

After what appeared to be forever, we finally puttered into Porto Vecchio and after a mild ‘lovers tiff’ with MB who wanted to re discover a restaurant he had visited a thousand years ago when he was 21 and couldn’t find, we eventually staggered… parched, grumpy, hungry, fangry and hot into a cozy little bistro near (yet another) marina, finding solace under the cool shade of the striped umbrellas! More blushing Corsican rosé and local goat’s cheese salads had us both smiling again and after a quick ride through the old town (which was quite deserted as many businesses were closed for the siesta period), we planted our nearly numb bums back on the bike and headed for Bonifacio…the jewel in Corsica’s crown.

Keep it moving and keep it real! With the heat knocking us for six, we made time for a swim, locating the very popular beach Santa Giulia after a few dead end turns! Packed to the rafters but with an unfortunate seaweed issue, the beach was ok, and the water magnificent when you eventually waded far enough. It did the job, but time was pressing and we knew we had to find overnight accommodation quickly as this next famous medieval town at the southern most tip of Corsica is small, busy and popular with tourists. Riding into belle Bonifacio is marvellous as huge, jagged limestone cliffs and an enormous citadel loom out of nowhere! Yes, yet ANOTHER citadel…this is France people… the whole place is just one giant frigging fortress!

Bonifacio town
Me in the streets of Bonifacio

Parking at the top of the old town, my brilliantly clever MB came up with the bright idea of easing our accommodation woes by going straight to the source…ie: the tourist office. Here they have all the hotels on speed dial and which ones have vacancies! I never knew this kind of service existed and was relieved to have all the footwork taken out of this sometimes, exasperating mission. The kids (they were literally just out of school) in the Office de Tourisme were marvellous! They phoned EVERY hotel in Bonifacio and around and found us THE ONLY ROOM LEFT in the entire town! (Apart from a top floor, 5 bedroom penthouse suite that was going for a steal at 800 euros per night!)

Hôtel Colomba was just around the corner from where we had parked in the old town and was a picture perfect, classical, cream coloured medieval building! It also came with a carpark but, alas, no balcony. At 125 euros a night, it wasn’t cheap but it was either that, taking out a loan for the penthouse or camp next to the bike! The room was lovely and the little window looked over the street and the bustling restaurants below. Throwing our bags down, we decided to go for a whizz around the town and a take a stroll along the Quai Comparetti at the port, jealously watching the glamorous groups cavorting on their super yachts and window shopping, drooling at the designer boutiques where nothing is under a thousand euros! Restaurants, bars and shops all line the main strip of the docking area and lots of gorgeous people were clinking glasses, enjoying the last magnificent rays of warm sunshine.

Hotel Colomba
View of Bay from top of Bonifacio old town

It was high time to be doing a bit of ‘glass clinking’ ourselves, so after MB had bought some posh threads at the marine boutique, we swiftly rode along the Quai Nord and then back to our hotel as it was nearly 9pm and we hadn’t even showered let alone found a restaurant for dinner! We kept losing time… all the time! A hot turn, quick change later, we found ourselves eventually settled in a corner table near the cathedral in an authentic Corsican wine bar and bistro, L’Auberge Corse. With Methuselah sized wine bottles as the wine list and ultra cool, laid back tattooed waiters, we were in like locals after ordering a bottle of the local grape and typical Corsican dishes of tripe and slow-cooked wild boar. After a few complimentary glasses of Myrtle
Liqueur (a staple on the tables in this region and delicious, like a dark coloured limoncello mixed with juniper and rosemary), it was time for lights out as tomorrow was the final leg of our trip…

Dinner at L'Auberge Corse

We took advantage of the slow pace of early mornings in Bonifacio to have a lovely walk around this small but beautiful town, stopping for coffee and baguettes in a tiny cafe within the walls of the citadel and snapping some lovely shots of the tranquil bays and in the distance, the hazy dark mound of Sardinia. In hindsight, we should have spent more time here as there are so many lovely beaches to visit and even the town itself is referred to as an ‘open air museum’. Famous for the King of Aragon Staircase, with its treacherous 187 steps built into the limestone cliffs which leads down to the waters edge, the Grain de sable (rock formation in the sea) and the Maritime cemetery. But with no more time to lose, it was time to bid a reluctant au revoir and hop back on the bike for the final ride to Ajaccio.

Grain de Sable
King of Argon Staircase
Steps down to the Marina in Bonifacio

Being slightly more organised, we knew this final leg of our journey was a shorter one which allowed us to take the more scenic route, flying past vineyards, more olive groves and rocky goat trails and discovering the lovely hilltop village of Sartène, where even more majestic medieval monuments ensued! Had we known in advance that the Prehistoric Village of Filitosa in Sollacaro existed, we could have titillated some brain cells and visited instead of lazing the day away on the beach in the nearby, family friendly town of Propriano! Alas…we did not and a swim in the brilliant blue water and a relaxing lunch in a rustic bistro with our feet in the sand prevailed! A quick stop in the isolated and somewhat abandoned mountain village of Pietrosella to refill our water bottles from a natural source outlet in the mountain and to change into city clothes, we FINALLY loped into Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte and the capital of Queen Corsica!

Sartene
The clear water of Propriano beach

Déjà vu hit us immediately, as we had visited Ajaccio many years ago. The last time, however, we stayed in a bizarre little hole in the wall hotel in a grimy back street, but this time and for our final night, we found a seafront room complete with balcony at the Hotel Du Golfe. Musk pink and slightly OTT it was wonderfully kitsch and cheap! Why? We have no idea, but we didn’t argue! With wine, sausage, cheese and other Corsican treats to procure, our next important mission was to find a local charcuterie/épicerie that was up to the job! Discovering a lovely old dark one, set in a stone building down a side alleyway, we found our tasty treasures with help from the friendly, super model owner inside!

Hotel du Golfe
Corsican wild boar deli

The shops were closing for the day and the Friday night traffic jam had hit as we made our way back to the pink palace with our contraband! After packing our bags in readiness for the early morning start and the ferry ride back to Nice, we put on our best outfits and walked to the seafront for a much deserved Apérol Spritz, whilst enjoying throbbing beats spun by a Dj in a nearby bar and people watching. Craving a light tapas/charcuterie style dinner, we finally agreed upon a very busy little place called Caliente, conveniently located in Rue Bonaparte and just around the corner from the actual home of Napoleon Bonaparte! Location, location, location!

A typical Spanish tapas bar but with an off hand waiter and people constantly walking through the restaurant to avoid the street, it was still a lovely evening. After dinner, we checked out good old Napoleon’s crib, which is also open as a museum during the day. Damn…we missed that one again! (Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769 to Italian parents and is to be considered “one of the greatest commanders and controversial leaders in human history”. His legacy and importance in both French and Corsican culture is second to none and just being able to touch the door of his family home and be present in his county of birth was very special indeed). Weary, sore, tired but happy, we made our way home and after a final night cap at a bar beneath our hotel, we crawled into bed.

Napoleon's House in Ajaccio
Ajaccio
Slow cooked Wild boar ragout

Up at dawn to witness a breathtaking sunrise and to meet the ferry, it was with a heavy heart that we said ciao to Corsica. Such a vibrant and amazing place and a fast paced but totally fun journey, MB and I will definitely be back! We will re visit Bonifacio for sure to discover those secret beaches and maybe… one day… rent a villa near the sea and stay for a few months! In my dreams!

Sunrise over Ajaccio
Ciao and au revoir Corsica

…”He who goes slowly, goes surely; and he who goes surely goes far”…Corsican Proverb

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    Zillah

    August 5, 2019

    Another fabulous soujourn. Such a great read. I’m exhausted 😴
    Looking forward to reading your next adventure.

    • Reply

      Oonagh Blair-Quigg

      August 7, 2019

      many thanks! it’s exhausting!! xx

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