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Unravelling the mysteries of Corsica


I was 15 years old when I first read about the savage island of Corsica- quietly nestled south of France and west of Italy. I read about this beautiful bijou in a short love story by Guy de Maupassant, named ‘Happiness’. Just like the title, the story filled me with a long lasting happiness and gave me a memory of a place I had never experienced. I kept this memory in a safe corner of my heart to come to it later. Later became my 25th birthday- finally when I got the chance to touch the pristine sands of this mesmerizing island. Spending seven months in this ‘l’Ile de Beauté’ as they call it, gave me enough memories to be happy about for at least this lifetime.

Le Tour de Erbalunga

Le Tour de Erbalunga

Host to a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the island is dotted with innumerable secret beaches, ports, peninsulas, creeks, waterfalls, lakes natural reserves, bays and gulfs etc. From the tip- the Cap Corse to the southern tip of Bonifacio- an immaculate town precariously perched on a rock of chalk-white limestone, Corsica has endless natural marvels to wonder at.

I in Corsica stayed at Bastia – a delightful small port town on the north eastern side of the island. The best spot to start your journey to the Cap, Bastia with its Vieux Port, Citadelle, Place St. Nicolas, Port de Toga, offers visitors a pleasant homely environment and all the modern amenities for a comfortable stay. Being a port town Bastia doesn’t have the comfort of the beach to offer (something I sorely missed during my seven-month stay). However the long sandy beach- Plage Arinella and the gorgeous pebbly beach at Erbalunga are easily accessible by bus and train.

We decided for a trip across the Cap in the month of October- a pleasant enough time to roam around in the mountains. Three friends, we chose the most convenient way of travel- hiring a car, though the more adventurous souls can go for hiking and camping through the mountain range or even bicycles.

Starting from Bastia, the first not-to-miss stop is Erbalunga- a teensy village on the east coast of the island, the village revels in its Victorian architecture. There is an old tower, lost in time, telling untold stories of battles and bravery.

Further up the eastern coast, we reach another village named Maccinaggio. The dainty town is resplendent with colours with its turquoise waters, lush green fields and weedy beaches. The town is also a home to a stable with unforgettably handsome steeds. Macciaggio also happens to be the last motor-able village on the eastern side of the Cap. Just a 45 minute hike up the mountain trail and you reach to see one of the most spectacular views. The scene offers you on one side a mountain range laced with the greenest of fields and on the other side the sea with the bluest of waters. There are tiny specks of islets where you can see beautiful birds perched, singing a song in their own language, in their own world, out of your comprehension, yet you understand it all. From here, we take a U and come to the western side of the island. With breathtakingly beautiful scenes, the drive is curvy yet easy and exceedingly pleasurable. The first main village on this side is Nonza- a small French village but with the peculiarity of its grey sand beaches. The dark coloured sand might spook you out at first but once when you are over the intimidating effect, the grey sands emit a beauty not found in any of the regular beaches. The route ahead too is bejewelled with numerous spots, small beaches, creeks, that can take your breath away in an instant.

Moving on, we cross many small villages reminiscing about lost soldiers, forgotten war heroes, of rains and snow, of sun and shadows. We then reach the town of St. Florent. A small quaint town with a gorgeous port and again a mountain trail taking you to inexplicably beautiful scenery. Honestly, Corsica is a place which can make you fall short of adjectives because every place that you visit is magnifique. From St. Florent we move back to Bastia, taking one of the mountainous shortcuts.

On our way back, we made a stop at a village called Patrimonio. Luckily, that very day was the yearly festival of the village- San Martinu. The festival is celebrated by all the citizens of the village and everyone from the neighbouring villages and they were more than welcoming to us outsiders. Patrimonio being one of the most prominent wine growing communes of Corsica celebrates this day as the day when they reap the benefits of their year around toil. The celebrations centre on serving the guests with almost free wine and snacks. (Almost free because we paid 5 Euros each for unlimited refills of any kind of wine) There was also music and songs by the local bands (a band of very, very old men by the way) accompanied by couples dancing along intoxicated by the wine and celebratory mood. This beautiful revelry thus concluded our perfect trip across the Cap Corse.

The view from the train..

The next trip to the south of the enchanted island was in the month a February- I’ll be forever in debt of the weather Gods to be the kindest during this trip. In this voyage the five of us covered Ajaccio, Porto Vecchio and Bonifacio- along with a hundred thousand memories. For the journey from Bastia to Ajaccio, we opted for the train- a tiny toy train that cutely runs at a leisurely speed. And thank God the train was not a superfast one otherwise we would’ve missed on the scenery that was a mix from the journey of Hogwarts Express, the Enchanted Forest from Alice in Wonderland and Narnia.

Ajaccio, hometown of Napoleon Bonaparte, the biggest city on the island is very similar to Nice in its look and feel. With young and vibrant crowd, Ajaccio was much livelier than Bastia. Ajaccio also turned out to be the place with the most delicious food. With the special Corsican delicacies and its distinctly different wine and cheese. (the Corsican cheese is mostly made from goat milk). One of the best meals I had, was at the house of an old Corsican woman whom I ended chatting up with. The meal simply consisted of crepes made with farine de châtaigne- chestnut flour along with Clementine marmalade and served with a full helping of love and hospitality.

The best thing about the city was Iles Sanguinaires- a group of five miniature islands and a peninsula. The small tower in the centre of the peninsula can give you perhaps one of the most spectacular sunsets of your life- yes they have dolphins too to complete the picture. Sit there at the rocks, see the sun melting in the resplendent sea and you don’t mind a lifetime pass by in those few hours.

The Corsican cheese mainly brocciu, casgiu merzu, casgiu and veghju have a perceptibly different taste and flavour from the regular French cheese. Another indulgence was the local aperitif- Cap Corse- a typical Corsican liquor made from local herbs. It may as well be considered a crime to leave the island without gorging Cap Corse.

Next, we were headed to Porto Vecchio. Instead of taking the regular highway to the town, we took an inner route- longer, dangerous and a bit tricky to drive, much more beautiful and interesting. The deviation gave us spectacles that we could hardly ever imagine. It also gave us a petit aventure – a flat tyre in the middle of a jungle at 7 p.m. with no help available.

Sunset at Propriano

On the way to Porto Vecchio, our main stops were Sartene- a small village, home to a number of archaeological treasures and Propriano- a cosy village that did not hesitate to give us a stunning view of the valley below- full of vineyards and farms and rugged trees and the distant, inviting outline of the sea. The setting sun only magnified the beauty of the place by adding surrealistic colours to the surroundings.

Porto Vecchio turned out to be a wonderful host. The warm town was a delight to walk around at night. The next day, we explored the adjoining beaches in the gulf. The Creeks of Piana, Scandola Reserve and the Gulf of Giralota, Plage de Bussaglia all listed with UNESCO as world heritage sites give you marvellous opportunities for hours of happy wandering, feeling good about your existence.

An hour’s drive from Porto Vecchio is Bonifacio – a dreamland, a surreal town happily placed on a rock of chalk-white limestone, surrounded by undebased turquoise green waters.

The ‘calanques’ – creeks at Bonifacio let you marvel at the craftsmanship of nature. The small bays and gulfs give a spectrum of shades of water ranging from the freshest blue to a gleaming, glowing diamond green. One very interesting feature here is an open cave, the overhead opening of which is the exact shape of Corsica. A thing like this may see all tosh, but you’ve got to see it to believe it! A small ferry ride around the area shows you the various wonders of nature that have been endowed on this dazzling little town.

On the way back from such an enriching journey, you’re often filled with a melancholic happiness. A realisation that the whole point of travelling to a far off land is to discover home at a place you’ve never been to, to find comfort in a city you’ve never placed a foot in before.

Yet another trip was to the remaining noticeable towns of the island, mainly- Calvi, Ile Rousse and Porto. Calvi, to be honest, was the only town on the entire island that didn’t touch me deeply. The beach town was pretty and the view of snow-capped mountains from the beach gave a sort of childlike delight. Nothing extraordinary about the town though.

The average beauty of Calvi was made-up by Ile Rousse – a very small but a very, very beautiful town. Ile Rousse has one of the cleanest beaches I’ve ever seen with crystalline waters. There were seven shades of water visible to the naked eye- a sight that can never be described with enough beauty. Porto on the other hand was intimidating. With a drastic change in scenery, the hills bordering the beach were depicting a different geography altogether. It’s the kind of place where you see spooky faces engraved in rocks and when you turn your back to them, they call you back too.

With these I covered all the major towns and villages on the island. Next came the tiny villages, where real Corsica lives. Thanks to the local friends I made, I was able to see the Corsican life in its very raw form. Two villages where I spent one day each were Tox and Rutali. In Tox, a friend took me to her parents’ house. Simple farmers, they were one of the most delightful couples I’ve ever met. I liked them even more when they filled my backpack with freshly plucked clementines and kiwis. The other village, Rutali, I visited with a child psychologist, a woman of 30 in a body of 60. One of the most vibrant women, Danielle lives in Rutali with her two sisters. The three women own eight cats but they are nowhere as crazy as the cat ladies we imagine. Benign hosts, the women showed me around their gardens where they grow all the vegetables that they need.

Corsica is a wondrous land with something to offer to everyone. A nature lover’s paradise, the island may not be a perfect holiday destination for someone who loves brands, shopping and clubbing. But for someone who is wanting to get close to nature, to once again connect with their inner self, for someone who wants to witness the miracles of nature firsthand, Corsica is a must visit. This hidden treasure in the Mediterranean Sea has a lot to offer to the one who is eager to receive.

James Brown is a Londoner and a devout travel and automobile writer. Being passionate about writing, he loves to share his knowledge on the latest updates on technology surrounding automobile industry. Also, he is an avid globe trotter and loves to share his experiences with various places he’s visited. His articles generally centre on latest developments automobile sector, best chauffeur services, chauffeur hire London and latest car updates and travelling. He lives in London with his wife and a lovely child. For more information you can contact him on his email id that is at jamesubrown@gmail.com.

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