Corsica 2003

We first visited Corsica in June 98. Corsica is simply one of the most beautiful and charming places we've ever visited. Malaria made this place uninviting to tourists until the Americans wiped out the problem in the second world war. Now small scale terrorism by local separatists has helped to keep the tourism trade from spoiling the place. Corsica encompasses beautiful beaches, rugged mountains, lush valleys and charming villages - villages weren't built near the coast because of the malaria problem. Everything is fairly accessible since this French island is only 200 km long from north to south. Corsica lies west of Italy and just north of the Italian island of Sicily.

Catherine's niece, Claire, is an avid reader and a world expert on Tintin.

Corte is a little university town high in the mountains of central Corsica. This castle (right) overlooks the town. Near here passes the very popular hiking trail, the GR20, which runs from one end of Corsica to the other. We only did a little of it.

We returned in October 2003 to visit the north-west region known as Balagne, famous for its old villages in the hills, and the northern peninsula known as Cap Corse.

It's a fairly painless 3 hour ferry ride from Nice to Calvi (or should be - see later...). This picture was taken on the ferry, the Mega Express, which has a delightfully kitsch decor of chrome and gold.

Calvi made a good impression as we approached - it has a great location after all, surrounded by mountains reaching as high as 2700 m (9000 ft). But within two hours of our arrival, and after the realization that my jacket was departing with the ferry, Catherine was in low spirits and declared her intent to return to Nice the following day.

But the next day was in fact dry with some sun so we did a tour if Balagne, starting with this little village called Montemaggiore...

...and ending, a half dozen villages later, with Sant'Antonino (on the hilltop to the right of the photo).

Sant'Antonino is considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in France and we appreciated all the villages for their lack of tourist trappings, but at the same time they came across as rather impoverished in most cases. I think the Corsican economy is quite dependent on subsidies from continental France for there isn't much industry here - tourism being the main one of course.

The Corsicans do what they can to maximize their autonomy from France and Corsican is widely spoken with most signs in both French and Corsican. The nationalist FLNC terrorists blew up a half dozen buildings in the fortnight before our arrival.

From the ruins of the fort at Belgodère there is a fine view over the fertile Prato valley to the sea beyond.

This is a convent, the Couvent de Corbara, seen from the village of Pigna.

Now we are beginning our tour of Cap Corse, the peninsula at the extreme north-east of the island. It's very mountainous and access must have been very difficult until the current good road was built. This (below left) is the village of Nonza. A local girl called Julie was crucified here for refusing to take part in a Pagan festival - she became the patron saint of Corsica. Her body was taken from here to what is now Italy in 734 for protection from the Saracens.

Above the village you can see one of the 80 or so towers built in Cap Corse by the Genoese - about 60 remain. Here (below right) is a close up view of the tower - a remarkable construction (1550) made from local green schist with a minimal amount of mortar.

As well as cemeteries, Corsica is dotted with family tombs, usually along the roadside. This one is big enough to be called a mausoleum.

We spent a night in this little fishing village called Centuri-Port - it's as far north as the main road reaches. The Corsicans seem to like the look of unpainted concrete for many of their houses have that finish. Under rainy skies however they look rather depressing to our eyes.

Although the main hotel was nice enough, we didn't request a room in the main part when we made our reservation so we ended up in a poorly-heated and charmless room - here's Catherine trying to stay warm.

We spent our last night in the fishing village of Erbalunga on the east side of Cap Corse - it was the highlight of our trip. We had a suite in a nice old hotel and found a good restaurant nearby.

A major fire in August 2003 blackened and stripped much of the hillside above this coast. Behind this convent Monte Stello (1307m, 4300 ft) disappears into the clouds.

On our last afternoon we explored the town of Bastia which must be the second most important Corsican town after Ajaccio. A Roman colony existed here in 1500 BC but it didn't become an established town until the 14th century. It's a busy port - this photo shows only the old port (with sunshine backed by menacing rainclouds).

Some parts of Bastia, close to the old port, are incredibly rundown.

On the other hand, an apartment in one of these buildings would probably be quite affordable.

Before setting of home, we bought samples of traditional Corsican specialties like dried sausage and sheep cheeses.

Because of the bad weather we cut our stay in Corsica from 7 days to 4. Our ferry trip home did not go smoothly - the sea was so rough that the port of Nice closed 20 minutes before we were due to arrive, forcing our ferry to head to Savona, Italy, from where we forced to drive a couple of hundred kilometers just to get back to France.