adventures in Corsica : part three

The following morning we bid farewell to the fishermen of Centuri and headed for the northernmost point of Cap Corse, the tiny village of Barcaggio. Also the closest point to Monterosso, Italy. (Next time we plan to take a boat directly). Speaking with a few locals we learned that only 2 families (and many cows) inhabit the village. ‘Small town’ takes on a whole new meaning! We chose the local restaurant U Fanale for lunch and had one of the freshest and most tasty meals of our entire trip. The specialty of course, was fish! Well worth the trip to what felt like the end of the world. Or perhaps, in regards to the simplicity and pleasure of life, the beginning.

We stopped in Macinaggio which was not as impressive and lacked the charm of Barcaggio, revealing a trendy harbour with luxury yachts. A quick swim at the nearby beach and our journey continued, this time driving along the eastern coast of Cap Corse. In terms of harbour’s, we much preferred the quaint village of Erbalunga, our final stop in Corsica’s finger.

We arrived to St Florent, our home for the last three nights, just in time for the sunset, as was our habit. I had a good feeling about this St Tropez-esque resort, mostly because it was perfectly positioned close to dreamlike beaches and Patrimonio where we could indulge in the local wines. The town itself was both chic and humble and our room had a balcony with a view directly onto the harbour, by my request of course. St Florent was best seen from the boat ride to the magical Plage de Loto, a secluded beach located on the edge of the Desert des Agriates.

I could have stayed on the wild and tranquil Plage du Loto for hours but being adventure seekers, (in other words: at the persuasion of my Italian) we decided to brave the intense heat and hike a good 45 minutes through what really did feel like the desert, to another paradise called Plage de Saleccia.

There was barely a soul when we arrived at Saleccia beach as the last boat was soon to leave. Perfect. We took a swim, revelled for a moment at the feeling of being so remote, and trekked back through the inland and returned to St Florent.

On our last full day, needing a break from the beach life, we drove up to Nonza for lunch. Located on the western coast of Cap Corse, this little hamlet is presided over by a fortified tower. We had driven by on the way to Centuri and decided to save it for a proper visit. Shrouded in mist, the views from Nonza’s advantageous cliffside position were a sight to behold.

Our last stop before returning leaving this utopian island of wilderness and beauty was a moment of reflection at L’église San Michele de Murato. Local legend has it that this church, with it’s distinctive green and white checkerboard pattern, was built in just one night by angels. Somehow, I believe it.

adventures in Corsica : part two

It was late morning by the time took our ritual swim, bid farewell to Algajola and set off for lunch in the sleepy artisan village of Pigna, set high above the sea into the interior hills of La Balagne.

My Italian, being the romantic that he is, had a clear destination in mind. U Palazzu, a chambre dhôte and restaurant, converted from an old oil press, felt like stepping into the pages of history. It was here in this mansion that the Franceschini family lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, they being one of the most influential families in the Balagne region. The views were captivating and the cuisine was light and fresh much like the ambiance. The tranquility of the sea was quickly replaced by the quietude of the hills.

We made our way to another ancient village, Sant’Antonino, one of the highest villages in the Balagne, set at 550 meters above the sea. I was sure there could be no more charming and scenic vista than we had just experienced. Little did I know! Arriving at the restaurant La Voûte, we were completely taken with the 360-degree panorama. I had always preferred the sea to the mountains but now I was no longer sure. We had a drink, gazed into eternity and spoke for a while with the local who had opened the restaurant several years ago. I became carried away with thoughts of a life on top of the mountains, until the late afternoon air summoned us to continue on our journey.

We set to the road and headed for Cap Corse, final destination Centuri. Somehow we always managed to be later than planned (not that planning played a major role in our days), yet we always arrived in time for the sunset. The drive through the finger was an experience in itself. Not one for those privy to carsickness! Again we found ourselves on the edge of the world, winding through roads with vistas revealing the most natural and majestic landscapes. The sensation of time was lost.

Many hours and Genoese tower sightings later, we were nearing our destination. As we had realized on our first trip in the south, driving along the winding roads was part of the unique appeal of Corsica. I was lucky to be the passenger and admire the views, all the while with camera in hand and often an ‘Oh, we must stop here, the views are breathtaking!’. The play of light upon the hills was magical and well worth the seemingly never-ending drive along Corsica’s finger.

We arrived with a setting sun to Centuri, our home for the night. A charming fisherman’s village that at once felt welcoming and utterly remote, almost in an eerie way.  A glass of local wine and a plate of fresh fish was a perfect finale to the long and winding day.

As I do often when I travel, I spent some time reflecting on all that we had done in the space of 24 hours. Each day felt like an eternity. How filled I was with visions, sensations and tastes. I was reminded of the simple and natural high that accompanies the traveler. I fell asleep to the peaceful lull of the sea competing with the rhythm of a dance club in the distance, in eager anticipation of the adventures to follow…

adventures in Corsica : part one

I had often dreamed of exploring Corsica, what always seemed to me a mysterious island, possessing a unique and varied history as it passed from Italian hands to French. I even came close during my year of travel but opted instead to carouse the south of France. My Italian grew up facing this island from his perch in Monterosso, yet he too had never reached it’s shores. It was not yet our time.

Last spring we fell in love. And there was no better place. Corsica became our island.  It is here that we spent our first holiday together, exploring the south, becoming deeply enchanted by this island of untamed beauty. Long and winding roads providing the sensation of driving along the edge of the world. Or a very steep cliff. Seemingly never-ending dirt paths leading to uninhabited golden beaches. Off in the distance the setting sun illuminating a crystal blue sea. Very simply, heaven.

We made a vow to return. Forever. Or until we had crossed every inch of the island. On this, our second adventure in Corsica, we headed north.

Rather than explore the large cities, (besides the fact that Bonifacio had already captured my heart), we decided to spend our time becoming intimately acquainted with the small villages, both coastal and interior, and stopping to enjoy the view as often as our timeless days allowed. Immediately upon arriving to Bastia we located our 4 wheel companion and hit the tangle of roads. Onwards to our first stop Algajola, a little paradise nestled on the coast between Ile Rousse and Calvi.

With a population of no more than 225, this tiny village lies on a sandy strip of beach, hidden from the world. From our well appointed room, the turquoise sea and sky sea melted together, calling us ever so subtly to enter its calm. Dinner consisted of a barefoot walk to a simple seaside restaurant (still one of my favorites) for a plate of St Pierre beneath a setting sun. In case of boredom (does such a word exist in Corsica?) there’s a coastline train to transport you to Ile Rousse or Calvi for a little more action. Though we were perfectly happy to remain hidden.

By day three city life was a distant memory. Paris who? We were hyper-relaxed and ready once again to explore the island. On a sudden whim we changed our plans and hit the road for a long and winding drive above the sea, direction: ‘phantasmagorical rock formations’ known as Les Calanques.

Many hours spent in awe at the irregularly shaped boulders rising into the sky, some more than 400m above the sea. We stopped in the quaint village of Piana for lunch, (this time I tried fish soup, a Corsican specialty). Our plans changed as a local directed us to a surreptitious beach, just in time for our daily swim. A long drive and a short walk…and there was Marine de Ficajola. One of the most splendid secrets for the senses to behold! Once again, paradise found, beneath the boulders.

We would have stayed for days, living off the land, reveling in the paradisiac landscape, but night was falling and we had a long drive back to our home in Algajola, with a stop in Calvi for dinner. The following day the adventures continued in Cap Corse (part two)…

passion for travel

There are certain passions or interests, that bond people. Whether it be friends, companions, or those you choose to share your life with. One such passion (the word ‘interest’ simply does not fit here), is my love for travel.

Some of my dearest friends share this passion, leading us to have collected quite an array of travel stories through the years, which we reminisce and laugh about as often as possible. (Beware those not part of the travel clique!) One such story begins in Amsterdam on the eve of the millenium and ends in a castle in Scotland just last week…

Since my first trip to Poland at the age of 2, before my lips could properly utter sentences in either Polish or English, my eyes became larger and more curious. For this I thank my parents. I became fascinated with foreign tastes and sounds, even those as simple as wild strawberries from my grandmother’s garden, and certain vegetables I still can’t find anywhere else in the world. I began to love the energy of movement, being able to play with time, as you pass from one time zone to another. As a child, and even up until a few years ago, I dared not sleep en route, in order to savour the sacred anticipation prior to arrival or reflection upon departure. Now I am more than happy to sleep and wake up rested. (Older or simply wiser?)

When I first met my Italian, aside from the short and sweet exchange that caused a lengthy conversation to ensue (it wasn’t simply his sexy accent that did the trick), we spoke all about travel. As fate would have it, during my around-the-world trip I had spent a memorable 5 days in the village of his birth, Monterosso, and was very pleased to express my enthusiasm for this ‘paradise found’. This village has since become my second home. It was in fact his sense of adventure, having arrived to NYC for a holiday, that led our paths to cross. It was not yet our time during my stay in Monterosso. Yes, patience is a virtue.

Our most memorable (and first) trip to date was Corsica last June. We explored the southern region of this enchanted island, also known as the Île de Beauté. A perfect mix of natural wilderness in the form of uninhabited beaches and needle-shaped mountains. Most spectacular was Bonifacio with it’s majestic cliffs and old town overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Surely a place in which to lose yourself in a myriad of natural landscapes. The dream of Corsica shall soon continue as we are planning to explore the northern region this summer.

Along with this passion for travel which has surely bonded us, comes our affinity for foreign foods, natural beauty, ancient history (more him) and various forms of art (more me). Am I missing anything?