Having just returned from one of many trips to the beautiful island of Corsica I felt the need to write about this little known paradise and all the things that make it one of my favourite places on Earth.
I have been to the northern part of the island, Bastia being its most popular destination with a bustling port and historic ruins, but in my opinion the most spectacular scenery is in the South. This time our villa was in a tiny village called Pruno, just outside Figari, on a prestigious wine estate. The owner of the vineyard had turned several of his outbuildings into private villas, set into the hillside. Ours was a single story building made of stone with a saltwater pool and a garden kitchen.
The flight to Corsica takes less than two hours from London and all was well until we approached Figari airport, when our pilot warned us that there were strong cross winds so it would be a bumpy landing. Our plane was buffeted in the air like one of those toy plastic parachutes with the little soldier suspended on strings. After about five minutes of this the plane suddenly headed upwards and the pilot announced that he had aborted the landing. He cheerfully and calmly explained that they would “have another go” but by this time all the passengers had become very quiet and the atmosphere was tense. A second attempt was also aborted and I could feel a panic attack coming on. Even my husband, who is a frequent flyer, looked worried. We held hands and I concentrated on my breathing to try and stay calm. We flew round again and this time, after a long and very bumpy approach we finally landed. All the passengers broke into applause as we touched down and we all noted the line of emergency vehicles standing ready, lights flashing, on the runway. The airport at Figari is tiny and as we disembarked and walked across to the terminal in silence I was shaking so much I could barely walk.
This rather scary start to our holiday was soon forgotten once we had picked up our car and were on our way through the familiar village of Figari. The landscape here is both wild and lush. It reminds me of the set of a Jurassic Park movie with its gigantic rock formations and dusty roads. Small clusters of mountains loom in the background, sometimes partially hidden by low cloud. The day we arrived though they were in full view and the wind had dropped as we found our villa. The owner had thoughtfully left a bottle of his own wine in the fridge and this was a very welcome sight as well as being delicious!
After a few days of relaxing by the pool and soaking up the sunshine we felt ready to venture further afield. Figari is situated in between two ports, Bonifacio and Porto Vecchio. One main road runs right across the island which makes everything very easy to reach. Bonifacio is my favourite of the two. The marina is always full of huge yachts and interesting people. Above the port sits the walled citadel, perched high on top of white cliffs. At night the walls are lit up in a rainbow of colours. If you want to go up into the citadel you need to have strong legs, the climb is steep and brutal on cobbled stone. During the day a little train runs up and down, winding around the clifftops, taking less able or less inclined passengers to the summit, but the walk is more satisfying, even if you feel like you might actually die half way up. When you get up there it is so worth the aching calves. The citadel is chock full of boutique shops, bars and restaurants. Visitors can also explore the residential area, situated in the old military buildings where there are apartments, parks and even a tiny primary school. From here you can enjoy panoramic views out to sea. There is an ancient flight of steps carved into the side of the cliff called the Dragons Gate. Visitors pay to make the terrifying descent to the tiny beach at the bottom but I’m afraid I’m way too much of a coward, I can’t stomach heights. Away from the citadel there are plenty of fresh fish restaurants around the marina for a spot of lunch or a late dinner. After dinner the Bar au Port is perfect for an espresso or a nightcap. Twice a week they have live music which always draws a crowd, my favourite being a guy who collects for the coastguards charity. His gravelly voice and amazing guitar playing make it hard to tear myself away.
Porto Vecchio has, by comparison, a very different vibe. This marina is more laid back, although the waterfront is lined with smart and expensive restaurants, however, the real action is at altitude in the cliff top citadel. If you can survive the almost vertical climb and the killer mosquitos, the reward is a selection of trendy cocktail bars and overpriced eateries frequented by beautiful people who all look like they’ve stepped straight off a catwalk. There are also a few exclusive designer shops and a stunning art gallery which is worth a look. Up here a simple plate of pasta can set you back twenty euros and cocktail hour could require a second mortgage but for one night only you will feel like a celebrity.
Corsica has something for everyone so if it’s a more organic experience you are after head for the mountains. This is where you will find beautiful beaches tucked away among the rocks and sleepy villages. The roads are quite good by European standards and some of the highest ones even have a little wooden rail to prevent your car from plunging over the edge into the abyss when a French lorry comes hurtling towards you on a hairpin bend. After quite a climb we reached Zonza, a bustling cluster of shops and restaurants which cater for the coach parties of holidaymakers who regularly turn up for lunch. From here there are stunning views of the “fingers”, five digit shaped peaks of grey rock protruding from the top of the tallest mountain. If you have come this far you might as well push on to Solenzara. There is not much there, it is basically a coach park but the atmosphere is quite spiritual and the drive back down via the Col de Bavella is pleasant. It seems to take a long time to reach the bottom but once you do the pretty coastal road takes you all the way back to Porto Vecchio.
Even in September we enjoyed average daily temperatures of 32 degrees and because our villa was so comfortable we spent much of our time by the pool but there really is no shortage of gorgeous places to visit in this area of Corsica.
I am dividing this blog into sections as I have so much to cover. In part two I will be writing about some of the delicious food we enjoyed on the island.
Thanks for reading. xx