Don’t mess with Corsica: Part 2

Don’t mess with Corsica: Part 2

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People say that if you want to discover the real soul of Corsica you
have to go to her interior. Lying smack in the middle of Corsica is
Corte (pronounced Kortay), a town known as the cultural and spiritual
heart of the island. Again, a Genovese citadel is perched upon a
summit, an animated town spills below, and all is surrounded by a crown
of mountains.

 

In the center of Corte is a
statue of Pascal Paoli, president of the Republic of Corsica during its
years of autonomy between 1755 and 1769. Napoleon may be Corsica’s
favorite son, but Paoli is the island’s national hero. During Corsica’s
brief years of independence Paoli endowed his country with a democratic
constitution during an era of dynasties and absolutism. I was told
proudly that Paoli’s constitution had inspired many others, including
our own. Paoli also founded a university in Corte. Of the town’s 7,000
inhabitants, 4,000 are students.

 

Corte is a
condensed version of combat memories and the dreams of Corsican
emancipation. We were drawn to a little bar called Cyrnea (its name
means Corsica in Corsican) near the center of town by the sound of
people speaking Corsican. While Corsican is related to old Italian, it
sounds nothing like Italian today. A group of old-timers (men and
women) sat out in chairs on the street drinking Pastis (a Mediterranean
apértif made with aniseed), while the younger men inside played cards
and wore t-shirts with slogans calling for Corsican armed resistance.

 

I
struck up a conversation with 77-year-old Pierre Giannettin, who, as it
turned out, had spent two years training at U.S. army bases during
World War II as part of the 3,000-man Free French Air Force. Neither
Pierre’s memory nor his English had dimmed in the last half of the
century as he regaled me with stories. He asked me if there was still a
Walgreens Drugstore in every town and told me how he had had great
success with American girls. “They used to tell me, ‘kiss me like
Charles Boyer,’” he remembered, smiling.

 

I
asked Pierre the truth about the separatist tendencies in Corsica. Just
how strong was this risistenza populara? Afterall, errant explosions
are a regular part of Corsican news broadcasts and just three years ago
a French official had been shot down in cold blood. His assailant, who
has never been caught, is from Corte. Pierre, who had lived in Corte
his whole life except for his stint at army bases in Alabama and South
Carolina, told me that there were times of discontent in the 1960s when
Corsica “felt like a French colony,” but that times were better now.
“We are French in our soul,” he assured me. Then he lowered his voice
when he told me that “those who claim to be separatists are just
connected to the mafia.”
 
I left my tête-ã-tête with Pierre
reluctantly, but not before garnering several tips. One of those was
that Corte’s Hôtel du Nord and adjoining Café du Cours are owned by
Linda Colonna, from Cincinnati. Linda met Louis Colonna from Corte a
couple of decades ago on a language trip to France. Although Linda was
not there when we stopped by the Hôtel du Nord, Louis welcomed us and
showed us around. Built in the 1870s, the Hôtel du Nord’s hallways and
staircase are crafted from Corte marble. The spacious rooms are
charmingly remodeled and have a view of the surrounding mountains.
Fifty euros gets you a double room with breakfast at the bustling Café
du Cours downstairs. The hotel also has a cyber room with 16 Internet
points in case you want to reconnect with the outside world.

 

Corte
is also a main stopping point on the GR-20, a 124-mile hiking trail
that goes northwest to southeast along Corsica’s continental divide.
The GR-20 is divided into 15 stages of five to eight hours’ walking
each. It cuts through the Parc Naturel Régional de Corse, traversing
spectacular wilderness scenery at altitudes of up to 6,500 feet; many
of Corsica’s clear blue glacial lakes and coastal villages are only
accessible by foot.  There are mountain hamlets, shepherds’ cabins
and camping facilities along the way for sleeping. Most people also
take detours down into villages to soak up Corsican culture and
cuisine.. The GR-20 is rugged and beautiful but probably not advisable
in August heat. If you do not want to take on the challenge for ten
days, there are also walking trails of several hours that lead you up
to various lakes and peaks.
 
We left Corte by car through
the Restonica Valley, where Lake Melo (lying above at 5,000 feet) sends
down torrents of water into the natural gorges below. A swim in one of
the clear blue pools and a picnic on the sandy, pine tree-lined shores
of the Restonica Gorge will quickly restore you from the mid-day
heat. 

 

From Corte we made our way back
to Calvi, where we unfortunately had a ferry to catch the next
evening–but not before one more delicious experience. Following
another good tip, we spent our last afternoon dining by the sea on a
pristine, sandy beach looking across at the Bay of Calvi and its
citadel.

 

The beach of Saint Restitude is just
three miles north of Calvi. Turn left at a sign that says Le Pain Sucre
(if you get to the town of Lumio you’ve gone too far), and go down a
sandy road that leads you to a small, sandy parking area. Park, cross
the train tracks by foot and you are there.

 

At
Le Pain Sucre, a wooden beachfront restaurant with open-deck dining,
you can emerge right from a swim to take your place at the table. Open
for lunch and dinner, Le Pain Sucre served up perhaps the finest
Corsican flavors of the entire week. After plump mussels in a sauce of
cream, Muscat wine and saffron, I delighted in swordfish so fresh and
lightly grilled that it was unrecognizable compared with any swordfish
I had eaten before. For desert there was a cold parfait glacé covered
with almond milk and mint leaves. I washed it all down with a dry
Corsican white wine. As I savored the subtle flavors of my meal and
soaked up the sun’s last lingering rays, I couldn’t help but wonder if
my swordfish had been caught that very morning by Little Joe.

 

Practical Information

 

Hotels and Restaurants

 

Calvi
Hôtel
Saint-Christophe 33 4 95 65 05 74, 3-star, on the cliff, view of the
citadel. Double room with sea view and breakfast, $120 (varying
slightly with season)
Hotel Le Magnolia 3-star, charming, old
southern-style mansion in the port town of Calvi. Breakfast under the
enormous magnolia tree on the patio. $90
Balanea Hotel, on port, great views. 33 04 95 65 94 94
Tao, a swanky restaurant and after-hours club within the walls of the citadel. Fabulous views. 33 04 95 65 00 73
Le Pain Sucre, restaurant on the beach of St- Restitude. 04 95 60 79 45

 

Bonifaccio
Hôtel Le Royal in the bustling high village. 33 04 95 73 00 51  
Hôtel and restaurant La Caravelle, on the port. 33 04 95 73 00 03
Restaurant and antique shop L’Archivolto, Corsican specialties, very popular. 33 04 95 73 17 58

 

Sartene
La Villa Piana, as you arrive in Sartene on the road from Propriano. Double room around $90.
33 4 95 77 07 04
www.lavillapiana.com, [email protected]

 

Corte
Hôtel du Nord, Linda and Louis Colonna. 04 95 46 00 68, [email protected]

 

Ajaccio
Hotel
San Carlu, across from citadel, around $95. Home town of Napoleon. A
real working town. Great market every morning near the port that is
full of working fishermen more than pleasure boats. 33 4 95 21 13 84

Nice
Before
you take the ferry, treat yourself to the 4-star Hôtel La Pérouse.
Located in old Nice and looking out on the Promenade des Anglais and
the Baie des Ange., 33 4 93 62 34 63, [email protected], www.hroy.com

 

 

Getting there
It
is easy to get to Corsica from the mainland of France either by ferry
or by air. All major US carriers fly to Paris, and from New York you
can fly directly to Nice. Air fair to France varies with the season,
from $400 to $800 roundtrip. If you fly to Paris your best bet is to
get a connecting flight to Nice or Marseille included in the price.

 

Ferries to Corsica
Once
in France, ferry boats from Nice, Marseille and Toulon serve several
ports in Corsica–Calvi, Ile Rousse, Ajaccio and Bastia. Depending on
whether you take the older ferries or the new, super-fast lines, the
trip is anywhere from three to five hours. Overnight ferries that take
seven to eight hours are also an option.
Ferries also serve Corsica from several cities on the Italian coast and from Sardinia.
 
There
are great deals to be had if you book in advance, such as the second
passenger travels for one euro. Otherwise count on 150$ round trip per
person plus around $150 for a car (or you opt to rent a car once in
Corsica). Although many youths hitch-hike, hike or use Corsica’s trains
and buses to get around, I feel that a car is necessary if you really
want to discover the island.
www.sncm.fr, [email protected] or www.corsicaferries.fr
tel 33 4 95 32 14 71 

 

Airports
– You can also fly to Corsica from Marseilles, Nice, Paris and other
cities in France on Air France and other local carriers. Corsica has
four airports at different places on the island–Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi
and Figari. Flights are about the same price as the ferry and depart
several times a day.

 

Food
Corsicans, like
the French, worship their food and wine and have their own traditional
gastronomy. The island is home to citrus fruit, chestnut and fig trees,
olive groves, goats, sheep, and wild, free-ranging pigs–all of which
add to the distinctiveness of Corsica’s cuisine. Charcuterie includes
coppa, a rustic Corsican sausage as well as pork and liver sausage,
salami and spiced ham. Meats include game, such as wild boar and deer,
and veal, beef and chicken. Pastas bear witness to Corsica’s Italian
colonization and include ravioli and cannelloni stuffed with Brocciu
goat cheese and lasagna with wild boar meat.

 

Corsica
is renowned for its goat and sheep cheeses, the most famous being
Brocciu. Seafood is plentiful and includes rouget, sea bass, stuffed
sardines and a delicate local fish called denti. Don’t forget Aziminu,
the Corsican bouillabaisse, as well as oysters, mussels, lobster, and
trout when you’re in the mountains. Deserts are concocted of fresh
fruits and pastry, and there are beignets called fritelli as well as
chestnut tarts and cookies.

 

Wine
Vines
have grown in Corsica since Phoenician times. Hillsides, sun and
maritime humidity give Corsican wines their own character. Most of
Corsica’s variety of reds, whites and rosés are vins de table or vins
de pays, but there are also many Appelation d’Origine Controlée wines.

 

Outdoor Activities
Corsica
is an outdoorsman’s and nature-lover’s paradise, and there are a
plethora of activities at your disposal to discover the island’s
natural wonders.

 

Hiking the GR-20
Information on the Parc Naturel Regional 33 4 95 51 79 10 or www.parc-naturel-corse.com.
Agence de Tourisme de la Corse 04 95 51 77 77,
Or a 7 day 6 night hike on the GR-20 with accompanying guide at Objectif Nature 33 4 9532 5434

 

Diving
For
a list of all diving clubs that organize shipwreck diving call the
Corsican Committee for French underwater sports at 33 4 95 57 48 31

 

Rock climbing  33 4 95 47 69 48, 04 95 57 31 11

 

Sea kayaking – Association omnisports, Philippe Agostini 33 6 12 10 23 27

 

Canyoning–with natural toboggans and emerald waters, Corsica is a paradise for canyoning.
Patrick Graziani has a canyoning diploma and will show you how. 33 6 85 37 60 17

 

Mountain biking – Corsica Raid Organisation 33 4 95 25 16 16
 
Accrobranch
– somewhere between Tarzan and Spiderman, a walk in the trees. A new
sport that has been in vogue the last couple years. Corsica Forest 33 6
22 91 61 44

 

 

When
to go – July and August are the peak tourist months when Corsica is
filled with French and Italian tourists. Although it is not unbearably
crowded during this time, it is advisable to call ahead for hotel
reservations. It is also extremely hot in August. An ideal time to go
would be May, June, September or October.


Eleanor
Beardsley is a journalist with a background in television, radio and
print media. Fluent in French, she currently lives in Paris, moving
there from Pristina, where she was a Press Officer for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo.

 

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