Last night, we ate in a charming little restaurant just along from our hotel. The waiter was jolly, but seemed to be struggling to understand our tourist French. At the end of the meal, as we were paying, it became clear why we had been struggling to communicate. It was because, in fact, the waiter spoke Italian. Despite being under French rule since 1769, the island had formerly been ruled first by the city state of Pisa, then it’s arch rivals the Genoese. Even today, there is a bit of a north-south divide, with the Italian influence predominating in the north, and the French in the south. Although French is the official language, in the north, many still speak Italian, and many more speak Corsican. The latter experienced a revival in the 1970s with the rise of nationalism, and now approximately 70% of islanders can speak Corsican fluently, a Latin-based language, resembling Romanian.
Today, after a leisurely breakfast, all four of us packed into Oscar to explore the north of Corsica. It felt strange to have four of us in the van, but despite all our stuff, we managed to squeeze in comfortably. First stop was the lovely harbour town of Saint Florent, situated on the north-west coast of Corsica. We took a walk along the harbour wall, the marina jammed with expensive looking boats. On returning to the town, we walked up to the Citadel, a circular bastion originally built in 1439 for the Genoese governors, but re-built following bombardment by Nelson’s fleet in 1794. By now, the heat was getting to us all, so we re-traced our steps back into the cooler alleyways of the town, and sought refuge in a shady cafe overlooking a pleasant square with a fountain for our morning coffee.
Duly refreshed, we quickly sourced a Corsican flag for Oscar, an odd affair with a black Moor’s head wearing a bandana, on a white background, and continued on our way.
Our main route for the day was to drive the very tortuous, but very scenic coastal drive up the Cap Corse peninsula, a thin finger of land, forty kilometres long, by only fifteen kilometres wide, stretching up to the very northern tip of the island. Peppered along the coastline here, the Genoese had built a series of watchtowers, to prevent coastal raids, and their presence is still very much in evidence today. The corniche road along the rocky western side of the peninsular is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, our guide book recommended that those of a nervous nature should definitely drive in a clockwise direction, so as to keep to the inner side of the road, to avoid the precipitous overhangs!
It was indeed a spectacular drive, with stupendous scenery of rocky cliffs, sheltered coves, vibrant turquoise blue ocean and occasional little villages clinging to the mountainside, or steep roads down to tiny picturesque harbours. Oscar, as ever, did remarkably well, with a little help from Howard’s driving, of course. We stopped periodically to jump out and admire the vistas.
The little town of Nonza was a gem, with it’s stunning terracotta coloured church, cobbled alleyways, charming cafes and paths down to sweeping sands. Sadly there was nowhere available to park Oscar, so I just had to leap out and have a quick wander, whilst Howard waited patiently, double-parked in the van. Further on, we stopped at Barrettali, where Keith and Helen took a paddle in the crystal clear waters. A little further on, we stopped at a cafe at Pino to have a refreshing drink, and pick up a few essential groceries for breakfast tomorrow.
We stopped on the road above Centuri, by two watchtowers, and walked up to a viewpoint that gave us wonderful views over the town and beyond. The scrubland here was full of a fragrant yellow daisy-like plant, that painted the landscape with a vibrant yellow. Helen, being the botanist, did tell me the name of the plant, but it has completely passed me by. Napoleon had apparently said that he could recognise his native island just by the fragrance of the ‘maquis’, and certainly the smells are wonderful.
The road narrowed significantly as we came to the very tip of Cap Corse, stopping first at Tollare, where even I dipped my toes in the warm water, and then Barcaggio, a tiny little fishing harbour. Eventually we arrived at our destination for the night, the town of Macinaggio, overlooking a lovely sandy beach. Keith and Helen couldn’t resist a swim, whilst Howard and I prepared the G & T s. Since we were entertaining guests, we brought out the Caorunn, and for those of you who know me well, will appreciate just how honoured they were!! I fear that the best Scottish gin passed them by, although perhaps understandable, since lime and Schweppes had to substitute for red apple and Fever-Tree on this occasion – may I be forgiven!
We finished the evening off with a walk down past the marina, and a splendid meal in one of the harbourside restaurants – very fine indeed. Howard has now completely crashed out, tired from all his driving no doubt.
Corsica is called ‘the island of beauty’ by the French, and I can completely concur with them on that. It is a stunner! By first impressions are wholly positive, and I cannot wait to see more.