Today, having bade farewell to Keith and Helen, we returned to Saint Florent in order to meet up with our friends, Sue and Ian. This intrepid pair have motorcycled all the way from Scotland to see us! Well, actually that’s a fib – they were coming anyway, but it just happened to coincide when we were to be here.
Having already driven to Saint Florent from Bastia just a few days earlier, we opted to take a different route – over the mountains. Within a few minutes of our ascent, the scenery became utterly dramatic. The mountain road twisted and turned up the hillside, giving us ever more wonderful vistas. It was hard to stop, since the roads were so narrow and tortuous, and there were few pull-ins. When we did find a lay-by, however, we just stood and admired the wonderful views. As we stood by the roadside, a pungent scent of herbs and wild flowers pervaded the air. This is from the ‘mediterranean maquis’, know in the Corsican language as ‘macchia’, and not dissimilar from the Scottish machair found in the Outer Hebrides. My guide book tells me that the Corsican maquis is one of the most luxuriant types of vegetation in Southern Europe. It consists of rosemary, juniper, myrtle, thistle, lavender, heather, broom, sarsaparilla and rock rose, to name but a few. The resultant smell is just wonderful, and various herb mixtures are used in many of the Corsican liquors and in their cuisine.
As we drove further up into the mountains, we started to spot large raptors up in the air, catching the thermals. Corsica is renowned for it’s raptors, including Honey Buzzards, Bonelli’s Eagles, Lammergeier, Harriers and Black and Red Kites. Most were too far away away to exactly identify, but when two pairs of red kites started spiralling above, their v-shaped tails immediately gave away their identity – just spectacular.
The first destination on our route was the village of Murato. This village is famous for it’s 12th century church, San Michele de Murato, which was built in the time when Corsica was ruled from Pisa. Consequently, it wouldn’t look out of place in the corner of an Italian piazza. It immediately stands out by it’s use of alternating layers of dark green serpentine and white limestone, giving an appearance similar to the black and white striped Duomos in Siena and Florence. On the outside are reliefs of motifs of plants and animals, and in places, the stone is arranged in a chequer-board pattern, making it very Romanesque.
After a little look around the pretty village of Murano, and stopping for a drink, we moved on to the hill-top town of Oletta, visible for miles, perched on the mountainside. We parked up at the bottom, and walked in to the largely pedestrianised town, the narrow passageways and steps making it impossible for vehicles to negotiate. As we walked higher, we found ourselves looking out over the lichen-covered slate roofs, higgledy-piggledy up the hillside. It was like walking through a place from another century. We barely saw a soul, but a large barking hound persuaded us not to follow his particular street.
Eventually, we re-traced our steps, returned to Oscar, and drove down into Saint Florent. We had intended to camp for the night, but when we arrived at our designated campsite, it was already closed for the winter. We quickly changed our plans, and needing to be in Saint Florent to meet our friends, we quickly obtained the cheapest room available on booking.com – maybe not our greatest choice, but a bed, nonetheless.
After a quick tidy up, we walked the short distance to Sue and Ian’s rather more upmarket hotel, where we were shown the wonderful view from their balcony. Travelling with them, in convoy, is their friend Chris, who dutifully snapped our photo for prosterity. We then set off into Saint Florent, first for a drink in a harbourside bar, and then a meal. My choice of drink didn’t go to plan. I had thought I was ordering a glass of Cap Corse white wine, but in fact, Cap Corse Blanc is a type of strange vermouth type aperitif made from the Maquis – not totally foul, but definitely not good! Our choice of restaurant was much better – a typical Corsican rustic affair, with a small menu from a blackboard and tasty food.
Save to say, a good evening was had by all. It was lovely to see Sue and Ian again, and meet up with Chris. As they returned to their lovely sea-front room, we returned to our rather damp, dusty attic room, and spent half the night swotting mosquitos with our zappy bat! We were temped to de-camp back to Oscar in the car park, but didn’t quite have the inclination. There is a moral to this tale, of course. You get what you pay for! If we ever return to Saint Florent, we are definitely staying at their place!!