It was an early start this morning, since we had organised to meet up with our friends Sue and Ian in Porto for a coffee, having discovered that they were only staying down the road from us. An early start for us involves a lot of activity. Once showered and breakfasted, I usually do the washing up, while Howard does ‘van things’ – turning the seats back round, disconnecting the electricity and gas, taking the washing line down with the towels, removing and packing away the windscreen cover, taking the roof down, filling up with water and disposing of the grey water. Yes – I hear what you’re thinking – all that in the time it takes me to do the washing up!
We were away just after nine fifteen, and made our way down into Porto. Having met up at Sue and Ian’s hotel, we all walking down into the town. It is a lovely little port, mainly with pleasure boats that take tourists out on trips across the Bay of Porto to see the amazing rock formations along the coast, called the Calanques. Originally, we had hoped to join our friends on such a trip, but the morning sailings were all full, so we just opted for coffee instead.
Down at the quay, a footbridge spans the harbour, giving you a wonderful view of the Genoese watchtower that dominates the headland. We sat in a harbourside cafe, and enjoyed a quick catch up on what we had both been doing sine we met for dinner. Unsurprisingly, being bikers, Sue and Ian had spent the previous day doing perilous drives along gorges and twisting mountain passes. Whereas they had covered 200km through the interior of the island, we had just pottered along the coast at a very sedate rate.
Having said our goodbyes, we set off along the coast, heading for the town of Piana. Although only 13 kilometres from Porto, the road twists and turns through the ‘Calaniques de Piana’ – extraordinary rock formations, which characterise this part of the coastline. Despite a sign at the start of the drive, barring long vehicles, much to our irritation a convoy of five coaches coming from the other direction completely stuffed up the traffic, since the roads were too narrow to accommodate vehicles of that size. So a journey that should have just taken twenty minutes or so, ended up taking over an hour, due to frequent stops while the belligerent coach drivers tooted and gesticulated their way through the oncoming traffic. As you may have gathered by now, I am no fan of coach trips, full stop. In this case, it was utterly crazy that coaches were allowed to drive along this piece of UNESCO coast. Certainly, on the Amalfi coast, there are restrictions during the summer months, from May to September. They need to seriously consider doing the same here in Corsica, or at the very least, restrict the size of the coach.
Horrid coaches aside, it was an amazing drive. The wonderful granite rock formations were stunning. The colours were a warm orangey / pink, which seemed to change tone in different lights. Many of the formations had holes sculpted through them, and some resembled animals or figures (although I cannot claim to have recognised them). At one spot, there are lovely walks through the pine forests to a particular rock thought to resemble a dog’s head. Further along the road, the rocks overhang the road – another good reason why coaches should be banned.
Eventually, we came to the village of Piana. A notice claimed it to be the ‘most beautiful village in Corsica’. It was indeed pretty, with lovely views over the Calaniques, but I suspect that there are even prettier. We took a look at the church, by a picturesque square with a central lime tree. Two little boys were playing football in the square, and much to my surprise, started to play goal practice, using the church door as target. None of the locals pulled them up on this behaviour, so we just let it pass, but in retrospect thought how disrespectful it was. Perhaps we are turning into fuddy-duddies – but that’s what we thought!
After a wander around, we stopped for a drink, before heading on our way. We continued south along the coast, until we came to a town called Cargese. We parked at the top of this wonderful little hill town, and followed a cobbled alleyway down through the quaint little stone houses (just as beautiful as Piana, and barely a soul in sight, even better). Eventually, we came to what we were looking for – two churches, built face to face, across a small valley. One a Greek Orthodox Church, the other Catholic. Cargese was founded in the 17th century by Greek refugees fleeing Turkish rule. Over time, an agreement was reached between incomers and islanders, and the Greek refugees built their church across the valley from the native Catholic Corsicans – facing each other, and both enjoying splendid vistas to the bay below. Remarkably, between 1964 and 2005, they were administered by the same priest, who conducted services in each on alternate Sundays. On his retirement, sadly he was not replaced, and now a priest from a neighbouring town conducts services in the Catholic church, whereas a priest from Athens attends several times a year to conduct services in the Greek church. They were both wonderful churches to look at. The Corsican church had splendid frescoes in hues of pink, and was quite elaborate. The Greek church was simpler, but also had stunning frescoes, which were quite recognisably Greek.
By now, time was racing on, so we continued on our way, down along the coast. The scenery was yet again spectacular, with wonderful vistas out to a turquoise blue sea, and inland to tree and maquis covered hills and mountains. We had hoped to reach Bonefacio, in the far south, but ran out of stamina, and so stopped in a place called Propriano.
No matter. The campsite is lovely. The showers are piping hot, and we have enjoyed a scrummy meal in the campsite restaurant – probably the best campsite food we have eaten this trip. The only downside, is yet again, rubbish WiFi and 4G coverage – so for a second night, I have been unable to download any photos.
Hopefully we will fare better tomorrow in Bonefacio. Tonight we will be sleeping amongst pine trees, with a peculiar creature, possibly an owl, or maybe a frog, making a strange, but somehow soothing noise, approximately every fifteen seconds! If anyone can enlighten us as to what it is, we would be grateful.