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Published: September 30th 2012
It's dotted with names that are a glimpse of its Genoese history but it's not Italian. The locals speak French, although for many it's a second language, and they are governed by the tricolours, but come Bastille Day you won't see too many hands on hearts when the band strikes up La Marsellaise.
Grill a Corsican on his nationality and he'll probably say just that, he's Corsican.
Over the centuries, the island has been something of a colonial football between the Italians and the French, not to mention the Greeks, Brits and of course the Moops (for Seinfeld fans only) who have also had their shot at staking a claim, all fighting to corral a little more strategic acreage for the homeland.
France may have been the mother country now for a couple of hundred years but that doesn't sit too well with some fiercely proud Corsicans. Autonomous fervour simmers barely below the surface of an uneasy truce. Corsicans wear their hearts on their sleeves, their sense of identity transcending history and if you go by the amount of independence graffiti peppering the island, road signs a favourite, they know how to bear a grudge.
know this too. Tell a mainland Frenchy you are going to Corsica and two responses were an almost guarantee:
(1) It's a special place, and
(2)They don't like us.
There's some merit in the French stereotype of the "ambivalent" Corsican. Whilst the majority will kill you with kindness, there's an element of the population that treat outsiders as if they have a sign around their necks advertising the plague.
This hasn't stopped the French from flocking here in spades during vacation time. They're prepared to tolerate part (2)and focus on part (1). They're right, Corsica is a place that can make the heart beat that little bit faster, or perhaps that little bit slower.
Mountains and craggy coastline, Corsica is well served by both. If you are going to explore them on any level you're going to need wheels.
Once again we prearranged for the smallest car (ie cheapest) available which has always meant receiving an upgrade to something more buxom on arrival. Not this time. The Nissan Micra may not be quite as petite as a Smart Car but it's a close contest. Can't find a parking spot? Slot the Micra in your
Just another Corsican village!
back pocket and take it with you.
Just as well. The majority of roads are as narrow as a Liberal's opinion on asylum seekers. Thousands of switchbacks sharper than a Labor policy backflip make a road map look like a seismograph during a 10.6 earthquake. Praise Be the Micra, tailor made for such roads. If you are looking to start up a business on Corsica, put a big red line through the stretch Limo service.
For the heart and soul of Corsica, dump all pretentiousness at sea level and head to the hills. Tiny villages that suffer tourism but will never sell their soul to it are liberally sprinkled amongst some tough landscapes.
It's a step back in time driving into some of these towns. Calisima, the highest village in Corsica, was a textbook example. Various forms of livestock wander the street, there is only one street, and most of the population of about 30 sit on roadside benches watching the world go by very slowly. As we drove in, every head turned as one and followed us through. It looked as though they were watching a tennis match in extreme slow motion. I'm sure we were
the topic of conversation around the bar that night:
"Saw something this morning you don't see every day. 2 strangers drove through town in a very small car".
"Yup. Don't see that every day".
That's about as exciting as it gets in Calisima.
During the evening in those bars, crusty old men sit around playing cards, sipping pastis, passive smoking laws something future sissy generations can debate when the 21st century rolls into town. Conversations are strictly in Corsican and revolve around the inconsequential with plenty of reverence to the great Ajaccio football side of 1964/65 and how they will never be replicated by skirt wearing contemporary prima donnas. Cows wander in off the street and nobody bats an eyelid save the bar owner who might be raised to shoo the rascals out until the pigs decide it's their turn. It's a scene from a simple life from another eon and the locals don't want it any other way.
Down on the coast and it's a different kettle of fish. The earthiness of the mountains still resonates but there's also a heavy dose of bling in the air.
Anchored in tiny ports too cute
For me this wall is FRENCH!
to be real are a range of private yachts, some so muscled up they support more people than a few of the surrounding villages.This decadence belies the general kick back ambience.
Listen to the clank of metal balls during an animated game of pétanque played out amongst Corsican elder gentry.
Bunny hop through dozens of hinterland villages in the coastal interior, most sand coloured, most red tiled roofed, all with a church steeple poking its head out of the middle and all a solid 10 on the character graph.
Chugalug the 25 klms between Ile Rousse and Calvi inside the "Tramway de la Balagne". Slated for the scrap metal yard decades ago, this 2 carriage relic continues to shake, rattle and bump its way, hugging the deep blue Med. Even its horn sounds like a cry for help: "Please pension me off"!
On the beach, float in waters so azure you'd swear they'd upped stumps from Tahiti and plumped themselves right down next to this impressive chunk of Mediterranean rock.
Wander amongst a slate of rock solid Citadelles and Genoese towers, a sight to see but perhaps constructed with a touch too much colonial testosterone.
All you want to do is dive in
This island is some sort of package. I even spotted a bit of rideable surf one day. Oui Mesdames et Messieurs, vous avez raison, La Corse est genial.
Can I give it my iron clad two thumbs up seal of approval?
Course I can. Ya get it? Huh? Ya get it?
The Corsicans, like their mainland counterparts, have shown that same hospitality to us but in a more laid back manner. Where the mainland French are efficient, prompt and fashion icons at all times of the day, the Corsican are just that little more easy going.
Corsicans are not too concerned about anything in particular. They are happy to be seen at the local cafe in their "house clothes" maybe with a pair of heals added. Put them behind the wheel of a car, however, and all of a sudden these Corsicans become Fangio. Is it the close proximity to Italy? Passing and overtaking on the blindest of corners, driving on the wrong side of the road and even bipping the horn on occasion. The Corsicans park where they want, how they want and don't seem too concerned
at getting the odd ding or parking fine. The Corsicans are so laid back we almost didn't have anywhere to stay. Although it's the end of the true tourist season, we did email ahead a week or two to secure some accommodation. On average it took 5 days for a reply. We are stilling waiting a response from two of the hotels. Ah, no big deal you might be thinking. One hotel that did reply and confirmed our booking for 4 nights advised us on arrival
"oh... You're the Gary Yeates in the email... I don't have that room available anymore... Don't worry you can stay at a hotel in town... It's 3 stars... I'll ring them... Yes, off you go."
So having a confirmed booking actually means nothing in Corsica. A word of warning if you are going to Corsica, which I highly recommend, don't assume your hotel or apartment booking is safe once it's confirmed, you need to also ring and confirm the booking verbally. Equally, if a hotel says full, it's not always the case and you need to enquiry in person. It's all done in Corsican time, not too dissimilar to "Fiji time".
Corsican hotels also offer half pension, something I have not seen on the mainland. A half pension means room plus breakfast and dinner. Now that can be a bit risky if the hotel's chef is a bit of an ordinary chef. Fortunately for us, our hotel in Ile Rousse was a small family run hotel ( with a glint of Faulty Towers at times except run to a tight and very organised schedule. They speak French and Corsican, Gary speaks French and English and just occasionally things aren't as they seem. Lucky Gary likes Quail for dinner with the HEAD LEFT ON!!! ).
The Corsicans pride themselves on their authentic Corsican cuisine and fortunately we were able to sample just some of it, thanks Gary. ( next time minus the head). Consequently we are leaving Corsica with some excess luggage around our middles and Gary may have a trip to his Cardiologist earlier than planned!! The food was delicious but probably more calories than we would eat in a month. It looks like salads are back on the menu for the next month.
Finally, dogs, dogs and way more dogs. I have never seen so many dogs as
The water ain't half clear
I have in Corsica. I am not talking about dogs in the street or on the pavement or even in parks. There are dogs walking through the hotel's lobby, in the rooms, at breakfast at dinner and even on the ship sailing to Corsica and leaving Corsica. As I sit in the cafeteria of the ship sailing towards Livorno typing the blog I see more dogs than babies!! No one batts and eyelid as a dog cocks its leg against the wall of the cafeteria.
"Harry was that you!!"
So when you're next in Corsica, make sure you look where you walk, there may be a doggy turd just ahead.
More images at: www.colvinyeates.zenfolio.com
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