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Published: July 18th 2015
Don't get too excited readers, I'm afraid I've not escaped the world of 9 to 5 again for the luxury of long-term travels. I wouldn't normally blog about a one week holiday, but our recent adventures in Corsica were the closest I've felt to travelling since I returned home more than 3 years ago and have inspired me to get typing! I was also surprised by the lack of up-to-date information I could find about this destination online (at least in English), so thought I would put our experiences out there for anyone else considering visiting this amazing Mediterranean island.
Despite all my plans to hit the road again when I returned from my RTW trip in the spring of 2012, I have since found myself rather more settled than I expected, stuck back in 9 to 5 (or 8.30 to 5 as it appears to have been sneakily extended to while I was away), and saving every penny and more to try and get on the property ladder. It looked like this might mean holidays were on hold, but luckily my equally wanderlust-inflicted boyfriend found us flights from our local airport for under £100 and suddenly escaping
was back on the agenda! We've spent enough time staring at globes and maps to know that Corsica is an island in the Med somewhere near France and Italy, surmised that in July it would likely be hot and sunny, and we presumed they spoke French, beyond that we were totally clueless. Time to get researching online! Everything useful was in French, which we have mostly forgotten in the 15+ years since high school. A lot of websites and blogs were 10 years old so we had no idea if they were accurate. We did find out that there are hundreds of campsites, there is a train line across bits of the island, and it looks stunningly beautiful in photos - that was the sum of our planning so a proper adventure it would be!
As we waited in the car park for the shuttle bus to the airport we got chatting to another couple who it turned out were also on our flight. We were very proud of how light we had packed until we saw that their only luggage was a small day bag each - we had read that Corsica was popular with naturists
so jumping to conclusions kept us amused while waiting around for our flight to be called. We landed in Bastia at 10.30 in the morning and stepped off the plane into scorching heat. An amazingly helpful lady with fantastic English at the Airport Information Desk recommended must see destinations across the island, thrust maps and highlighted bus timetables at us and then admitted at the end of our conversation that she didn't even work on the Information Desk! She then sent us off to the Tourist Information Office in town where they were equally helpful with more timetables and suggestions. Overwhelmed with information we decided to have lunch and debate where to go first. Over plates of fresh salad the size of small tables we opted to get on the soonest departing bus or train, which turned out to be the train to Ajaccio.
For us the train system in Corsica was fantastic. It only covers the northern half of the island, but in a week this was more than enough to explore. If you had longer it looks like there are buses between the main cities to allow you to explore the south of the island.
You can get a Pass Liberta for 50 Euros which gives you unlimited train travel for 7 days - we couldn't have got a return train ticket to the airport for this back home! The trains are small but comfortable, the main routes are air conditioned and have a toilet and charging points for your phone/camera, there are extra local trains for popular parts of the line, and when we were there every train we took ran like clockwork. Most importantly, they also pass through some of the most spectacular scenery and locations I have ever seen from a train window - they are definitely not just a way to get from A to B, it's all about the journey.
Having lost my ability to cope with the heat after three years back in mild and blustery Britain we opted to jump off the train in Corté, a university town in the centre of Corsica, high up in the mountains. It probably was a few degrees cooler than by the coast, but as it was still above 30C I'm not sure my dehydrated body noticed! Immediately outside the train station we saw a sign declaring a campsite
just two minutes away with a big arrow pointing down the road to the right. Perfect we thought, our idea to wing it was a good one and we'll have the tent up and a cold beer in hand in no time! We set off and immediately got distracted by a beautiful rocky river running alongside the road, which we scrambled down to and dipped our toes in. Feet refreshed we stomped off to find the campsite. Forty minutes later we were at the far edge of town, beyond all the building merchants, mechanics, municipal offices and gyms. Even if it's two minutes away in a car we should have found it by now. Very hot, tired and frustrated we went into the only place open, a warehouse shop resembling The Range or Wilkos. There appeared to only be one harassed looking man working in the whole place, and as we waited patiently in line we decided one of the queuing customers might be more helpful. In broken French we asked where is the campsite? What is the name of the campsite you are looking for? We don't know, any will do! Luckily the woman behind us knew her campsites
and the woman in front of us knew some English, so between them they told us the one we were heading for was no good, and all the others were in the middle of town, in the opposite direction to the way we had walked. The woman behind took pity on us and, once she had paid for her towels, insisted on getting her daughter to drive us back in to town. They dropped us right at the entrance to Campsite Restonica, ensuring that we couldn't get lost again, and ensuring that we had a wonderful shady and cool spot to camp for our first night. The location of our pitch was beautiful, on a terrace a few metres up from a crystal clear mountain river...the same river we had dipped our toes in an hour or so before, just 100 yards upstream!
We spent three nights in Corté, the cooling rivers, shady campsite and stunning mountain scenery were difficult to draw ourselves away from. We went to the Tourist Information Office for recommendations on walks and spent an afternoon hiking up the Gorges du Tavignano. Our sense of direction/ability to read signs is evidently atrocious as
we instantly took the wrong path, but ended up meandering along by another stunning mountain river before scrambling up the mountainside through thick herby scrub to join the correct path. Getting lost was probably a good thing as out on the mountain the sun was ferocious and I was very glad to find natural springs and pools to be able to re-hydrate and cool off. We also climbed to a view point by the old fortified citadel with great views over the old town and surrounding mountains. While we were staying in Corté they had a big race on with competitors running 33, 68 or 105km, with up to 8000m of ascent - it definitely put our 6ish kilometre stroll to shame and we paused over our pizzas to applaud loudly as each competitor staggered down the main street in the dark after some 16 hours running across rocky mountain paths!!
Keeping Corté as our base we took the train to Ajaccio one day. The capital of Corsica appeared to be just another sun-drenched Mediterranean town with a cruise ship terminal and the usual consumer paraphernalia that erupts in such places to entice tourists to empty their
wallets. We did find a nice foodie market to buy olives and charcutterie for our picnic, and then we went and cooled off in the sea while we waited for the next train out. Ajaccio was well worth the visit though for the route back up through the mountains, with the train clinging to the rocky hillsides and rattling over bridges and gorges. We hopped off at Vizzavona as it looked so pretty on the journey down. Ross posed for a photo by the GR20 sign, a three week hike across the length of Corsica considered one of the most challenging and stunning walks in the world. Rather than join the main trail we hiked up through cool beech woods by a stream, following signs for Cascades Anglais. With only 90 minutes before the last train we didn't make it there before we had to turn around...although we did wonder if the dried up waterfall we passed was it and it was all a joke by the French against the English!
From Corté we headed up to Calvi, a stunning town on the north coast of Corsica. The train was packed and Ross ended up on the
floor in the vestibule, while I got half a seat amid everyone's baggage. For the last 45 minutes the line runs right along the coast, stopping at remote beaches and campsites, so we kept a look out for places to stay on the way back. Calvi had another helpful Tourist Information Office, providing us with a map and list of accommodation. Unfortunately, while they could recommend a shady spot for a picnic, they were not allowed to recommend a campsite, so we spent an hour in the midday sun traipsing around finding a site with the right combination of shade, proximity to beach and within our budget. Third time lucky we arrived at Paduella Campsite, probably the most pristine campsite I have ever had the pleasure of staying at. We spent two nights in Calvi, sharing our time between exploring the old fortified city, watching the super yachts sailing out of the marina and the fishermen bringing in their catch, picnicking on bread and cheese, and hanging out at the beach. Our budget didn't run to indulging in all the activities on offer: high ropes courses, donkey rides and every watersport you could ever think of, but we did treat
ourselves to an hour on the inflatable aqua park for 10 Euros and had great fun climbing and bouncing around and leaping into the refreshing water like the big kids that we are!
We then headed back up the coast and jumped off at Bodri - literally jumped off, there is no platform here, barely a sign to say it is a stop, let alone a station! On one side of the railway line is a huge campsite hidden amidst the trees, on the other side are a couple of paths winding off through the scrub to stretches of white sand and crystal clear turquoise waters to rival any Caribbean postcard beach. Despite the entire campsite descending on these two beaches every day they didn't feel too crowded and were so perfect we decided to wait and leave on the last train the following day so that we could make the most of them - a decision we didn't regret despite being rather pinker than we would have liked by the time we did leave! As a distraction from the usual people watching, on our last day we were entertained by a collie dog who wandered up
and down the beach, seemingly owner-less, looking for friends, and who spent hours in an intense game of piggy-in-the-middle with a couple of guys playing bat and ball in front of us.
We arrived back in Bastia just before 7pm on our last night. The ever helpful Tourist Information staff gave us maps, bus timetables and directions to a campsite on the edge of town, but over our final dinner we decided the faff of getting there and putting up the tent for a few hours was not worth it and made the decision, in true backpacker-style, to sleep at the airport. I think Ross regretted this decision more than me, writhing in agony on a metal bench in the early hours and debating if he had sunstroke, appendicitis, or if it was just the side effects of the French cooking their beef burgers rare!
I'm under no illusion that Corsica isn't a popular, well known destination to other Europeans, but I struggled to find anyone British who had been there before and don't really know why it isn't on our radar. All the locals were friendly and helpful and we got by fine
with our handful of remembered words from GCSE French. Corsica has so much to offer: stunning beaches, warm seas, watersports, great climate, good food at reasonable prices, beautiful scenery, mountains, hiking, history...
We went for a week but it felt like much longer, in a good way, which holidays rarely do. I think the balance of adventure to relaxing was spot on: the challenge of packing light again, heading into the unknown and not knowing where you will sleep that night, the long days of entertaining yourself outside that come with camping and the joy of finding somewhere you love and deciding to stay longer and chill out there. I would highly recommend this kind of trip to anyone who wants to get that travelling feeling back but doesn't have the time or funds right now to go off to the other side of the world for months...we'll certainly be looking out for cheap flights to another random destination soon I think!
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