Corsica a small French Island in the Mediterranean

That’s Corsica the little red Island east of France and south of Italy

The island known to the ancient Greeks as Kallisto and to the present-day inhabitants as L’lle de Beaute, is Corsica.
Corsica has had a long and turbulent history, the indigenous population having at various times been enslaved, besieged and subjected to pirate raids, so to wage their rebellion they moved to the mountainous region in the interior. During WWII Corsica was occupied by thousands of Italian and German troops, who were relentlessly harassed by islanders conducting guerrilla warfare from hideouts in the maquis – those vast areas of tangled, almost impenetrable scrubland, which gave it’s name to the underground resistance movement.

To best understand our travels in Corsica, you need to know a little of the Geography of this Island. For the most part the terrain is mountainous, with about two thirds consisting of an ancient massif that divides the island on a north-west to south-west axis. Corsica has a cluster of 20 peaks exceeding 2,000m with Mount Cinto being the highest at just over 2,700 m.
Cap Corse is mostly sedimentary rock, slate, in colours of green, brown, and grey. Whereas on the mid-west coast the granite rocks are dramatic, and in brilliant colours of red, pink and orange and that plunge steeply into the ocean, so that much of the coastline is only accessible by boat. The south west coastline has huge rounded outcrops of granite called Taffonis, shaped by water, wind and time into the strangest of formations, and scrub covered hills that run into the deep bays where you can just imagine pirates waiting to attack passing ships. And in Bonifacio, on the southern tip the cliffs are of chalk-white limestone sea stacks, precipitous and dramatic.

Taffonis
Taffonis
Slate
Granite
Limestone sea stacks at Bonifacio

BASTIA
We arrived into Bastia, the most northerly major town right on time at 7am after an easy overnight crossing. We turn north towards the Cap de Corse, and soon lose the line of traffic heading to work, and to drop off schoolchildren for their 8am start. Wild camping is not actually forbidden on Corsica, but it’s not particularly easy. Height restriction bars, and no camping car signs are everywhere, but nevertheless with not a lot of options with most of Corsica being closed for vacation in January, we do manage to find some truly beautiful places to stop overnight, and were never told to move on by the police or locals.

CAP CORSE
It’s only 50 kms in length and 10 km wide, but it took us 5 hours to drive this winding route. With black pebble beaches, ancient Genoese watch towers, colourful houses and dramatic views that open up to you around every corner, the camera was never far from my hand At times the road was only wide enough for one vehicle, and mostly had no guardrails, or when you are lucky you find rocks placed along the side of the 100 or so metre drop-offs. With Hermione feeling like the size of a bus, I’m glad it is off season and there weren’t too many other cars about.

curious cows
this is a very good barrier, usually they were just like the stones in front
Genoese watch towers
quiet little bay

Nonza is on the west coast of the Cap and perched on an impressive peak and where in the third century Saint Julie was born. Yes, there really was a Saint Julie! Apparently Julie was a young Christian woman who was crucified for not honouring the Roman’s pagan gods, her persecutors not thinking that her crucifixion was not causing her enough pain, cut off her breasts and threw them down the hillside. Two hot springs emerged from that spot and is where to this day a fountain flows. The Church of Saint Julie is in the village of Nonza, May 22nd is the Feast Day of Saint Julie in France, and she is the patron saint of Corsica.

Font

AJACCIO
Birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1769, and the capital Southern Corsica, Ajaccio feels a little like a Riviera town with palm trees lining the streets, lovely squares and cobbled streets of the old town.
We visited Maison Bonaparte where Napoléon was born in 1769 and is now a museum. The home is in the centre of the old town and I was hoping to learn a little more about ‘The Little Corsican’ but sadly did not so I will have to do some further reading on him. There was quite a lot about Letizia, Napoleon’s mother however. She was said to be one of the most beautiful women of her day, and by the age of thirty when she became a widow, she had given birth to thirteen children, of which only five boys and three girls lived, all who played distinguished parts in the reign of Napoleon.

The weather hasn’t been particularly kind to us here in Corsica and the day we had planned on visiting Corte in the centre of the island, we were turned around by the police as the road had been closed. Not sure if trees had been blown down in the 70 km per hour winds, or that the heavy snow that had fallen overnight had not yet been cleared by the snow plows.

snow on the mountains
above the clouds

BONIFACIO
Positioned on the southerly tip of the island, Bonifacio is the oldest town in Corsica and is truly a photographer’s dream, the cliff tops have incredible views out to sea with Sardinia in easy sight.
The Citadel was built in the 9th century and historically most of the city’s inhabitants lived enclosed within it’s walls in the Haute Ville, a tangle of narrow streets and tall buildings, some five or six stories high and only one room wide and split by perpendicular staircases where there were once only ladders that could be pulled up in times of siege.

Bonifacio old town perched on it’s limestone cliffs
citadel walls


A level walk opens the sky and sea again with views of what scholars believe to be Homer’s ‘excellent harbour’, closed in on all sides by precipitous cliffs, with two bold headlands facing each other at the mouth, leaving only a narrow channel in between.

We have found a beautiful quiet place to free camp alongside the Gulf de Santa Manza near Bonifacio, with sheep and goats grazing in the field next to us, and nice walks over the hills close by.

flock of goats that crossed in front of us
peek a boo
nice view
Goat games


Corsica has been a wonderful little island to visit, such dramatic scenery, mountains and winding roads that you think will never stop. But if you ever get the chance to visit here, do it!

It is from Bonifacio that we leave Corsica and take a short 16 km, 60 minute ferry to Sardinia where our adventures continue.

Hermione’s Grand Tour of the Lakes of Italy

Five countries, eight hours of white knuckle driving where at times we weren’t sure we would make it up the next hill, but also knew that we couldn’t stop because the weather was getting worse, and that then we would be stuck on the side of the highway.

We finally came into the last tunnel and we straight away noticed that the cars coming in the other direction had no snow on them, but best of all there was no snow on the ground once we were out.

THE LAKES, FINALLY

Where the Lombard plains rise into the Alpi, northern Italy is blessed with a series of lakes that are among the most beautiful of Italy’s natural attractions.  All the lakes have a balmy Mediterranean climate, with sky blue lakes, cradled by the snow crested Alps. Lake Maggiore, or Lago Verbano is a favourite of ours from previous visits, and we were happy for it to be our first stop after ‘that’ drive. The lake is surrounded by stunning villas, and botanical gardens.  We watched a beautiful sunset, had an easy dinner, a glass of wine and climbed into our cosy bed, happy to be on dry, non-slip ground.

The border seems fluid in this area, so you wander out of Italy and back into Switzerland just by driving around a corner.  Lugano was around that corner for us, and the perfect place to stop for lunch at a sidewalk cafe to watch the locals.         

It was like watching a high fashion parade stroll by, fur coats, fur hats, fur around the tops of your high heeled boots, and strangely it has a Mediterranean feel with palm trees, and an Italian accent.

Back into Italy, the Milanese playground of Como was our next lake to visit.  This immense body of water, also known as Largo Lario is enchantingly beautiful, as are it’s tiny waterside villages, some only accessible by boat.  Como feels like a real town if that makes any sense, after we were on a call to our kids at home, an Italian woman of indeterminate age, and dressed to ‘the nines’ spoke to us in English, and asked if we know about the small bridge at the back of the villa next to where we had parked overnight, and that would take us up to a fantastic viewing point.  She went on to tell us she had been married to an Englishman who had passed on ten years previous, she had a cute little fluffy dog called Jock 8, as 1 through 7 had passed, and all their dogs are called Jock.                                                                                           

The inventor of the battery, Alessandro Volta was born in Como, but likely more people would have heard about George Clooney and family having a villa here.

Lake Garda was our last to visit, it’s also the largest of the Lakes in this area.  It’s Northern end shaped more like a fjord is where we visited last time, so decided to stay south to where the lake widens to appear more like an inland sea.   With it’s easy motorway access from Milano and Verona the southern shores have sadly taken on a very touristic feel with theme parks, but thankfully a visit to Riva del Garda with it’s old centre of cobbled lanes and squares bought back those lovely memories of the Garda we remember.

VERONA

OK I just had to put this pic in

Once we got past the Shakespearean hyperbole, we could wander the cobbled pedestrian streets of Verona mesmerised by it’s beautiful Piazza’s, and stunning architecture.

The Piazza Delle Erbe is undeniably one of the best preserved and charming squares we have seen so far.  This diamond shape piazza is in the heart of the city and during the Roman Empire, when Verona was an important settlement due to it’s location, was it’s main forum.          

And forget about the Colosseum in Rome, Verona has it’s own version that is just as spectacular.  This landmark is unknown to many but it’s engineering is a true wonder.  Constructed in 30 AD, of glorious pink marble the colosseum is still in excellent condition, with literally all of it’s original seating and arches still remaining.  In it’s day games would have been held here with as many as 30,000 spectators.    Today you can still see rock concerts, operas and plays here.

CREMONA

Finding us with a couple of extra hours to spare before heading to the coast for our ferry to Corsica, we decided to make a stop in Cremona.

Home to Antonio Stradivari, who in the mid sixteen hundred perfected the impeccable Stradivarius violin.   Cremona to this day maintains it’s centuries old status as the premier city for the making of the perfect string instruments.

The Torrazzo or Bell Tower was also spectacular.  Built between 1267 and 1305 and reaching 112 meters in height, it is the highest bell tower constructed with bricks in Europe.  But the thing that made it the most spectacular for us was the astronomical clock (1586) that depicts the vault of heaven with the zodiacal constellations crossed by a constant, apparent movements of the Sun and the Moon, which for millennia has been beating time.

SAVONA and the Corsica Ferry Terminal

We arrive at Savona in the rain, pull into line and await our turn to board.

There were more trucks than cars, so the boarding went smoothly, and we departed the dock 15 minutes early.                                                                                                                            The ferry was comfortable enough, and we settled in for a very calm, 10-hour, overnight trip to Corsica.

(sorry about the layout and pics, WP has done an update and changed the layout etc., so I still have to figure out how to do this)

Snowed In

When Brian suggested that after Christmas we visit our good friends Gisela and Werner in Germany the first thing that came to my mind was I really love those two, and want to see them, but it’s WINTER IN GERMANY!

With no winter boots or jackets we’re certainly not prepared for a European winter, especially this one that they are already calling ‘The Coldest Winter in Europe in 150 years’.

But nevertheless we are now here in Bavaria in the south of Germany, where they are getting record snowfalls, schools are closed tomorrow, highways are messy and even a couple of ski areas have shut down due to avalanche danger.

Luckily we are warm and dry, staying in the Wendl’s lovely home with under floor heating and a wood fire, good friends for company, plenty of food and wine and can watch the kids build snow forts in the street.

We have been fortunate to be here for Lea’s birthday twice in her 9 years. The day always starts with chocolate cake for breakfast, a tradition for birthdays in the Wendl house, though at 11pm last night when we had just arrived back from drinks at their neighbour’s, and the cake still wasn’t ready I did wonder if Gisela could do it.

But never doubt what a Mother can pull together at midnight, and the cake was delicious, as always.

A wrap up of our trip from April – December, 2018

Well it’s been a heck of an eight months!
Close to 25,000 kms travelled, and we feel we have barely scratched the surface of the places we want to see, and or revisit.

Hermione has behaved very well, she has conquered mountains, visited the seaside, cities and desert of Spain, and still we will push her even further next year,  from the south of Sicily to the north, Finland.

So we hope you continue to enjoy following travels, and please keep leaving us your comments, we love to hear from you.

*The map above shows many of our stops, and you can use the little + symbol to increase the size

Visiting the Champagne area and New Year’s Eve in Strasbourg

After celebrating Christmas with the Gauthier’s in Kerevy, we drive east towards the Champagne region of France. It’s an area we have passed through previously, but not stopped in for any length of time and although winter is not the best time to see this area, it’s a great time to visit the cellars for tastings with no crowds around. 

Strasbourg, is the capital of Alsace and the official place of work for the European Parliament.    It’s built around a series of canals, situated on the Rhine River and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s been inhabited since Palaeolithic times, and has passed back and forth between France and Germany numerous times, but has been officially French since the end of 1944

All around the city are beautifully decorated pedestrian shopping areas lined with 15th century, half-timbered buildings with impressively carved facades and the Cathedral is lit for Christmas.                                                              There are beautiful chandeliers hung in one street as decorations, and each corner you turn it just gets better.  There is the Hansel and Gretel display above one shop, and it just amazing! So much work must go into preparing these decorations.

There is also a beautifully decorated outdoor Christmas tree in Place Kleber, and the largest I think that we have ever seen.

New Year’s Eve is also known as Saint Sylvester’s Day (after one of the very early Pope’s), and even though the weather is very cold with drizzling rain there are many families out looking at the beautifully lit shops and streets.  We pass many couples dressed to the nines and notice ‘Complete’ signs out front of the many Michelin starred restaurants in town.                                      But that’s not were looking for tonight, and decide on a great Italian restaurant with only had a small waiting list, and had delicious pizza’s and shared a bottle of excellent Italian Montepulciano and toasted to our travels in 2019.

Fireworks are legal to buy, so the large council run displays like we would normally go to at King’s Beach don’t happen here in Alsace, but everyone seemed to be well stocked, and we heard fireworks going off well into the night.

It’s hard to imagine that 2018 has come to an end, but we are still loving travelling in Hermione, and look forward to more adventures in 2019.