We arrived into Porto from our time in the Restonica Valley in time for sunset and dinner and left not long after a late lazy breakfast overlooking the marina the next morning.
All of us would have been more than happy to have stayed and explored everything that this part of the coast offers, however we needed to be in Calvi that night for our departure back to the mainland the next morning, and we wanted the day to enjoy and appreciate the less direct coastal road which had come highly recommended.
We weren’t disappointed, the drive more than made up for the quick exit, the views from this coast road from Porto to Calvi are nothing short of jaw droppingly beautiful, with no shortage of small quiet beaches to choose from for a picnic (not a very glamorous one mind you) lunch of, YES, more Corsican salami, brebis cheese, bread, olive oil and fig paste. Sitting on a little pebble beach off the beaten path overlooking the bluest of water I imagined not taking the plane the following day!
PORTO TO CALVI
We hit the outskirsts of Calvi and decided to continue onto l’ile Rousse before heading back to Calvi just in time for a quick pre-dinner walk up into the tiny cobbled streets of the historic citadelle where we enjoyed one of our best dinners on the island at ‘A Candella’. Spending an evening around the table in a Calvi village street overlooking the mediterranean, enjoying the best of Corsican produce and cooking while sipping on our last bottle of Corsican rosé was the perfect final evening on this magical and compelling island. Corsica, I want to know so much more of you, until next time…….
(Note, I would advise you if you can to arrive at A Candella early or make a reservation, we missed out on a table on the terrace overlooking the port), no complaints however!
Notre Dame des neiges stands in front of the ‘Aiguilles de Bavella‘ (Bavella needles, mountain peaks).
After a night spent in the charming village of Zonza and a wonderful dinner of wild boar we headed to the Aiguilles de Bavella and then north again further into the mountains to the town of Corte.
Farmed animals here are free to roam and feed themselves on the island’s wild chestnuts and other plants and island herbs, at the same time they are kept away from the olive tree which would make their meat too oily. This diet gives the meat its unique Corsican flavor. Breeding with the island’s wild boar is avoided by castrating the males and desexing the females. Here in the image above our stationary car was being used as a cool shady place for an afternoon nap by these very cute and friendly piglets.
The town of Corte situated in the center of the island, once the capital of independent Corsica and part of the Corsican Republic, headed by Pasquale Paoli in the 18th Century.
Jean Pierre Gaffori, leader of the resistance against Genoese rule in the 18th Century, looking very determined!
Image left; the house where Arrighi de Casanova (born 1778 Duke of Padua and a French diplomat and soldier in the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars) and another historic figure Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte, born 1708, King of Naples and Sicily and elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte were born. Napoleon himself was born in Ajaccio. Image right; the Corsican flag.
In the mountains of Corsica it’s all about meat and cheese and they do them so very, very well. So well in fact that it led me to a mainland self imposed cheese ban for having eaten way too much of it on the island! (well intentioned but very short lived as are most of my self imposed disciplinary actions)!
Here at Felix Battiste’s hut (Bergerie de Melu) in the Restonica Valley you can taste some of the islands best brebis cheese. While the cheese is made down in the valley, Felix brings his sheep up to live with him (at approximately 1600m altitude) for the summer months. They share their home with Felix’s donkeys who are a practical necessity here in the mountains, returning to the valley each day with Felix to collect supplies for the hut. (The sheep were still down in the valley on the day we visited, the nights are still too cold for them in early June).
For most of the hike up I was thinking of fried cheese beignets after having read they were served in the mountain huts here, as well as an omelette au brocciu (brocciu being the soft Corsican cheese made with either goats milk or sheep’s milk), however on arrival I discovered they only prepared these dishes in the busier summer months. No complaints, the bread, cheese and salami combination was a perfect mountain lunch. (Felix’s cousin is responsible for the delicious salami).
This rugged, stunningly beautiful part of Corsica should not be missed, take the inland roads for their beauty but be prepared for some hairy driving! The road from Corte to the valley in particular is interesting in a scary kind of way, with the road wide enough for one way traffic it has a stream of two way traffic moving along it at sometimes ridiculously high speeds.
It is the beautiful mountain air, the stunning scenery, the authentic villages and their people, the relaxed pace of life, that make me want to buy that little plot of land bursting with olive trees and bleating goats, that would in turn provide me with all the cheese and oil that I could ever eat, and do all of it overlooking the blue sea on an island named Corsica.
Corsica; I have dreamt of visiting this mediterranean island for the longest time.
So when Australian friends invited me to join them for 5 nights I jumped at the opportunity (after all I am but a 40 minute flight away)! The plan, to meet up in Bonifacio and then head north through the island’s rugged mountainous center and finish in the town of Calvi situated on the island’s north west coast.
I snuck in a little extra corner of the island when I flew into Ajaccio located on the islands west coast, picked up the car and headed south east to Bonifacio where my friends were disembarking from their boat and a heavenly week on the nearby island of Sardinia.
Fortunate to be visiting in June before the heat and human onslaught this ile de beauté as it is aptly known is nothing short of spectacular, from its coastline and beaches to the tips of its mountains, from its people to its food and wine.
Bonifacio featured here in my images is where we spent our first night and is one of the islands oldest towns, with a tormented past it sits dramatically on white limestones cliffs and spends its time looking out to sea.
This area of the island has long been inhabited and we know this because of the skeletal ‘Dame de Bonifacio’, dating back to 6500 BC and discovered in a cave shelter near the village of Capello just north of Bonifacio. The original skeleton is housed in the museum in the village of Levie (and the reproduction in the Bastion de l’Etendard’s small museum in Bonifacio).
The town of Bonifacio itself was founded back in 828 by Count Bonifacio of Tuscany, fortified and strategically placed to repel its invaders. The fortification constructed by the Genovese in the 13th Century, was destroyed in the 16th and rebuilt and modernised by the French in the same century following the signing of the Versaille treaty in 1768 when Corsica became part of France.
Much of Bonifacio’s unique character comes from systems set in place by the inhabitants, systems that enabled them to resist for sometimes months at a time the interminable sieges of the invaders. It is for this reason that the town was built on the top of grain silos and is dotted with a system of stone arcs between the houses allowing the distribution of water to the people via an aqueduct.
Over its history Bonifacio has been ruled by both the Republic of Pisa and the Genoans. In the 15th Century Spain tried its luck when the King of Aragon laid siege to Bonifacio for months however the Bonifacians managed to resist and the siege finished with the Aragonese fleeing. The same century also saw a devastating plague, an invasion by French forces and the Turkish pirate Dragut which promtly led to a nasty pillage and massacre by the Turks. The Genoans then returned, however for only a short period of time before Corsica finally came under French rule.
Visiting all that this historic town has to offer and strolling through its historic streets with its medieval architecture and intriguing and dramatic history cannot be done in one evening and one morning (which was what we had set aside) before heading up into the mountains of the island. I however have a little plan up my sleeve, and that is to return later in the year so I can discover much, much more of this stunning clifftop town with its small and beautiful port (if there is one thing I am good at in life its having a travel plan)!
More images from our Corsican adventure to come.
Ps In the village of Levie we had the sweet pleasure of an invitation up into one of the villager’s homes (as seen in her window above her glorious roses). This house has been in the family for generations, it was built in 1911 and is where she was born. The sweetest, warmest lady who welcomed us into her home for a chat and a drink.
Our new friend did however keep insisting that any photo we took of her would prove to be a disappointment to us, that she had NEVER and she really meant never taken a good photo, naturally I told her I didn’t believe a word of it. She was however convinced that if any of us took the time to print the photo we would see what she meant! (I think she may have been wrong about that)! In my eye she is beautiful.
Patrick Mesiano (former pastry chef for the renowned Joel Robuchon restaurant at the Hotel Metropole in Monaco) and his staff are behind all this ‘deliciousness’. Patrick is the patissièr and chocolatièr at his Beaulieu boutique Mesiano and he kindly allowed me to photograph his delicacies from behind the counter last saturday morning.
It’s not humanely possible to walk through Mesiano’s doors and not leave with at least one or two of their seductive creations, or a handful of their chocolates, and on this particular day I walked out with two of my very favorites, the tarte au citron and l’eclair au chocolat. Today on returning to the boutique I was offered some chocolates to take home and believe me when I say without exageration, they are the BEST I have ever eaten, and I have eaten a LOT of chocolate in my life, a lot! These are drops of fine chocolate heaven.
So if you do get to Beaulieu one day (and I recommend you do), and feel like indulging yourself, Mesiano is located just over the road from the daily food market which takes place in the town square each morning.
NB: The chocolate cup with the flower (a muguet or lily of the valley) seen in one of the images above is for the upcoming French public holiday on May 1st known as La fete du Muguet, (it is also France’s labor day holiday). On this day people all over France offer this flower to their loved ones for good luck and to celebrate the arrival of spring. The tradition dates back to the renaissance time of Charles IX.
Mesiano | Beaulieu sur mer | 35 Boulevard Marinoni | 04 93 01 35 85
….the handsome guy amongst all the color and beauty is Maurice and he’s a permanent fixture at the sublime Hervé Frézel Fleuriste in Beaulieu sur Mer. While he doesnt quite ‘match’, I personally think he is adorable!
A big thank you to Hérmine and the staff at Hervé Frazel for allowing me to take these images, quel grand plaisir, merci mille fois.