Up and down mountains, with beautiful views everywhere
Tour of Corsica, where along the coast still some 70 Genovese towers remain. Over cities like Calvi, Corte and Bonifacio, which sits on top of white limestone rocks, hover citadels. The landscape is impressive everywhere, with beautiful canyons, like Gorges de l'Asco and Gorges de la Restonica, and the red rocks of the calanches. Along the coast the sea pounds rocks and cliffs, in the inland cows sleep on the road.
Travelogue & photos: Marianne Bekkering
We are touring Corsica with our own car. First we cross France to Nice, leisurely, in three days, from The Netherlands. Near Valence, we leave the highway and take the tourist route along the green-yellow roads on the map. France is so beautiful and varied, we discover pretty places every time. In Nice we take the ferry to Corsica.
In the Hautes-Alpes we see on the map the reservoir Lac de Serre-Ponçon, with lots of towns around it. The map tells us also there are plenty hotels. So we head in that direction to spend the night. Half-way up the mountain, we have a great view of the bright-blue reservoir. We drive around the lake and end up in Embrun, where we find a hotel on the lake.
Next day we drive to Nice via a gorgeous route. We pass a 2820 meters high peak in a desolate landscape, where there's a great view of the valley and the mountains around it. Lots of waterfalls too, so apparently by the end of June there is still snow melting, even though we don't see it.
Then down we go, into a more charming, green landscape. We arrive in Nice at 4:30 PM and find the hotel we booked in advance without problems. It's near the old city and the port from where the ferry leaves for Calvi on Corsica.
In the port we stare at the incredibly luxury yachts and then walk to the promenade for a white whine on a terrace near the water. After that, we walk to the old city to eat fish.
Next morning, the alarm clock wakes us early. A quick shower and then to the port, where we drive our car onto the ferry at 7:30 AM. On deck, we find deckchairs and soon we sit comfortably in the sun, while the ferry crosses a completely still sea.
The citadel has a great view of the city and port
At 2 PM the pilot gets on board and a little later we dock in Calvi. Seen from the ferry, Calvi looks like a nice, lively and small-scale port town, with a beautiful white sandy beach a little farther. We drive off the boat and find our hotel soon.
Calvi is very touristy, but not in a way that bothers us. It's still early in the season, which probably helps. Also in this port sailboats in all sizes.
We walk to the citadel, which towers high over Calvi. There isn't much left of it, but it has a wonderful view of the town and the sea. On the way back we take the shopping street to the port. There we have delicious fish for dinner on the terrace of Le Callelu.
Next morning we drive to l'Île Rousse, a little farther to the north, where the red granite island La Pietra lies off the coast. We explore the town, visit the small indoor market and then get back in the car for a drive in the surrounding mountains.
We drive via Santa Reparata di Balagna to Monticello and then on the D71 via Belgodère and Occiatana, Nessa, Montegrosso and Cateri through an impressive mountain landscape with stunning views of the inland and the shoreline.
Then on the D151 via Zilia and Calenzana back to Calvi. A great trip over narrow mountain roads. Back in Calvi we have a drink on a beach terrace with a great view of the citadel.
Next day we're lazy and stay on the beach. Which is also a pleasant way to spend the day. We rent bath towels and deck chairs with a parasol and spend the day reading and swimming in the sea. In the evening we have dinner in a restaurant with a view of the port: barbecued king prawns, very tasty.
Les Gorges de l'Asco
At the end of the beautiful canyon lies a ski resort
When we get up, it's overcast. The television even forecasts thunderstorms in the inland. Eventually it's not that bad at all: there is only a light shower in the afternoon. The rest of the time it's dry and warm.
We drive via l'Île Rousse, and near Lozari we take the N197 toward Ponte Leccia. Just before we reach Ponte Leccia we leave the road and are in the Gorges de l'Asco, where we immediately see the pointed peaks of the relatively young mountains.
It's a little hazy today, but it should be stunning when the weather is clear and sunny. The canyon itself is beautiful, with ever new views. We drive all the way through it to Haute Asco, which is a ski resort during the winter months. The highest peak here is 2560 meters. Today it's nice and warm, around 26 degrees centigrade.
On the way back we have a drink in a diminutive outdoor café along the road. We take the same route back to Ponte Leccia and part of the time we're behind a truck loaded with big tree trunks.
The road is narrow here and when there's oncoming traffic, a lot of manoeuvring takes place before they have passed. Honking loudly, the truck driver warns oncoming cars that they should get on the shoulder.
An ochre-colored town with a citadel above it
We drive to Corte, the capital of the district of the same name in the Haute- Corse department. Corte is a nice, ochre-colored town with a citadel above it.
Our hotel, Dominique Colonna, sits at the entrance of the Gorge de la Restonica. It's a cozy little hotel on a stream, about 3 km from the city, so it's nice and quiet here.
We leave our luggage in the hotel and go into town. First we visit the small citadel (which isn't much), then we wander through the narrow streets of the old city below. We enjoy a beer on an old square. In the evening we have dinner in the auberge (inn) next to the hotel.
Gorge de la Restonica
The road changes into a footpath to a glacier lake
When we get up, the weather is bright and sunny. After a tasty breakfast in the garden, accompanied by the rustle of rapids in the stream, we head out. Today we want to visit the Gorge de la Restonica, but we wonder if we can drive on the roads that are white on the map.
Yesterday we were warned that this canyon is much narrower the Asco canyon. They weren't kidding: even the first part - a yellow road on the map - is narrower, one and a half cars wide. And there is a lot of traffic, too. Passing other cars is a whole to-do and also scary: you have to get to the edge of the road, where there is the rock wall of the mountain on one side, and a deep chasm on the other. As soon as we can, we turn and go back the same way.
So we didn't see the part of the road that is white on the map. This eventually changes into a footpath to Lac Mel, one of seven glacier lakes in this area.
Red rocks in bizarre shapes
We drive back to Corte and then take the D18 northward, turn left onto the D84, which we follow all the way to Porto on the west coast. It's a beautiful route with stunning views of the fantastically shaped red granite rocks.
We cross the Col de Vergio, at 1477 meters the highest pass of Corsica that is accessible for cars. Some 10 km farther, we park the car in a spot where many other cars are parked as well.
There should be a waterfall somewhere around here. After a short walk we find it. It's not one big waterfall, but a series of small ones, with pretty, clear pools between them. There are large, flat stones on which people are having a picnic. An idyllic spot.
Walking back to the car, we have a great view of red rocks ahead of us.
We drive to Porto, admiring the wonderful views. We have a drink in a bar on the port. It turns out that Porto consists mostly of hotels, but it's early June and it's not too bad right now.
We explore the possibilities of a boat trip to the Scandola Nature Reserve at the north side of the Golfe de Porto, with steep red cliffs, caves, islands and creeks. The weather forecast predicts strong wind for tomorrow and so all boat trips have been canceled.
Next morning it's overcast and chilly. We are late and leave for the calanches (creeks or bays) near Piana when it's alread 12 PM. It's only a short distance and we can go another time later in the day, if the sun appears.
The calanches are surrounded by beautiful rock formations. The rocks here are very red and the wind has carved them into bizarre shapes. Only a short stretch of the D81 passes the calanches, but it's really worth the drive.
Back in Porto we have lunch looking out on the port. By the end of the afternoon the sky is almost completely blue, so we drive to the calanches again. They are especially beautiful during sunset, when the red glow intensifies the color of the rocks.
Back in Porto we have dinner in an Italian restaurant at the foot of the Genovese tower, on the waterfront. Meanwhile, the wind has picked up strength and the sea is rough, with waves splashing high up against the red rocks. It's an amazing sight.
Next morning the wind is still too strong for the boats to the Scandola Nature Reserve. We'll have to do that on a next visit to Corsica. Instead, we go hiking in the calanches area, which has several hiking trails. We enjoy the rock-climbing and the wonderful views of the rocks and the coast.
Afterwards we have coffee on the same terrace as yesterday, above the port. In the evening we have dinner again at the Italian restaurant at the foot of the tower. The view is good and so is the food.
Half-wild hogs and cows on the road
Today we drive to Ajaccio. We decide not to take the coastal road, but the D84, the pretty route through the canyon, the same way we got here.
Past Evisa we turn right onto the D70. Again, we find ourselves in a nice mountainous landscape, but the mountains here are more rounded, as opposed to the pointed granite mountains along the D84.
We pass a large group of hogs with piglets. There are supposedly around 45,000 semi-wild hogs on Corsica, which wander around looking for food (chestnuts, acorns and herbs) and then are caught to be slaughtered.
In general one sees a lot of animals on the roads. Cows are also semi-wild and can be found sleeping in the middle of the road regularly. Traffic just has to manoeuver around them.
In Sagona we have a drink on the beach, with a view of the Genovese tower on the rocks and then we drive to Tiuccia, where we booked a hotel on the bay. The hotel is pleasant and its location - directly on the sea - makes us drop our plans for a trip to the inland. We enjoy an afternoon by the swimming pool, with the sea pounding the rocks next door.
Col de Bavello
Tour of the valley of the Gorges du Prunelli
We have breakfast in the sun, which is at 9 AM already hot enough to melt the butter. We sit on the terrace and read the map to see which route we'll take today.
We take the road to Ajaccio and then drive to the Gorges du Prunelli: on the way there we take the D3 and on the way back the D27. It's a beautiful valley, more charming than the Gorges de Spelunca, which is more impressive. We drive up and down montains, with pretty views everywhere.
We take the N196 south and then drive via the D420 to Quenza in the inland. We booked a Logis de France hotel here for two nights. Its too hot to immediately drive to the Col de Bavello, which is best seen by sunset anyway.
So we have a beer on the shady terrace and read a few chapters in the books we brought. By the end of the day we drive to the Col de Bavello.
It is a fantastically shaped part of the mountains, which - according to our guidebook - is "one of the most exciting landscapes of Corsica." To be quite honest, we're disappointed. The mountains are impressive, that's not it. But the calanches of Piana, with their bizarre red rocks, are much prettier.
Maybe we should have visited even later, when the sun really sets and the rocks get a little redder. But if we'd known this, we wouldn't have booked a hotel for two nights here.
The city with its ancient citadel sits on top of white limestone rocks
Today we take a beautiful route through the mountains to Bonifacio, on the farthest southern part of Corsica. It takes us two hours to drive to Zonza, where we take the D268 south.
We stop at a church, the Ancien Ermitage de la Trinité, to enjoy the view of Bonifacio. It's quite hazy (at 10 AM it's already 26 degrees centigrade), so we don see a lot.
In Bonifacio we first visit the old city inside the citadel. It's pretty and atmospheric, with narrow, ascending alleys, cozy outdoor cafés and old churches. It's touristic, but not obnoxiously so.
We go to the port for an hour-long boat trip along the coast. Always great, being on a boat, and this time we also have stunning views of the white limestone rocks with Bonifacio on top of them.
The water is crystal clear, so we see the underwater parts of the rocks to a great depth. We also sail into a cave with a hole in its roof, which is - miraculously - almost exactly the shaped like island.
Back in the port, we have a huge ice cream to refresh ourselves. It's 36 degrees by now. Via Porte Vecchio we drive back north and there take the D368 through the mountains to Zonza en Quenza.
Bastia with Cap Corse
Along the coast around 70 Genovese towers still remain
Today we move to Bastia, near Cap Corse in the north. We decide to take a route through the beautiful, mountainous inland. It takes longer, but it's prettier.
From Quenza we take the D420 to Aullène and there turn onto the D69 north, a pretty route through wooded mountains with a few passes. The roads are not great and very narrow, fortunately there isn't much traffic.
We see a lot more hogs with piglets than before. Apparently they are fed: for a while, we're behind a truck which is followed by mases of screaming hogs. The truck stops at a parking space, where the hogs are fed. They jump over each other to reach the food.
At Vivario we get back to the larger - green - road to the north and we arrive at 2 PM in Bastia. Bastia is a relatively large and crowded city with sprawling suburbs, so we're glad that our hotel is 2 km away from the city. It is an oasis of quiet in a beautiful garden and our balcony has a sea view.
We don't feel like going into the big city in the evening, so we have dinner in Erbalunga, a nice, small fishers town 10 km to the north, which has adapted to tourism to a large degree. There are relatively many restaurants with terraces. The food is delicious: HJ has mussels Corsican style and I have spaghetti with gambas.
Next day we drive around on Cap Corse. It's a beautiful route, 125 km along the shoreline. We start in the east, because we heard the west side is the most beautiful and this way it kind of builds up.
We pass Erbalunga and then drive north, along some of the old Genovese towers. All in all, there are almost 70 of these towers preserved along the coast. From 1530 on, they were used to spot pirates. The guards would light large fires on the platforms on the towers to alert each other. The towers were only accessible with ladders, because the entrance was half-way up. The guard on duty had to let one in. The towers were also used as shelters and most of them had rainwater cisterns.
At Macinagio, almost in the north, we cross over to the other side of the peninsula and arrive on the west coast. We stop in Centuri Port, an attractive fishers village, and have a drink. The wind has become strong meanwhile, so the sea looks spectacular as it splashes against the rocks.
On the west side of the island the roads seem narrower than on the east side. There also is a lot of traffic, so driving is exhausting. Fortunately there are lots of parking spaces where the driver can stop to take a look at the surroundings. The views of the steep cliffs with the sea in the depth pounding them, are breathtaking.
Nonza is the next town we visit. The town has an old tower, built on a black rock which rises steeply from the sea. The town itself has old, pastel-colored houses with slate roofs and terraces on the stepped streets.
It's really charming, but we're clearly not the only ones who thought about visiting here. The place is crowded with tourists and every parking spot is occupied, so we keep driving.
Near Patrimonia we cross the island back to the other side; on the way we have a great view of the Etang de Biguglia, a swamp area south of Bastia, home to lots of flamingoes.
Today is already our last day on Corsica. In the morning we visit the market in Bastia. That is to say: we want to. And there is a sign that there is a market at this time, but the square is empty and asking around, we find out that for a while already, there is only a market on the weekends.
We drive to the old port and the citadel instead. Bastia is the capital of Haute-Corse and is the second largest city on Corsica. It's a busy port city and the least touristic one on the island.
Near the old port there is a small old part of the city and near the citadel are well-preserved defense walls that stretch into the sea. But it doesn't appeal to us very much. The citadel is nice from a distance, but not tempting to explore. Instead, we have a drink on the large Place St. Nicolas, where the local population meets for a snack and a drink under the palm trees and huge parasols.
In the evening we have dinner in the port of Erbalunga. The delicious fish is our farewell dinner.
We get up early to take the 8 AM ferry to Nice. There is a beautiful sunrise over the calm sea. What a difference with the last few days, when there was a strong wind.
At 1 PM we're on the French mainland again and drive from Nice into the mountains. We take the Route Napoleon to Grasse and from there the N85 to the D21 exit to Comps sur Atuby and then the D955 and the D952.
We pass the wonderful Gorges du Verdon, where rocks lean over the road. A lot of Dutch and Belgian license plates here. The lone French driver must feel like he's in a foreign country.
We find a hotel in La Palud-sur-Verdon that fulfills all requirements: beautiful location on a mountain and great view from a wonderful terrace. In the evening we have dinner on the terrace and the food is also really good.
Next day we move northward via Grenoble.