Corsica All to Ourselves

Going to Corsica in November is like breaking into a huge shopping centre after hours.  Everything you’ve every wanted is there and you get it all to yourself. The small island packs in every possible type of topography in her 180km length.  High rugged peaks and the narrow, twisting, heart stopping mountain roads that go with them.  Quiet lush green pastures dotted with goats, sheep and terribly skinny cows.  At first we thought they were malnourished.  They have the hip bones of supermodels lying on their backs. There are charming villages that seem to drip into the sea and oh, the sea.  Two hundred and twenty beaches of swimming pool clear water and icing sugar sand…all empty.  Except for you. 

Sweetest little trailer – “La Roullotte”

After a sweet stay in the northern town of Oleta we moved inland to…how do you say ‘the middle of nowhere’ in Corsican?  No kidding, one night we came home in the pitch dark to find our stone walled garden filled with those boney cows I was telling you about.  We had to chase them out with our iPhone flashlights.  Yeeehaw style! They had busted in the back gate. Perhaps they were tempted by the fresh green shoots of grass that were growing under our shade tree. The one with the red wrought iron swing hanging from it, right beside the old lanterns strung up in the branches to illuminate your dinner party and the French wicker cafe chairs around the red metal table.  Are your charming alarm bells ringing yet?  Just wait.  We had booked a roulette or old wooden gypsy caravan through AirBnB in the idyllic countryside because a) we have a tight budget and it was cheap  b) the photos looked too rustic+funky+lovely to believe c) we wanted to experience all aspects of the corsican landscape and lifestyle and d) it was cheap.

Inside the roullotte. Cute non?

The roulette in Moltifao was so utterly sweet I was ooooing and awwwing over it like the little puppy your best friend had just rescued from the pound. “Isn’t it just so cute you guys?  Look at the windows,  look at the woodwork!”  They were barely tolerating me “Yes, it’s cute, stop saying that”.  It was really cute.  It couldn’t have been more charming if Pinocchio’s toy maker dad Geppetto had designed it himself.  Every detail was thoughtful and elegant.  The tiny but well equipped kitchen accented  with china tea cups and a red retro toaster. The smooth tongue n’ groove hardwood floors that continued right up the walls and arced over the ceiling.  The bathroom with it’s full size claw foot soaker tub, hammered brass backsplash and fluffy towels and the lacey curtains daintily covering the carved wooden windows complete with well sanded and oiled shutters.   How they ever transported it to the tiny summer holiday park from mainland France through the windiest roads we’ve encountered and over the rickety old bridge that is not more than 2 meters wide is one of life’s great mysteries.  Right up there with how David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear.  Come on, that was cool. 

Cute little kitchen

We spent our days circumnavigating the stunning coastline and going for hikes.  During the cooler evenings we roasting chicken and veggies or made soup while playing with the cards and pickup sticks that were tucked neatly into vintage canisters on the shelf.  No wifi, no phone service, heck, no people.  Just cows wandering all over the place, one horse that Lyla named Sugar after she fed him a few cubes and a cat she called Greedy who kept coming around to slurp the saucers of milk she left out of the porch.  The very cute porch. Oh stop! 

Coastal hiking trail

Once a day we drove to the nearest town to slowly sip coffee at the cafe while we poached their wifi.  They were totally on to us but didn’t seem to mind.  At times we were their only customers.  Occasionally we were delayed by a man herding his skinny cows down main street.  Nobody who lived there seemed to think this was unusual.  I thought it was adorable.  From the town of Ponte Leccio we explored the ancient fortified cities of Isle de Russe and Calvi on the west coast and hiked the coastal trail from St. Florent, known as the St. Tropez of Corsica,  south as far as we could until a marshy river stopped us.  We picnicked on the granite slabs at the edge of the Mediterranean that was so clear we wished it was just a touch warmer.  We passed one other person during a four hour hike.  We also checked out Corte in the centre of the Island surrounded on all sides by towering peaks.  There is a deep military history on Corsica and a stone tower on every hill to fend off the pirates.  I’m sure Johnny Depp must own property on Corsica.

Bonifacio, Haute Village

A few weeks before we went, I had met a nice young man who’s father was Corsican so I asked him what was the most beautiful part of his ancestral Island?  He answered right away and quite emphatically “Bonifacio”.  I wondered if he had said that was because his father was born there and he was  just being a homer or if it was really true?  He assured me his roots had nothing to do with it, Bonifacio was the bomb.  We decided to take his word for it and booked a week there in the ‘Haute or Upper Village’ .  Like many Corsican towns Bonifacio has a walled  massive walled citadel that was originally used for well needed protection.  Now, it just looks fairy tale amazing and causes you to walk around wondering what battles and dramas have taken place there over the centuries.   This is also the place we accidentally drove down the stairs.  Well…it looked like a street.  It may have been a street at one time. It could very well be a street now.  Its an easy mistake to make when most roads are not much wider than one car.  Every vehicle in the Haute Village has big scrapes down the sides from just trying to make the corners. 

One of many empty beaches

Bonifacio is the southernmost town in Corsica.  From here you can see Sardinia’s silhouette  just across the water and watch the ferries zig and zag back and forth.  It is Napoleone’s birth place which give it a sense of historical pride.  From the top deck  of our apartment we had a simply stunning view of the small working port and the sheer white cliffs across the narrow harbour.  From here we day tripped along the south coast heading west until we found what is called a Belvedere or look out to take in the view of the enormous stone lion.  From there  we spied a picturesque cove way down below us and decided to try find it.  16km’s of single track dirt road, a few washouts and puddles as big as small lakes later we did.  Roccapina beach is stunning.  White powder sand and clear water still warm enough for these Canadians.  We enjoyed another one of our frequent picnics and only shared the beach with one other couple power walking across the bay in waste deep water.  The woman was topless as she did her aerobics, this is something Lyla is trying to get used to. Cam already seems quite fond of the custom. 

King Aragon Steps, Bonifacio

Another host tip  was to go see the local golf course called Sperone.  It has been voted most beautiful course in Europe. We were directed not to golf but to walk through the course down to the two  secluded beaches.  Grand Plage and Petit Plage.  In summer you can hardly find room for your towel, but again, we were the only people there.  And treasure was waiting.  From Bonifacio we also hiked the trails around town that gave us the best perspective to look back and take her in.  Because it was closed we had to jump the fence to tackle Les Escalier des Roy Arganon or the King’s stairs. Was that a bad parenting moment?  Maybe, but it was worth it to first defend and then climb the 187 steps carved diagonally deep into the face of the cliff.  It was originally used to secret the King in and out safely and also to bring supplies to the upper village.  Now it’s used to grab 3 Euros from each tourist.  The 9euros we saved we spent on wine and hot chocolate.  Now that’s a better allocation of funds. 

One of many gorgeous cemetaries

Out on the windy point we poked around the beautiful cemetery.  The Corsicans honour their dead like I’ve never seen.  There are shrines and family tombs dotting the roadsides all over the island. They are grand, mossy, old, marble and proud.   Candles burn bright and fresh flowers crowd the many photos and plaques of several generations sharing eternity  in one place.  It’s really quite a heart warming tradition.  It doesn’t feel sad or spooky to look in on people’s graves this way, it feels cherished. 

As we are traveling for so long it’s important for us to have a grounded sense of home once in a while.  That’s one of the reasons we try to book with AirBnB when we can.  We get to unpack, grab some groceries, cook a home made meal or two and have a place to hang out in a living room rather than a tiny hotel room.  Lyla can do her school work and we can catch up on some some laundry!  The funky trailer got a gold star and the apartment in Bonifacio was a style win! We had to climb 47 steps (more like a ladder really) up 3 flights to get to the bottom of it and another flight to the upper floor but the view was worth it. 

View from our balcony

The owners are designers and again have mixed ancient and modern with very groovy results.  These are the cool peeps who also recommended we find the golf course beaches.  Aside from the really cool places, it’s the personal connections you make and locals advice that are the best part of the AirBnB experience.  That and being able to make salad for breakfast. They look at you like you’re crazy if you order that in a restaurant. 

Many of the swinging bars, shops and cafes that would clearly be totally happening in summer were closed for the season but we found a few good ones that were hanging in there for the winter making crepes and brick oven pizza.  At times we wondered what it would be like in high summer with the crowds and the heat.  A different experience for sure.  In Fall, the locals had time to chat and tell us about their island while they decorated for Christmas.  Like at the friendly Café St. Do on the corner.  They didn’t mind when I used their wifi to Facetime into my book-club meeting in the middle of the night. Well ok,  officially they didn’t know, but I don’t think they would have minded.  

Bonifacio, Haute Village from the port

Corsica is physically and historically closer to Italy than France,  the people have a distinct culture and charm.  Just like in the Basque or Catalan regions, they self identify as Corsican first French second, if at all.  The kids learn to speak Corsican in school and the roadsigns are in both languages.  Just like on Canadian shampoo bottles. 

It was wonderful to have the island all to ourselves, even if we did get a little chilly at times.  There is always a warm cup of café au lait waiting on the corner.  Maybe we’ll have to go back in July and see what it’s like through sunglasses on a crowded beach. 

  1. Kathryn Lester

    Tara, Fantastic imagery – you have transported us there. The roulette looked very cool. What an adventure.. Keep your posts coming. Look forward to living vicariously ! Kathryn

    • Tara McGuire

      Hi Kathryn,

      Low on square footage, heavy on charm! Thanks for your good wishes. Hope all is well at home.


      Tara x

  2. Cathie Borrie

    Boy, this is really interesting and I LOVE that caravan! What an interesting time to travel – I think it would be such an interesting and more peaceful perspective. Keep them coming! I can’t wait for each missive to arrive, beautifully written as usual. Sure love the photos, too.

  3. Cheryl MacKinnon

    Fabulous read, chum! Feel like I’m right there beside you…soak it up as it’s cold here! xo

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