Three Days in Corsica

The sea shore at L'Ile Rousse

The sea shore at L'Ile Rousse

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In the afternoon of Friday, May 25, 2012, we drove to Nice and boarded a ferry for Bastia on the northeastern shore of Corsica. We arrived around 8 o'clock that night in one of the worst thunderstorms I have ever seen: As we began our drive to L'Ile Rousse, some 86 kilometers (~53 miles) away, the rain was coming down in buckets, and we were blinded by an impressive number of lightning bolts accompanied by instantaneous thunderclaps. Things began to calm down a bit after half an hour or so, but it is not until we had covered well more than half the distance that the skies actually cleared completely. In L'Ile Rousse, we drove straight to the La Pietra hotel.

Though we like to visit other places in Corsica as well, we do like to stay in L'Ile Rousse, and aside from the fact that we love the small town, the La Pietra hotel has a great deal to do with our preference. It is built on a small rocky island that has been connected to Corsica by a road. On the sea side of the hotel, the view from the guest rooms is simply amazing. On the other side of the hotel, there is a fairly well preserved Genoese tower and the L'Ile Rousse lighthouse; if one is lucky, one can get a glimpse of the sea as well, but it is far preferable to book a room with sea view which is what we always do. It costs only 5€ per night more, clearly a bargain. Look at the photos below and see if you don't agree!


The La Pietra hotel in L'Ile Rousse A Room With a View

The La Pietra hotel in L'Ile Rousse

A Room With a View


The view from our balcony What scenery to wake up to!

The view from our balcony

What scenery to wake up to!


The Genoese tower on the other side of the hotel... ..and the lighthouse on top of the hill.

The Genoese tower on the other side of the hotel...

...and the lighthouse on top of the hill.

The hotel is an easy 1.21 km (about three quarters of a mile) walk from the Place Paoli, the heart of L'Ile Rousse. One first passes the small craft harbor and then walks across the road that connects the small island with the town. On the other side is the picturesque Santa Maria hotel beach. Eventually, one reaches the station, continues along the waterfront to the War Memorial, then follows the narrow gauge tracks into town. Incidentally, the War Memorial shows a reality that few Americans today realize, i.e., that World War I cost France a great deal more in human lives than any subsequent conflict. Indeed, L'Ile Rousse lost 2 of its citizens in Indochina, 4 in World War II, and 30 in World War I. This is by no means unusual: Between military and civilian casualties, the French lost nearly 1,700,000 lives in World War I, and over four million soldiers were wounded. French population at the time was just under 40 million! But enough of that! The walk takes between 20 minutes and half an hour, depending on how much time one spends admiring scenery.


The small harbor The road that connects the island to the town

The small harbor

The road that connects the island to the town


The hotel Santa Maria beach Looking towards the station

The hotel Santa Maria beach

Looking towards the station


The L'Ile Rousse train station Continuing the walk into town

The L'Ile Rousse train station

Continuing the walk into town


The War Memorial Following the tracks into town

The War Memorial

Following the tracks into town

The heart of town is the Place Pascal Paoli with its plane trees, date palms, shops, and cafés. It is also home to the town's Parish Church and a small, covered market that sells local foods. If anything meaningful ever were to happen in L'Ile Rousse, this is undoubtedly where it would occur, but we're talking about a quiet town, so this is just an ideal place to relax, enjoy a coffee, or perhaps a citron pressé, while pondering what leisurely vacation activity to pursue next. Did I mention we like this place?


The Parish Church on the 'Place Paoli' Looking towards the recently restored covered market

The Parish Church on the Place Paoli

Looking towards the recently restored covered market


The 'Café des Platanes' Relaxing on the 'Place Paoli', the heart of town

The Café des Platanes

Relaxing on the Place Paoli, the heart of town

Whenever we are in L'Ile Rousse, we always make it a point to visit Saint-Florent, a charming little village roughly 46 kilometers (~29 miles) away. To get there, one must cross what is sometimes rather incongruously called Le désert des Agriates. This doesn't make sense because the area bears absolutely no resemblance with a desert as it is covered with lush and incredibly dense vegetation. The road is very curvy and only dangerous because one is constantly tempted to look at the scenery instead of making sure that no traffic is coming from the opposite direction. Saint-Florent, located on the gulf of the same name, was founded by the Genoese in the 16th Century, so construction of the citadel, which began in 1440, predates the village. Today, Saint-Florent has a harbor consisting of fishing boats and yachts, and its main industry is tourism.


Driving through the 'Agriates' on the way to Saint-Florent The lovely Saint-Florent

Driving through the Agriates on the way to Saint-Florent

The lovely Saint-Florent


Looking at Saint-Florent from its citadel The Saint-Florent citadel

Looking at Saint-Florent from its citadel

The Saint-Florent citadel


Walking through the village On the drive back to L'Ile Rousse

Walking through the village

On the drive back to L'Ile Rousse

Another thing we like to do, and preferably several times, is to walk up to the lighthouse from where one has a truly magnificent view of the area surrounding L'Ile Rousse. In recent years, this pleasure has been somewhat marred by the extremely annoying presence of one of these idiotic tourist "trains", actually a diesel-engine propelled tractor that pulls a number of "wagons" filled with tourists up the small, winding road to the lighthouse. The people are then left on top while the vehicle makes its way back down the hill to pick up the next batch. This is truly a pain because the area should really be limited to pedestrians; one constantly has to make way for the "Muson River Express" (why, I wonder, do they all bear that name?) and also because there are always at least forty more or less bored tourists up at the lighthouse. The only way to avoid them is to go very early or when the weather is bad. Personally, I think these "trains" should be outlawed. Certainly, the area around the L'Ile Rousse lighthouse does very well without diesel fumes!


Tourist shop in L'Ile Rousse Quiet side street

Tourist shop in L'Ile Rousse

Quiet side street


Climbing the hill behind our hotel The view on the way up

Climbing the hill behind our hotel

The view on the way up


Arriving at the lighthouse The view from the top

Arriving at the lighthouse

The view from the top

On Sunday, we took a drive through the back country, making a first stop in Calenzana. From there, we drove through Giarghia, Zilla, Lunghignano, Montemaggiore, and Corbara. By far the most impressive vistas where seen while driving, and inevitably always in places where it was absolutely impossible to stop: the narrow roads twist and turn, and there are practically no places where one can safely pull over. Still, this little outing was a reminder that the beauty of Corsica is by no means limited to her shores. The Ile de Beauté is truly beautiful throughout.


The church of Calenzana The interior

The church of Calenzana

The interior


Calenzana building The village of Corbara

Calenzana building

The village of Corbara

On Monday morning, it rained in L'Ile Rousse. We had time to walk into town for a pastry and coffee and get back safely before the drops began to fall, the first rain we'd seen since our arrival in Bastia the previous Friday evening. We packed our bags and sat on our balcony for a while waiting for the weather to improve. We checked out around 11 in the morning and drove to Calvi from where we were taking a ferry back to Nice that afternoon. No sooner had we left L'Ile Rousse that the skies started to clear. The sun made an initially timid appearance, but by the time we got to Calvi, the weather could only be described with one word: gorgeous. The most visible landmark in Calvi is the citadel, home to the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment of the French Foreign Legion. We spent some time exploring the citadel and walked around the town before taking the car to the boarding area. Our ferry for Nice left at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and we arrived in Nice less than six hours later.


Calvi Up in the Calvi citadel

Calvi

Up in the Calvi citadel


Walking through the citadel's side streets... ...it is easy to avoid the crowds.

Walking through the citadel's side streets...

...it is easy to avoid the crowds.


Looking down into the town Waterfront restaurants

Looking down into the town

Waterfront restaurants


View from the deck of our ferry Pulling out of Calvi for the trip back to Nice

View from the deck of our ferry

Pulling out of Calvi for the trip back to Nice


All photos on this page were taken with our Panasonic Lumix TZ20 (called ZS10 in the United States) point-and-shoot camera (for this trip, the Nikon stayed home). A more complete set of photos may be found in a Web gallery from where a slide show function is available. Corsica is an absolutely amazing place! If you ever have a chance to visit, you must do so. If you've been there, maybe these photos can help stimulate a return. In all cases, enjoy this virtual visit to one of the most beautiful places we know!




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