Sunday, 19 August 2007
Alistro, Corsica, France
2007 was a bit uneventful in terms of travelling. As part of changing jobs to work for Lehman Brothers I had to sacrifice half of my holiday allowance in order to shorten my notice period. However I had managed to arrange a week off with Anna. We decided that with only a week the best thing we could do was go and unwind at a beach somewhere with a few books. We looked through our travel guides and decided on Corsica.
We arrived in the capital Bastia at Sunday lunchtime, picked up our hire car and drove about 60km down the coast to Alistro where we were staying. We had rented an apartment in a small complex by the beach. When we got there the apartment turned out to be a lot nicer than we had anticipated. It was on the second floor of a block and had a huge terrace with views of the sea one way and view of the mountains the other. We dropped our stuff and went straight to the beach (300m away) which was also fairly impressive, a 5km stretch of white sand with crystal clear water and sufficiently empty to ensure that we always got at least 50m of beach to ourselves.
As it turned out the restaurant we thought was part of the apartment complex was in fact just a hut run by some guys with a very small menu so we realised we were probably going to have to drive most nights to find food. That night we went to Cervione a small town up in the mountains close to Alistro. The mountain towns in this region are famous for chestnut trees and Cervione turned out to be in the midst of "the festival of the nuts" - a bit odd since we were in August. We went to the restaurant recommended by our book, which was a big mistake. I had a "nut special" menu: a first course of lettuce sprinkled with nuts, a second course of stale tagliatelle with a nut sauce, followed by nut ice cream. It was pretty sickly but Anna, who had gone a la carte, did not fare much better.
On the way back we got an interesting surprise in that our hotel was not too far from an inland lighthouse, Le Phare d'Alistro which lit up the sky for miles around and made our outside terrace a very atmospheric place to be at night.
Monday, 20 August 2007
Alistro, Corsica, France
The next day was very much a beach day. We went to the supermarket and stocked up on cheese and wine, sunbathed at the beach and by the pool had lunch and did more sunbathing and reading. That night we were going to go to a restaurant in Moriani Plage just up the coast but when we got there it looked so disappointing that we just got back in the car and continued up North to Bastia. There we had a very nice dinner in a restaurant on the quay in the old harbour. However it was a long drive and again we were a bit worried about how we were going to get through the week food wise.
Tuesday, 21 August 2007
Bonifacio, Corsica, France
We had a mind to do some diving and were still on the hunt for a decent restaurant for Anna's birthday so decided to check out Bonifacio, a very picturesque port in the south of the island. We took the long and scenic route there, cutting through the mountains to Zonza and then down to Porto Vecchio and on to Bonifacio. The two or so hours going through the mountains were very enjoyable however as soon as we approached the outskirts of Bonifacio we soon discovered why driving in Corsica can be a frustrating experience. About 5km outside Bonifacio we joined a traffic jam which took us at least 3/4 of an hour to go through. Speaking to other people this turns out to be a fairly common experience in Bonifacio and is a bit of occupational hazard for a lot of the villages to the west of the island where the mountainous nature of the terrain means that a lot of them have only a single, narrow approach road which gets easily clogged up.
By the time we actually got the car parked in Bonifacio we were not in a particularly good moods so we just booked ourselves on the next boat trip to the Lavezzi islands south of Bonifacio to check out the snorkelling. It was leaving almost straight away so we did not have time to check out the actual town of Bonifacio, besides which I reckoned the way to see its old town, perched on the edge of white cliffs was from the sea.
The Lavezzi islands were not quite what we expected, a jumble of rocks in the middle of the sea with a selection of small sandy bays with crystal clear waters. There were quite a few people on the island, with two boat companies dropping tourists off every hour and a large number of yachts. There were a number of marked paths across the scrub and quite a few people milling about. We settled on a smaller beach which was not that busy, however like a lot of them had not much atmosphere as people would frequently turn up, splash in the water then leave fifteen minutes later. The snorkelling was interesting however most of the interest lay in the fish as there were no soft corals. Even then there were only two or three species and naturally we did not see the huge Merou groupers which the Lavezzi islands are noted for (although these can be seen when diving). We concluded that although the visibility was perfect the hassle of getting back into Bonifacio another day to do some diving was not worth it on such a short holiday.
The boat trip back was a bit laborious as we got a sea tour of the neighbouring island Cavallo which is home to the mega rich, including Princess Caroline of Monaco. It seemed like we were just voyeurs just sneaking in to have a look at the houses from a distance then zooming off making a lot of noise. More productive was the cruise past the bottom of the cliffs to look up at the houses of Bonifacio, teetering on the edge. The driver also very dramatically drove into a tiny sea cave to see a whole in the top of it which had the shape of Corsica when viewed from the correct angle.
The trip back was less congested and we got back relatively quickly. We were so tired of driving we decided to give Moriani Plage a try. We made the mistake of going into the first place we found and Anna had a pretty dismal pizza and I had some moules. However had we walked around a bit more there were quite a few other places and we probably could have done a bit better.
Wednesday, 22 August 2007
St Florent, Corsica, France
Anna's birthday! Predictably we spent the day at the beach doing very little. I managed to polish off The End of Mr Y a bizarre but very good book about a student finding a copy of the cursed eponymous book which offers a gate into another world. We also had a lunch, as most days, of cheese and fresh baguette on our terrace looking out to sea.
That night we had booked dinner at La Raclasse in St Florent to the North of Corsica just over the spine of mountains behind Bastia. The drive was spectacular climbing to the 536m Col de Teghime with terrific views of the L'Etang de Bigielle a huge lagoon just south of Bastia. However over the top of the pass the views on the other side were even more spectacular, rather than the flatness of the east of the island, the west is a rugged landscape of mountains whose bare rock covers a range of photogenic colours (however as usual the light was not great so my photos did not do it justice,
The meal was excellent, I had the gastronomic menu with four courses and some excellent wine. The hills behind St Florent being home to Patrimonio where some of the best wines in the island are produced. I had a white from Antione Arena which was exceptional followed by a glass of local Muscat with desert.
When we got back to Alistro it was fairly late however an electrical storm had broken out over in Italy and was lighting up the whole sky. So we grabbed a bottle of wine from the apartment and went to sit by the sea. It was very atmospheric, boosted by the fact that the lightning provided back lighting for the island of Montecristo which actually exists and is due East of Alistro between Corsica and Italy.
Thursday, 23 August 2007
Alistro, Corsica, France
When we woke up it was raining. We assumed that it was going to be light rain and so stayed in reading. However we were wrong and it pretty much rained all the way through to lunch time after which we went sunbathing. This meant I was able to polish off my next book The Affirmation by Christopher Priest that day. It was okay but having discovered the author through seeing the film the Prestige and already having read another of his books in between I was starting to conclude that everything he wrote followed the same themes.
The only other development that day was that despite a bit of skepticism I asked the administrator of the apartments for restaurant recommendations and she revealed that nearby there were two seafood restaurants in lagoons either side of Aleria, south of where we were. The first one we went to was on L'Etang de Robineau and as with the second one it was on stilts in the water and in the lagoon itself they farmed the actual fish, mussels and oysters that you ate. In fact if you looked down from the table you could see fish gathering around the restaurant watching people eat. While we were there the sun set and the moon came out, and it being almost full moon it created a nice scene with the reflection of the moon in the waters of the lagoon.
Friday, 24 August 2007
Alistro, Corsica, France
Thursday panned out pretty much identically to Wednesday. Rain in the morning, sun bathing in the afternoon and a lagoon side meal in the evening. I finished another book, The Raw Shark Texts (yes the pun in the name is intentional) and concluded that it was pretty similar to the End of Mr Y and arguably not quite as good.
Saturday, 25 August 2007
Calacuccia, Corsica, France
The weather did not look very promising when we woke up so we decided that we would be better off going for a drive into the mountains if it was going to rain. We set out to Corte in the centre of the island in the midst of some of the highest peaks. However we got there too early to have lunch so decided to carry on up into the mountains to Calacuccia. To get there we had to cut through the gorge of Saint Regine, one of the most spectacular gorges we have seen and, with huge drops and little in the way of barriers, certainly one of the most dangerous roads.
Calacuccia was by the shores of an artificial lake created by a dam. We drove a little further to find a restaurant and parked the car and went for a short walk. The lake was an intense blue and surrounded by a large number of fossilised tree stumps created when the area was cleared. The sun was beating down and we concluded we had really picked the wrong day and should have been down by the beach. The restaurant was very nice although bizarrely it lacked a view of the lake.
We got back to the apartment around three and ran down to the beach to get our last afternoon of sunbathing in. I finished another book Fooled by Randomness which was a very well written non-fiction book which pointed out that investment management is essentially random and that most success in investing is just down to pure luck rather than skill. That night we stayed in and just made some large snacks and polished off some more excellent wine as we had a large lunch.
Sunday, 26 August 2007
Alistro, Corsica, France
Our final morning we got up early and went straight to the beach as we were expected to be out of the hotel by ten. First thing in the morning the beach was completely empty apart from a couple of people going for their morning swim. We sunbathed for an hour then said goodbye to the beach, checked out then drove up to Bastia. Because of the early check out time we had an hour to kill so had an ice cream in Bastia's central square and wrote post cards then went back to the airport.
And that was it for our holiday. We had the obligatory three hour delay to the plane which added to the fact that we had got there very early meant we were stuck in Bastia's miniscule airport for over four hours, giving me the chance to finish off yet another book. We came back to the UK very, very relaxed and although we felt a bit guilty about not doing some hiking and diving it was nice to have a holiday not rushing all over the place!!