Corsica II – Calvi, Caves & Crayfish

7th – 8th September 2017 

We really liked the site at Pietrocorbara but we had an island to explore so headed back down the narrow coastal road.  First we met a succession of cycling club on a day out then a traffic jam at which a fresh-faced police officer told us “turn right at Miomo, road closed”. So we did. We can only assume there was another right turn as this one rapidly deteriorated – steeply uphill, very few passing places, poor road surface, overhanging trees and a couple of bemused local drivers. We stopped to question a local who looked at us as if we were mad and told us most emphatically to turn left at the next junction – NOT right. We did and sighed with relief when we picked up the coast road again. A tense 15 minutes!

Before Bastia we turned right going up into the hills and crossing the Nebbio, one of the most fertile parts of Corsica. Honey, chestnuts and more importantly, the best wine on the island. We drove slowly through Partrimonio, a nice hillside village with a pretty church and plenty of caves advertising wine tastings but didn’t stop.  Back on the coast, this time the north coast,  we drove through bustling St Florent, its marina packed with boats and a couple of really expensive big motor-yachts in the bay.

After St Florent we drove along the edge of the Désert des Agriates, a huge area of uninhabited land covered in cacti and scrub which is now a nature reserve only really accessible by 4WD or foot. Then back to the coast and the first sign of civilisation since St Florent – a Spar which we plundered for goodies.

Mid-afternoon was our first proper view of our destination, Calvi, with it’s 13th century Genoese-built citadelle perched upon the rocky promontory overlooking the port. Very picturesque.

Calvi Citadelle

Our campsite, about 2km outside town,  was set in a pine wood off the busy main road close to the beach.  Reception was nice and the chalets looked okay but the camping area was dusty and scruffy feeling with sub-standard sanitary blocks. We were given the only vacant pitch large enough for our van, under some tall pines and very close to that busy main road. We were not impressed but told ourselves it served a purpose – close to Calvi and a beautiful beach.

We went straight out to explore, walking through the pines and across the railway track to the beach. Nice pale sand, blue sea and great views of the curving bay and Calvi with the mountains behind. And the sun was out. Although parts of the beach are available free of charge and these were busy, most of the stretch going into Calvi  is privately owned by a string of bar-restaurants with sun-beds laid out and available for a fee – these  were not full.

We strolled into Calvi, birthplace of Christopher Columbus’ or so they claim. Besieged by Nelson for 2 months in 1794 it is where he lost the sight in his right eye. The harbour and marina is very pretty with the Citadelle towering above and a warren of streets behind filled with restaurants and relatively up-market tourist shops.

We checked out the boat-trips to Scandola Nature Reserve, wandered round the narrow streets and went for drink on Quai Landry which runs alongside the marina. We  decided on the larger boat as wind and a thunderstorm were forecast so went and reserved our places. When we got back a tent had been set up very close to us by a young couple who appeared to be on their first camping trip so we retired to the privacy of our van for an early night.

We were at the harbour half-an-hour before sailing and were just in time to get the last 2 seats on the open top-deck of our motorised catamaran. The sun was shining and we were optimistic about the weather. We pulled out of the harbour  and almost immediately the clouds moved in and the woolly pully’s came out. Our seats at the back worked out great as we spent the entire 2¼ hour outward journey standing propped up against the back railings with a great view all around while everyone else were sat in rows with the superstructure of the boat blocking most of their view.

IMG_3141The Reserve Naturel de Scandola is a rocky peninsula of red granite formed during a volcanic eruption and erosion by wind and water has resulted in the steep cliffs being carved into weird shapes. The colours ranged from grey to purple to bright orange and the shapes were just as bizarre as advertised. We were very glad we had taken the larger boat as we watched some smaller boats being tossed about, its occupants looking freezing and clinging on tightly.

We saw huge nests on top of some of the columns rising out of the sea and kept our eyes open, finally being rewarded with our first sighting of a sea eagle. Brilliant. And  a peregrine falcon out hunting, but no sign of the rare Andouin’s gulls that nest there – breeding season well over they were all out at sea.

Girolata is a tiny fishing village that now also services tourists visiting Scandola. Not easily accessible, the nearest road being a 2 hour walk away, in winter it has only 15 residents. We had 2 hours there and were met by cows on the shore and a scattering of beach cafe’s.

We had booked ahead at the ‘best’ restaurant there, wanting to try the local seafood. The waitress did not speak english well but we understood her recommendation of the langouste (large local crayfish) at €17 and ordered one each for lunch. We selected ours  from the tank and waited for the poor things to be cooked – very nicely done but both of us would have preferred crab!

When the bill came we were unpleasantly surprised to find out our translation skills weren’t as good as we thought – the langouste was priced per 100g, not per creature. Ouch – an expensive lesson.

We arrived back around 3pm just as the sun came out and as we hadn’t explored the Citadelle yet we wandered up into it through the narrow streets. The French Foreign Legion’s Parachute Regiment, 2er REP, have an important base in Calvi and had an exhibition on outlining it’s role which we took a look at. Corsica has more than 50 mountains over 2000m/6600ft high and the Foreign Legion do a lot of their mountain & vertical attack training here. From the inside the Citadelle is attractive but small and apart from the excellent views there isn’t much to draw the attention. We walked back along the beach, dipping our toes in the warm-ish water, and decided we had ‘done’ Calvi.

Still in shock over the price of the langouste, the spirit of “may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb” came over us – and a dislike of our site – so we walked over to the beach for dinner at L’Ondine, a nice little wooden restaurant where we had a table on the  balcony as the sun went down and the sea lapped gently against the shore. We had a really good local seafood meal, shared a very good local take on Tiramisu and walked back in the moonlight feeling that we had actually, for once on Corsica, had value for money. Next day we were out of here!