According to the sign posted at the beginning of the hiking trail in the Corsican mountains, it was a one-hour trek to Lac de Melu. Piece of cake, I figured, and a good test for my new knee.
Two hours later we were still huffing and puffing, scrambling over rocks — even a few times on all fours for me. No lake in sight. We had conquered the challenging, extra steep sections of chains and ladders. But, the trail of all rocks went on and on, up and up. At times it was frustrating to figure out which way to proceed over this stony sea. The trail was marked by yellow slashes on the rocks, but often they were hard to spot.
I was about to give up when we encountered a group on their way down. “How much farther?” I asked. “It’s not that far. Will you make it? If you want I can accompany you,” answered the mountain guide who was leading the others. I must have looked near death, which is about the way I felt, but there was no way I would ask for assistance. Now I was more determined than ever to conquer this trail.
After two hours and 10 minutes we reached the lovely lake. How could anyone make it here in one hour? We are old, but not decrepit. That sign was meant for Himalayan sherpas.
Getting down was no easy task. The rocks, all sizes, were demanding. You had to keep your eyes on the trial below at all times to figure out where to put your foot next, on top of which boulder, into which crevice. I was petrified of falling, of breaking a leg, screwing up my knee. How would I be rescued? No helicopters could land anywhere near this surface of rugged rocks. I did fall once, but fortunately I had given my camera to BB (husband Bicycle Bob) who was more steady a foot. I ended up with a badly bruised leg, but nothing broken, including my precious camera.
In our younger days, BB and I did some long and tough mountain hikes in the Swiss Alps – several days on the trail with backpacks. We loved it. This was different. “Most hikes are strenuous, but enjoyable,” he remarked. “This was work, labor intensive.”
What a relief to get the work over with, to reach the hut at the bottom – and to enjoy that satisfying sense of accomplishment after conquering a mountain. O.K. This was just a lake, not a mountain, and we were slow. But, we did it. My knee passed the test.
Rocks abound in Corsica—not just on mountain trails. Along the coast. On the beaches. In the sea. Rocks in the shape of animals, human faces, surrealistic
Not long after we disembarked from our all-night ferry ride to this island in the Med (Toulon to Ajaccio); we stopped to visit the archeological site, Filitosa, on our way south. Incredible rocks there. We followed the path through the site where artifacts dating to as early as 3,300 have been found. Ancient civilizations lived in caves here. During the megalithic period they erected menhir statues, granite monoliths, carved to represent human faces or entire figures. They are intriguing, as are the natural rock formations in the area.
Onward to the coast and the tiny town of Tizzano for five nights at the Hotel du Golfe, which advertises that it has its feet in the sea. The Mediterranean waters were right below the balcony of our room. Awake to the soothing sounds of the sea gently slapping the rocks. The hotel beach is just a miniscule patch of sand surrounded by those rocks. Getting in and out of the sea was a bit tricky maneuvering over the hurdles, but the water was perfect. I swam and swam and swam with no one in sight.
During our October visit to this island utopia we enjoyed still warm weather and mostly blue skies – and tranquility. The tourist season was over. On the plus side, no crowds anywhere and the highways to ourselves. On the down side, many shops, hotels and restaurants had already closed for the season. All four of the restaurants in Tizzano were boarded shut.
There is just one winding road down the mountain from the inland town of Sartène leading to our mini burg and the sea. Winter Tizzano population:
30 humans and lots of felines. In the summer: 3,000 tourists. In October: us, the locals, a few other tourists and the friendly cats. I was in heaven.
Since BB is not a swimmer and we wanted to see more than Tizzano, we set out on excursions every day, to Ponte Vecchio on the eastern coast, to Bonifacio in the far southwestern corner of the island, and on foot one day for a hike along the shore. No leisurely stroll along a sandy beach was this, but a demanding trek through coastal bush –and yet more boulders. The scenery was splendid with more fantastic rock formations to photograph.
Ponte Vecchio is basically a resort town with lots of sailboats in the harbor, narrow streets with cute boutiques (most closed) and restaurants (also most closed). Not too exciting. Bonifacio is different, a two-level, lively town. The haute ville, an amazing sight, perches precariously atop a cliff on a thin peninsula. Skinny streets twist past ancient buildings, including numerous churches. We followed the advice of the woman in the tourist office and set off to the Escalier du Roi d’Aragon – 187 steps from a corner of the town’s citadel plunging to the sea. Scary, steep steps. Descending them is an exhilarating adventure. They plummet straight down and at times involve big jumps – one step where there should be two.
The winds were ferocious on the day of our Bonifacio visit. Mammoth waves roared and crashed into the rocks. We had been told the best view of the city is from the water, but due to the wind velocity, tourist boats were not running.
So, let’s splurge on lunch. Food is always a highlight of our travels. Since so many restaurants were closed, our choices were limited. We had few memorable meals in Corsica, including one we’d like to forget — the $98 (72 euro) fish at a harbor restaurant in Bonifacio. We like fish and craved a fresh Mediterranean catch. The waiter brought out a tray of specimens and recommended a “Sar.” We had never heard of this fish, but were game to try, not bothering to ask the price. Bad move. The astronomical bill –the fish had been priced at nine euros per 100 grams –was a shock. Our Sar was a big fellow, tasty, perhaps not that tasty, but it did come with some veggies and potatoes.
Cap Corse, the island finger at the northern tip, was our destination for three days before boarding the ferry in Bastia for the trip back to Toulon. En route we spent a night at the interior town of Corte so we could do the lake hike. Hiking is just one of numerous outdoor activities offered in Corsica – all kinds of water sports plus mountain adventures: canyoning, rock climbing, zip line etc.
The drive through the interior is spectacular – miles and miles of rugged nature over excellent roads. Although Corsica is a vacation paradise, it has not been scarred by mass tourism. There are vast pristine sections in both the interior and along the coast — no towns, no hotels, no commerce.
Our hotel in the coastal town of Erbalunga was not on the beach, but it did have a large heated pool — my private pool – no other swimmers.
We drove along the Cap coast with many photo stops. We drove through the middle of the peninsula over roads that averaged more than a dozen curves per kilometer. Along the route: stops for wine tasting and buying. Wine is the island’s principal export. According to my guidebook bible, Lonely Planet Corsica, the wines “are not necessarily the most distinguished of wines.” Some of the grape varieties (Niellucciu for one) are unique to Corsica. As BB seems to like wine more than bicycles these days, we bought a supply.
Bastia, a town of crumbling splendor, is fun to explore: a busy harbor, imposing citadel, intriguing hillside park, ancient churches – and shops that were open. Throughout the trip I had been searching for stores where I could purchase Corsican delicacies – cheese, sausage, honey, jams. No luck. In Bastia’s thriving shopping district, I found my treasures at last.
I hope to return to Corsica, but in late September before so much shuts down for winter. And, I’d go back to Tizzano and the Hotel du Golfe. Gil Chopin, the hotel proprietor, told me he was born in the town but moved on to work in Paris and other cities. “I missed nature, the sea.” He came back. “We live in harmony with nature here. Each day is different. Each day I am astonished. For me, this is paradise.” It was paradise for me, too.
Hotel du Golfe,Tizzano. A perfect coastal retreat. The simple but comfortable rooms all have balconies above the Med. Idyllic location. http://www.hoteldugolfetizzano.com
Hotel Castel Brando, Erbalunga, Cap Corse. Spacious accommodations including rooms with private terraces, lovely garden for breakfast (ample, including do-it-yourself eggs and pancakes) and a super heated pool. http://www.castelbrando.com
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