Les Rosiers: Summer 2015

blog.lesrosiers

In a word, it was HOT. Week after week of temperatures in the upper 90s (Fahrenheit), even reaching 100 and above a few times. My roses, geraniums and petunias had to be watered continually. The grass (what little we have) turned brown. The pool water has never been so warm – too warm for me, but finally warm enough for delicate BB/VR* who was brave enough to jump in. This was only the fifth time he has been in the pool in the 10 years we have lived here. (Thanks to my dear mother who insisted my brothers and I all learn to swim at an early age, I am  a swimmer and love the water.  BB was not so lucky.)blog.pool2

Fall arrived too soon and too abruptly – for me… One will never be content.

Despite the heat, we enjoyed some fun activities and the wonderful folks who rented our guest apartment at Les Rosiers.

Klaus and Eva
Klaus and Eva

The season kicked off with the arrival of Klaus from Austria, his car loaded with Austrian delicacies and beer. He always brings us a generous gift of goodies, too. This was the fifth season that Klaus and his wife Eva have spent a month in our rental studio. She is still working as a legal secretary in Graz, arrives a week later by plane and only spends two weeks here. Klaus likes to cook and grill – lamb is his favorite. They know the area well, take long walks, swim, and visit friends and flea markets.  They have become friends, and it’s always a delight to have them here.

Patrick, Chantal and their bikes
Patrick, Chantal and their bikes

Then came the Belgians, Patrick and Chantal, with two motorcycles and two bicycles towed behind their car. We were amazed. Due to the heat, they spent most of their time on the motorcycles. One of the bicycles was electric, but since the terrain here is anything but flat, they preferred their motorcycles. They took long excursions, almost every day during their two-week sojourn.

Chantal said they have been vacationing in southern France every summer, but always camping. They especially enjoyed the tranquility at Les Rosiers. Camp sites can be very noisy, she said. And, they loved our town, Reillanne.

Sunday market in Reillanne
Sunday market in Reillanne

“It’s an authentic village, not a Disney village like so many in the Luberon,” said Patrick. “There are not that many tourists, not that much traffic.” They like to visit the village cafes and talk to the locals. And, they especially liked the Bar restaurant de la Place where they dined many times.

?
Czech cyclists: Lara, Katarina, Luka and Jakub

More bicycles next – a Czech family of four with five bikes. Jakub and Katarina and children Lara, 9, and Luka, 5, were back for the second time. We were overwhelmed with their bicycle prowess two years ago when they set out day after day, all day on bikes, albeit Katarina towing Luka in a carriage and Lara’s bike sometimes attached to her father’s bike. Lara now rides on her own, and Luka rides the bike that can be attached to Jakub’s . We rode with them one day – lots of fun.

Jakub and Luka
 Luka behind Daddy Jakub

They arrived a day late after participating in an orientation competition in the Jura where Jakub took first place in one category. Here he conquered Mont Ventoux for the fifth time. That was the reason for five bikes – a super bike for the challenging climb.

“We always like to come back to Provence, the terrain, the living historic villages that are not just for tourists,” said Jakub.   We were happy to have them back.

The hardy cyclists enjoyed the pool after those rides in the blazing Provence sun.
The hardy cyclists enjoyed the pool after those rides in the blazing Provence sun.

Wine was the focus for Patricia and Serge, visitors who come from Brittany. They traveled far and wide to buy Provence wine, driving 1,700 kilometers in the region, visiting six wineries and ending up with 14 cases of wine to take home.

Serge and Patricia
Serge and Patricia

Each evening when they returned from a buying trek they shared their adventures and raved about places they visited – some we had not known about.   Serge says they always buy the wine of the regions they visit. They live in an area of vineyards near the Loire where he helps harvest the grapes.

Serge's bounty
Serge’s Provence souvenirs

They presented us with a bottle of Grand Reserve Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie which we tasted when they invited us to a super fish dinner Patricia prepared. She served the fish with beurre blanc, a well known sauce for fish in Brittany. She shared her recipe which I have tried to master. Mine could not hold a candle to hers, but I will keep trying. When I am successful, we will open the precious bottle of Muscadet.

Niki from Athens
Niki came to visit from Athens.  We met on a student ship 50 years ago!.

We visited the US this summer (see previous post, “USA: Summer 2015,” July14) and the Mediterranean coast (previous post: “Cannes: Far from the Madding crowd,” Aug. 20).

We recently went back to the coast for a gala evening at the Hotel Belles Rives in Juan les Pins/Antibes. Our Finnish friends, Terttu and Mikko, have a rental apartment which they generously offered us. In addition to dining and dancing, I swam in the Med which sure beats a pool, and we took a short but scenic hike around Cap d’Antibes.

?
La Dolce vita.
The Med at Juan les Pins
The Med at Juan les Pins

We are not sorry the heat has subsided, but sorry that summer is over.  The days are getting too short.  Some restaurants will soon close for the season.  No more concerts and village festivals.  Winter can be bleak here, and it’s  a long wait for spring.

Photos of other summer activities follow.

BB/VR and Filippo chill out poolside.
BB/VR* and Filippo chill out poolside.

*Bicycle Bob/Vino Roberto

Lake Vannades near Manosque where I enjoyed a real swim
Lake Vanades near Manosque where I enjoyed a real swim
 A Bastille Day Mechoui-- lamb grilled on an open fire.

A Bastille Day Mechoui– lamb grilled on an open fire.

If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right) so you will not miss future posts. Your address is kept private and never shared.

The Med at Cap d'Antibes
The Med at Cap d’Antibes

Like my blog? Tell your friends.  Please leave a Reply below. Feedback is welcome. I love to know what my readers think about my posts.

The lavender must like the heat. The color was especially vibrant this summer.
The lavender must like the heat. The color was especially vibrant this summer.

Follow Tales and Travel on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/talesandtravel

Follow me on twitter: @larkleah

Champion swimmers, Koa and Nai'a, friend Lynne's Irish water spaniels. We swim together at Lake Ste. Croix
Champion swimmers, Koa and Nai’a, friend Lynne’s Irish water spaniels. We swim together at Lake Ste. Croix

Wunderschön Times in Germany

The previous post, Humanity is Lost, was my attempt to reblog a post of a bloger I follow.  If you click on the title, you should be able to open and read the post. 

Along the Moselle
Along the Moselle

201 kilometers of pedaling in four days. Certainly nothing to brag about. But, we are no longer young and it’s been a few years since we have done any serious cycling. We were also biking with our panniers – worth a few extra Brownie points. The cycling was mainly on flat terrain following bike routes along the Saar and Moselle rivers in Germany: pleasant, easy, scenic.

We made it -- back to the car in Merzig where it all began.
We made it — back to the car in Merzig where it all began.

The bike excursion was a highlight of our spring trip back to Germany where we lived for many, many years before moving to France. We love going back, seeing friends, drinking the world’s best beer, enjoying our favorite German foods — and discovering more of Germany. Wines in Baden, hikes in the Black Forest, sights in Saarbrücken– add all that to bicycling and it makes for a wunderschön  (wonderful) trip.

It wouldn't be Germany without a bit of rain.
It wouldn’t be Germany without a bit of rain.

Google led me to a blog post,”A Bicycle Ride along the Saar and Moselle Rivers.” Perfect for us, I decided. We cut short the part on the Saar, pedaling only from the town of Merzig to Konz where we picked up the Moselle Bike Route and followed it to Bullay.

A break from the bikes to enjoy the scenery.
A break from the bikes to enjoy the scenery.

The Saar section was serene, sublime. Few people. Few major towns. Trees, the river and vineyards. We stopped to chat with a couple from northern Germany who were taking a break from the bikes and lounging in the grass. “We’ve never be to Saarland. It’s beautiful and not so touristic,” she said.

Trier: Porta Nigra
Trier: Porta Nigra

Along the Moselle we pedaled past lots more vineyards, through more towns, and encountered more cyclists. We felt we needed to see the major sight in Trier, the Porta Nigra, but biking through the congested city was not pleasant. However, tasting wine in the town of Graach where Mythos Mosel, a Riesling wine tasting event was underway, was very pleasant.

BB/VR gets a taste of Moselle wine.
BB/VR gets a taste of Moselle wine.

Be it in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France—wherever, biking along marked cycle routes is usually a joy. For the most part you encounter few cars. Unfortunately this was not entirely the case for us this ride. As navigator, I am to blame.

Instead of carefully consulting the bikeline guidebook when leaving one town, I chose the wrong side of the river for our ride. We were on a bike path, but not the right one. The trail deteriorated, leading us onto a muddy track bordered by thick vegetation. No way to ride this, so we pushed the bikes through the swamp. The worst was not over. We followed the path out of the mud and up a hill, only to be faced with a busy major and narrow highway. Cars sped by much too close for comfort. Add to that: rain.

Postcard villages surrounded by vineyards abound on the Mosaelle.
Postcard villages surrounded by vineyards abound on the Moselle.

I don’t frighten easily, but this was very scary. I feared we may have missed the one bridge that would lead us to the other side and the correct bike route. I used all my energy to pedal as fast as I could, hoping we would find the bridge before being crushed by a car.

We survived and were relieved to arrive in Trittenheim and find the welcoming home of Marlene Bollig, a guest house where we had booked a room. I told her about our adventure. “No one rides on that side of the river,” she said. “Well now you have an adventure to write about. “ One adventure I could have done without.

Hikers learn about wild herbs
Hikers learn about wild herbs.

Our adventure in the Black Forest was problem free, fun and interesting. We joined a guided group hike, Wild herbs: Multitalent. “My passion is to delve into nature and gather herbs. I learned from my grandmother,” guide Heidi announced. The trek was easy with numerous stops where she plucked a plant or flower, then explained its use in the kitchen and its nutritional, as well as medicinal, value.

Butter mixed with wild herbs-- delicious on bread.
Butter mixed with wild herbs– delicious on bread.

The forests and fields are indeed rich in edible treasure, but don’t try to eat all.   “No, you can’t eat that,” she announced as one of the group pointed to some lovely yellow flowers. “Not even cows will eat that. The stomach won’t tolerate it.” She treated us to a wild herb snack which our stomachs tolerated with pleasure, bread smeared with tasty herb butter made from plants of the forest.

We followed guide Rolf Wein on another hike, uphill to the Genuss Platz (Pleasure Place), a scenic spot with benches he and friends had made long ago. His treat, wild plum schnapps which he had made.

Rolf Wein led us to his favorite spot in the Black Forest.
Rolf Wein led us to his favorite spot in the Black Forest.

“This is my home,” Rolf said as he looked below to the town Baiersbronn surrounded by forests. “I enjoy outings with guests, to show it off. It is wunderschön here in the black Forest. I would never move away.”

Baiersbronn is a wunderschön town, especially for foodies. Its restaurants have a total of eight Michelin stars, quite amazing for a town of 14,500. I had the privilege of interviewing three-star chef Claus-Peter Lumpp at the Hotel Bareiss, one of the town’s five-star hotels.

3* Chef Claus-Peter Lumpp in his kitchen
3* Chef Claus-Peter Lumpp in his kitchen.

“It’s hard work,” he said of his profession, but “good.”   “There is nothing better than to see happy people when they are satisfied. Guests are the most important for me.”

Zwiebel Rostbraten with Spaetzle -- also wunderschoen.
Zwiebel Rostbraten with Spaetzle — very wunderschoen.

Dining at the three star restaurant was beyond our budget, but we enjoyed the tastes of Germany at the hotel’s gemütlich Dorfstuben where I indulged in my all-time German favorite: Zwiebel Rostbraten (Onion Beef). During our travels we savored other German favorites, such as Sauerbraten, Bratwurst, Sauerkraut and red cabbage.

Sauerbraten, Rotkohl and Bratkartoffeln (Sauerbraten with red cabbage and fried potatoes). Makes me hungry.
Sauerbraten, Rotkohl and Bratkartoffeln (Sauerbraten with red cabbage and fried potatoes). Makes me hungry.

And, German wines. Although the Moselle is a noted German wine region, except for our one tasting along the bike route, we had no time for serious wine discovery there. We made up for it in Baden, part of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in southwestern Germany. The Black Forest is part of this state. The Baden section borders both France and Switzerland and is Germany’s warmest and sunniest region. Baden produces more red than white wine, which is rare for Germany, a country known best for its white wines, especially Riesling.

Vineyards in Baden.
Vineyards in Baden.

Bicycle Bob (BB) is known more as VR (Vino Roberto) these days since his passion for wine now exceeds his love of his bicycle. We not only tasted our way through many Baden wineries, VR bought a supply, too.

With Heti and Heinz.
With Heti and Heinz.

Our friend Heinz gave us a delicious souvenir to take home – six bottles of his favorite Baden white, Oberrotweiler Grauer Burgunder.  Heinz and Heti live in Sindelfinen adjacent to Stuttgart, not far from where we used to live. We stayed at their beautiful home and had the chance to reunite with many of our friends from those days at a fun evening, a pot luck dinner they arranged.  Danke Heti and Heinz.  Alles wunderschön.

We'd never been to Saarbruecken. It's worth a visit. Ludwig's, Church is a Baroque masterpiece.
We’d never been to Saarbruecken. It’s worth a visit. Ludwig’s Church is a Baroque masterpiece.

TRAVEL TIPS

Bicycling in Saarland: www.radfahren.saarland.de

The Moselle: www.mosellandtouristik.de

Baiersbronn: www.baiersbronn.de

Hotel Bareiss: www.bareiss.com

Viller0y & Boch, http://www.villeroy-boch.com

Wine fests abound in Baden, for more on Baden wine and a list of wines fests dates and places: www.badischerwein.de

Don’t miss Today’s Taste in column at right: ASIAN CHICKEN SALAD, tangy and terrific

Villeroy & Boch makes its home in Mettlach in the Saarland. A visit to its ceramics museum -- and outlet store -- is enticing.
Villeroy & Boch makes its home in Mettlach in the Saarland. A visit to its ceramics museum — and outlet store — is enticing.

If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right) so you will not miss future posts. Your address is kept private and never shared.

Visit to my angel cat savior Sigrid Ruckaberle and house where
Visit to my angel cat savior Sigrid Ruckaberle and house where “the maternal great grandfather of the fifth generation of Barack Obama” was born in 1729. Her hometown. Besigheim, is proud.

Like my blog? Tell your friends.  Please leave a Reply below. Feedback is welcome. I love to know what my readers think about my posts.

Saarschleife, a bend in the Saar River near Mettlach.
Saarschleife, a bend in the Saar River near Mettlach.

Follow Tales and Travel on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/talesandtravel

Follow me on twitter: @larkleah

Cannes: Far from the Madding crowd

The crowds are fierce in this Riviera hot spot in August. And, of course during its famous film festival when the world focuses on all the stars who pose on the red carpet at the Palais des Festivals.

View from the ferry
Cannes viewed  from the ferry

But, you can escape the masses and find tranquility amidst Mediterranean splendor just a short boat ride (20 minutes) away. We visited Cannes again this year to watch outstanding fireworks which are part of an international competition held every summer in Cannes. Fireworks are shot from numerous boats in the harbor and synchronized to music. Worth a trip!

?

So too is a visit to the off shore islands (Îsles de Lérins): Île Sainte Marquerite and Île Saint Honorat. Last summer we hiked around Ste. Marquerite, the larger island, and savored an excellent lunch on the shore. This time, Saint Honorat, the monks’ island.cannes,14

Splendid. The tiny island has no cars, no hotels, just one restaurant, two shops –and monks. In 410 AD, Honoratus, a Roman noble who became saintly and sought isolation, is said to have chosen the island, then full of snakes and scorpions and thought to be haunted, as an ideal retreat. Visitors followed. A monastic order was established.

11th century fortress was connected to the original abbey by a tunnel.
11th century fortress was connected to the original abbey by a tunnel.

The monastery grew to become one of the most powerful in Christendom. Alas, peace and quiet did not last. Raids by Saracens and pirates in the 8th century took their toll, then later attacks by Spaniards. The monastery was closed in 1788, but reborn in 1859 when Cistercians took it over.

Today 20 monks live on Saint Honorat. In addition to praying, they cultivate grapes, eight hectares of vineyards, five for red wine, and three for white.

The monks' grapes were looking good.,
Monastery grapes are looking good.

We followed the mostly shaded trail along the island’s craggy coastline, past rocky coves, ancient chapel ruins, an 11th century fortress and cannonball ovens. These curious structures were used in the 18th century to heat cannonballs so they would wreck further destruction on the ships they hit.

VR inspects a cannonball oven.
VR inspects a cannonball oven.

Signs along the way remind you to keep quiet and to respect the religious ambience – no bare chests. Mediterranean vegetation – pines, herbs, eucalyptus – borders the trail and makes for interesting photos. Other paths lead through the island interior, past the vineyards.

Monks have been living here for 16th centuries. REspect
Respect the monks and their silence.  Be decently attired.  T-shirts and shorts obligatory.

It is truly another world: beautiful, peaceful and quiet. It was hard to fathom that those noisy masses on La Croisette, Cannes renowned boulevard, were not far away.cannes.5

We stopped to visit the current abbey church and the shop which sold mainly wine. According to a brochure on the island wine, it is “full of spirituality.” All the vintages are named after saints, but you will pay dearly for spiritual wine.   The cheapest we found was 26 euro, but most were far more expensive.

No wine bargains here.
No wine bargains here.

At La Tonnelle , the island restaurant, we each ordered a glass of the monk’s brew to accompany our lunch. A glass of Sainte Cesaire (Chardonnay) for me at 8 euro; a glass of Saint Honorat (Syrah) for VR at 11.80 euro. I found my wine too oaky and too Chardonnay. Vino Roberto’s was good, very robust. To take a bottle home: 33 euro. VR reasoned he could buy several good bottles back in the Luberon for that amount.canes.15

The lunch (we each ordered fish) was delicious.   People watching at this seaside eatery also gets high marks. Pleasure boats cast anchor off shore. A tender ferries passengers to the restaurant, a constant parade of the yachting crowd.cannes.8

Travel Tips:

Trip Advisor led me to the Hotel l’Olivier in Cannes, a small, family-run (22 rooms) hotel on a hillside overlooking the Med.   Our room was tiny, but our terrace with a superb view was perfect. The hotel personnel were all very warm, welcoming and helpful. It was a bit of a walk to the town center, but good exercise. The hotel has a small pool, flowered terrace for al fresco breakfast, and it’s quiet – a great escape from the chaos of La Croisette. A beach is also nearby. http://www.hotelolivier.com

Beach near the hotel
Beach near the hotel

Another Trip Advisor find, the Bistrot Saint-Sauveur in Le Cannet, a town above Cannes, where we had an excellent lunch. www.bistrotsaintsauveur.fr

La Tonnelle, restaurant on the island, www.tonnelle-abbayedelerins.com

A leisurely saunter around the island takes about 1 ½ hours. Boats to both islands run about every hour during summer months. Round-trip ticket to Saint Honorat, 14 euro (price for seniors). More information www.cannes-ilesdelerins.com

Island olive tree
Island olive tree

Don’t miss Today’s Taste in column at right: DILLY POTATO SALAD, my favorite potato salad.

If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right) so you will not miss future posts. Your address is kept private and never shared.

Like my blog? Tell your friends.  Please leave a Reply below. Feedback is welcome. I love to know what my readers think about my posts.

Follow Tales and Travel on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/talesandtravel

Follow me on twitter: @larkleah

Swiss Slopes Welcome Journalists

blog.ledeThey came, they skied, they raced, they partied – 210 journalists from 31 countries on the Swiss slopes above the charming town of Champéry. The ski terrain is part of the incredible Portes du Soleil ski region with interconnecting slopes in both Switzerland and France.blog.8

The 61st meeting of the Ski Club of International Journalists (SCIJ) had a serious side, too. Jean Claude Biver, president of the upscale Swiss watch manufacturer, Hublot, gave a fascinating presentation on the “Swiss model” and the history of watch making in the country. A panel of experts discussed climate change and the threat to mountains. Another panel talked about “swissness.”blog.27

But, it’s skiing that is foremost during these meetings, once each year in a different country. I’ve been a member for many years and, in addition to joining meets on European slopes, I’ve had the fortune to ski in Japan, the U.S., Argentina, Turkey and Morocco.

Races are de rigueur, both giant slalom and cross country. This was my first time back in the starting gates with my new knee. My times were slow, but I

American teammate Risa Wyatt et moi.
American teammate Risa Wyatt et moi.

competed. This was also my first time skiing in about four years. The bionic knee is a wonder, performing well beyond my expectations.

Even though SCIJ races are for fun, many take them seriously. It’s hard not to get pre-race jitters before the competitions. Races aside, skiing at Portes du Soleil, which claims to be the largest ski area in the world, is fabulous with slopes for all levels.blog.15

I joined friends for a trek over the mountains to Avoriaz and beyond in France. We had snow the first few days of our stay, so the off-piste skiers were in heaven, most skiing on freeride skis.   The more adventurous, equipped with  avalanche beacons and shovel, followed a guide to ski back country.

British table at Nations Night
British table at Nations Night

Nations Night is a favorite on the après-ski agenda. Members bring delicacies (food and beverages, usually alcoholic) from their countries to share with others. There were just three Americans this time, myself, Risa Wyatt and Peter Schroeder, both from N. California. We had a Kentucky table. (Peter hails from Louisville and I got my journalism start at the Louisville Courier-Journal many, many years ago.)  We offered mint juleps, ham and corn bread. There was no blog.1reasonable way to get Kentucky ham to Switzerland, so we settled on a Swiss smoked variety which was delicious. I baked and lugged five heavy batches of corn bread in a backpack, in addition to a weighty suitcase, on the train from France. A major mistake!  Corn bread, I learned, is best eaten the day it is baked, not three days later. Although it had been enveloped in plastic wrap and then foil, it was hard, dry, dreadful. It all ended up in the garbage. (But — it was yummy the day it was baked, warm from the oven smeared with butter. See recipe in column at right.)

The week ended with a “White Party,” when all were asked to wear white. Bulgarian doctors and nurses joined sheiks and others clad in snow white for a fun and festive evening. blog.12

I went on to join a small group for a post trip to slopes in Crans Montana, another top Swiss ski resort. In addition to skiing in the sunshine, we enjoyed a tasting of wines from the Valais, Switzerland’s largest wine producing area. We also had the opportunity to savor diffferent Swiss wines at Champéry. Excellent, but unfortunately since limited quantites are produced, the thirsty Swiss drink most and little is exported.

Thank you, SCIJ Switzerland, for a super meeting!blog.26 SCIJ USA is looking for new members. If you know an American journalist who skis, tell him/her to check out the web site, www.scij.info , and/or contact me.

More about Champéry at www.champery.ch

More about Portes du Soleil, http://www.portesdusoleil.com

Share your thoughts…comments are welcome.  See “Leave a Reply” below. And, sign up, top right,  to see future posts.  More Myanmar coming soon, Blissful Days at Nagapali Beach.

 More SCIJ  photos follow:

Tatiana from Russia at a wine tasting in Crans Montana.
Tatiana from Russia at a wine tasting in Crans Montana.

 

Some toured the Morand Distillery where tasting was tops.
Some toured the Morand Distillery where tasting was tops.

 

Koos from Holland, the man behind the traditional pea soup served after cross country  race.
Koos from Holland, the man behind the traditional pea soup served after cross country race.

 

Czech beer after the cross country race was a hit.
Czech beer after the cross country race was a hit.
Peter from Denmark
Peter from Denmark
Me, Peter and Risa at Crans Montana,
Me, Peter and Risa at Crans Montana,
A cozy place for a warm up and rest.
A cozy place for a warm up and rest.
And the winners are...
And the winners are…
A hearty Swiss soup followed the GS race.
A hearty Swiss soup followed the GS race.
Uros from Slovenia and friend.
Uros from Slovenia and friend.
Some danced until the wee hours.
Some danced until the wee hours.

 

Cliona and Isabel from Ireland with Gill from Great Britain.
Cliona and Isabel from Ireland with Gill from Great Britain.

Wild and Wonderful Corsica

Bonifacio ,
Bonifacio
,

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.corsica.55,

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.

Find the yellow slash -- the trail marker.
Find the yellow slash — the trail marker.

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.corsica.36b

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.

Refilling the water bottles.
Refilling the water bottles.

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.corsica.14b

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

Natural rock.
Natural rock.

sculptures.

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.

Menhir
Menhir

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.

Mini beach on a windy day --too dangerous to swim
Mini beach on a windy day –too dangerous to swim

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:

Chopinette, my favorite Corsican,
Chopinette, my favorite Corsican,

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 corsica.15bthe 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.corsica.20b

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 corsica.26catch.  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.

Corte's citadel
Corte’s citadel

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.corsica.3

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.

Erbalunga
Erbalunga

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.38bCorsica, 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.

corsica.47Bastia, 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.corsica.48b

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

On the terrace at Hotel du Golfe
On the terrace at Hotel du Golfe

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

I’m happy to hear from readers. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Followers also welcome. Don’t miss future posts. Click on Email Subscription at top right.