Diary of our trip to Corsica

Apr. 10-18, 2000

Mon. Apr. 10

Left home in Maidenhead at 8:45 AM, sunny and clear day, 13 deg. Walked to Frascatti Way. A lady from Yorkshire was waiting for the bus too. It was late; I thought of taking the train but the bus finally came. Transferred on Heathrow Express to Terminal 4. Talked to an English man who was going to Mexico. Got to the airport at 11. Flight to Paris only lasted 45 minutes. They gave us a small tuna sandwich and 1/2 a chocolate bar. Transferred via monorail to the west terminal at Orly airport. Sat and read the newspaper. The flight was 50 minutes late. Couldn't find our way around the airport but finally found flight to Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica at 6 PM. The flight carried mainly French people from Paris. I was sleepy and got a headache. Were served tomato juice and peanuts. Coming into Ajaccio, the plane turned 180 deg. in front of the mountains and then landed. Corsica looked green and rocky with big hills. We walked into the terminal building and a French lady with black hair was waiting with a sign that said "KEITHS". Saw 4 children with the stewardess who were met by their grandparents. The French lady escorted us and our 4 pieces of luggage to her minivan and drove us 2 miles into central Ajaccio. There was alot of traffic in the main street. She stopped in the middle of the street in front of the Hotel Kalliste so we jumped out and quickly got our bags. I talked to a French girl who organized our accommodation. The rooms were accessed from another door on the street. It was all tiled in a fairly old and dim building with a small elevator. Our room was on the 3rd floor. You had to turn on the hall lights by pressing a switch. The room was quite nice with a French window and bare stones. The view into the centre court was pretty grim. I laid down but the phone rang. It was Sarah Quee from Tour Adventure explaining I'd get hiking maps tomorrow and she'd come to meet us at 2 PM. Louise wanted to go for dinner so we walked up the pedestrian street and found a pizza place. There were no tourists and being Monday night, no locals except for a few teenagers. It was 17 deg. out. The restaurant was like a cafe with open doors and TV set on in the corner. Louise had French bread, proscuitto ham and I had pizza and orangina. It cost $40. I felt better. We walked up the street and window shopped. The street was being dug up. Saw lots of crazy driving and teenage girls with huge running shoes like the Spice Girls. Ajaccio was a bit run-down and reminded us of poorer parts of Nice. Saw a square with Napoleon's fountain and 4 lions. Walked over to the fort. Heard the local band practising for an opera. Returned to hotel and slept.

Tues. Apr. 11

I slept in til 8 and had a shower. It was chucking rain outside so we figured it would last all week. Packed up bags and took them to the reception area. A different guy was there and he spoke good English. He was getting married to an English girl. Put on our rain coats and set off in search of breakfast. Stopped at a Spar grocery store and bought $25 worth of food. Ate orange in the big stone square under another statue of Napoleon. It stopped raining but was windy from the sea. Went to a cafe and had 2 big coffees and raisin buns we'd bought. The coffees cost $3 each. The waitress was friendly. I tried to remember all my French. Walked over to the Museum of Ajaccio which cost $12.50 for 2. The man looked like Bernie Doucet. The museum contained artifacts from the 1700's, paintings and sculptures. I liked one of the vases made of carved brass with a glass vessel inside. It was a small museum. We left and toured a cathedral with wall paintings that gave it a 3-D effect. The people don't seem very religious. Looked at the house where Napoleon was born and sat in a small park across from it. Ate 2 fresh tangerines right off the tree. Checked out the Fesch art museum but didn't have enough time to see it. Went to Napoleon's museum but it was closed for siesta. The downtown area had lots of stores selling perfume, jewellery and expensive clothes. Louise wanted to buy an embroidered denim vest but it cost $625. Ajaccio was interesting to walk around and get acclimatized. It wasn't a very big place with only 3 streets in the central area, then the boat docks. Sat on a bench by the harbour and watched ferries from France load and unload. Had cheeze, pieces of toast, tomato, chocolate, cookie and banana for lunch. Walked back the hotel. Sarah was there right at 2. She organized our hiking tour and arranged the transportation. She came from Surrey and spoke very well. She gave us a full description of 6 days' hiking and 2 detailed topographical maps. She said the weather is changeable so any rain would clear quickly. It promised to be 17 deg. every day but the ocean was too cool to swim in. We went to a cafe to use the bathroom. The same cab lady from yesterday came. She drove all around Ajaccio then left to the north on a 2-lane road. The other drivers go very fast and try to beat everyone in front of them. Saw lots of silly passing. Ajaccio was ugly on the outskirts so we were glad to get out into the country. Lots of big hills, hairpin turns on the roads. We went to Piana which took 1-1/2 hours. I was tired so slept in the hotel on arrival. The Hotel Scandola was 3 storeys (only 16 rooms), on the main road just outside Piana, a small town overlooking the Golfe de Porto bay of the Mediterranean. We set off to explore the town. It had a church in the main square. Lots of little kids were riding bikes in the main square and the old men sat on a wall. The only other action was a stray dog roaming about. It was very quiet and pleasant. The only shopping was 1 grocery store, 1 gas station, a few souvenir stores and the post office. The church had a bell which rang every hour or sometimes 5 minutes before or after the hour. We explored both streets in the town, then walked up a trail marked on the topographical map Sarah gave us. It went over hills to the east. It was a beautiful quiet trail with different trees and flowers. Saw kids on motor scooters, a farm with goats and beautiful views over the sea. Louise talked about our future plans on where to live. Turned back and returned to town, walked 2-1/2 km total, a good way to get in shape for tomorrow. Bought food and wine at the grocery store. Studied our route for tomorrow. Had dinner in the hotel dining room at 7:45. Great view overlooking the sea and mountains behind. Saw clouds forming over the hills. Had proscuitto ham, omelettes, French bread, red wine, sausage, French fries, cheeze and fruit. The tangerines were excellent. The hydro went out for 2 minutes when we were having dinner.

Wed. Apr. 12

Got up at 8, had breakfast in the hotel restaurant: grapefruit juice, bread, croissant and cafe au lait. Piana was 450 metres in elevation although it didn't seem that high up. We packed up and left our bags in the lobby for someone to collect later. It was a nice day out, cool, only 8 deg. I wore my fleece and red and blue jacket. Walked through the town, saw the stray dog, turned left and followed the road down to the harbour. It was steep in parts, lots of switchbacks. I had a plan to join up with the hiking trail but it would have meant descending and climbing 1000' and probably wasn't possible. Saw that Piana was quite far up in the hills with the ocean away below via a long winding road. Walked half-way down it, then hitch-hiked back up. A French couple from Bordeaux gave us a ride back to the town. The countryside is very nice but awfully hilly and rocky. Louise bought stamps at the post office. Saw a chap washing his Jeep with a garden hose and the stray dog trotting all over. About 1 car or truck a minute drives through the town. Set off on the hiking trail at 11 AM going east on the highway. Lots of fresh water springs that you can drink from. Lots of small thorny bushes with white and yellow flowers called maquis. Followed a family up the hiking trail off-road. Climbed up a hill and onto a narrow trail over big rocks. The trails are granite like Canada, not muddy like England. Saw terrific views of weirdly shaped rocks and the ocean 1000' below. The area was called Les Calanche, which is noted for red-orange granite rocks in strange pinnacle shapes. We could hear cars honking their horns as they rounded blind corners on the road below. Louise said if they'd drive on the right side of the road, they wouldn't have to honk the horn so much. A few other people were using the trail but most of them left us in their dust. There were few tourists here now but would be busy in the summer. Carefully climbed down a long zigzag track to the road. Followed it to a gift shop, used the washroom. Sat on a rock and ate our lunch: pate, cheeze, avocado, tomato, toast, yogurt and chocolate. It was nice and sunny. There were lots of salamanders on the rocks. Walked along the road; traffic was busier, saw lots of near misses. Stayed on the road going downhill, lots of pine trees, flowers and beautiful scenery. Walked down a quiet road toward the ocean, stopped for a sleep at 5 PM. The trail got narrow and stony towards the beach. Saw a kitty's face peering at us when we rounded a corner. Louise was scared of the waves crashing in but made a run for it. Came to the small fishing village of Porto by the beach. It was a real accomplishment even though my toe and hip were hurting. Porto had alot of restaurants and hotels but they were mostly devoid of visitors. We found ours, the Mediterranean, a 3-storey place on the main street and our suitcases were there. Two men were running the place. Our room was on the second floor with a small balcony overlooking the beach. There was a nice sunset over the bay. We went to a pizza restaurant for dinner and had 1/2 a bottle of red wine, salad, spaghetti for Louise, cannelloni for me and creme caramel. It was a nice restaurant. Saw lots of well-dressed French people coming for dinner about 9 PM. I'm amazed their cars are in one piece, considering the way they drive.

Thurs. Apr. 13

It was sunny and clear. We had a continental breakfast in the hotel dining room. No one else was there. We don't like the French breakfast (croissants, cigarettes, cappuccino and cognac). Not only doesn't it contain any protein or vitamins, you're hungry again by 10 o'clock. We put our bags in the lobby and set off walking at 8:50. We needed sunglasses and lotion, short sleeve shirts and long pants. After 20 minutes' walk up the road, we bought a few groceries at a Spar store near the little bridge. The side road gradually climbed up following the course of the river. It wasn't busy. We walked on it for an hour, then went on a side trail and saw olive and eucalyptus trees. Crossed down to the river and across a bridge. We met a Belgian couple with 2 little girls. Walked up a huge switchback hill, saw a few horses and cows and arrived at the town of Ota at 1:15. My feet and legs were better today. We had our picnic lunch beside the church. It got cloudier. The trail going east of Ota was more brambly because few people had used it. We saw lots of goats plus wrecked cars and fridges that people had pushed over the bank of the road above. We could hear river rapids all the time. We came out at a road bridge after crossing an old stone bridge (took a picture of it). There were lots of cars parked and people hiking up the trail into the famous Spelunca Gorge. Louise talked to a man who had lived at Lake Simcoe. The trail on the right-hand side of the river was rocky but wide enough for 2. It went up and down a bit with good views of the gorge. We crossed another stone bridge about a couple of miles, then there were no more people after that. The trail became very switchback and climbed up for about 2000 feet. It wasn't far on the map but was a huge climb in elevation. Louise got a bit weary. We saw pigs rooting the dirt in the forest. We could sometimes see cars driving on the distant road very high up. It was a beautiful day out. There were more pine trees at the higher elevation. It was quite scary in one part, because there had been a huge rock fall and about 100 tons of broken rocks were piled up on the trail. I wanted to scramble over it before the rest of the mountain came crashing down, so fortunately we made it OK. We finally got to the hill town of Evisa (elevation 830 metres) at 7 PM. Sarah lived there so she came out looking for us in her Jeep. The temperature in Evisa was much cooler. There was nothing going on in the town; alot of the houses were boarded up. Sarah said it was quite early in the season but in the summer, everyone escapes to the hills because it's cooler than the coast which is unbearably hot. Evisa was on a ridge on top of hills and had nice views of valleys below. We walked to the far end of town (about a mile) to our Hotel Scopa Rossa. We were the only ones staying there. We changed for dinner and were fairly exhausted. Sarah joined us for a chat at dinner which we had in the bar in front of a big fireplace. Sarah had done the hike many times leading groups. She said the path we took today from Porto to Evisa had been built by the Romans. Dinner comprised pea soup, roast pork, lima beans, French bread, and creme caramel made with chestnuts. They use alot of local produce when making food. We were glad it wasn't rainy or foggy today.

Fri. Apr. 14

We slept well. It was very quiet in the town. There are very few roads around, just big hills covered with pine trees. The hotel was run by a family who had lots of small boys. This was our day off the hiking trail so we took it easy. It was clear and cool again. We walked into town which had about 3 stores, the post office and lots of stray dogs. We took a hiking trail through a chestnut tree forest. They were ancient and many of them weren't in very good shape any more. The chestnuts are chopped up to make flour. A couple of pine trees had fallen on the trail and we had to navigate around them. We saw a pig farm and a cow with a bell walking free in the forest. Pigs had rooted up alot of ground in the forest and made a big mess. There were lots of mountain streams. I lay down on the grass for a while. We had lunch overlooking the gorge in the Forest of Antoine, which is famous for tall pine trees that were used to make ships' masts. It was a peaceful area with lots of picnic tables. Signs pointed to a natural swimming pool -- the river with lots of granite rocks and small waterfalls. Quite a few people were there resting by the little waterfalls. We walked back to Evisa on the road. A fire was burning by the road so Louise stopped a girl from the Parks Department who phoned the fire brigade (we doubt they ever came). Got back to the hotel, sat, read and wrote postcards. Sarah came for another short visit. Louise bought groceries for tomorrow. There were lots more people at the hotel today, including 6 couples on motorcycles. Decided the hotel had more of the air of a hunting lodge and would not be out of place in northern Ontario. We sat in the big dining room for dinner. Beside the fireplace was a fabulous eagle carved out of redwood. It had a wing span about 30" wide. The dining room was decorated with old postcards showing Evisa and area in the early days. It has been a tourist destination for a century. Dinner comprised sliced meat, corn fritters, roast veal and chocolate cake. We felt that Corsicans are good in some areas but often don't look after things very well.

Sat. Apr. 15

My new saying is "Spending a day in Evisa is like spending a week anywhere else." Saturday was another clear and sunny day. After breakfast, Sarah and her business partner came and drove us in her truck through the Forest of Antoine and on up the hill. They dropped us off at a mountain pass (Col de Vergio) on the Great Divide of Corsica. It was between 2 ski hills. As described, we could see the big lake below in the distance where we were headed today. We followed the well-marked trail down through birch and pine trees past a camp of the French Foreign Legion. We crossed a bridge and got water at a spring, then climbed up a big hill through the forest and ate lunch overlooking the mountains with snow on top. Clouds came in and we thought it might rain. There was no one else around. We crossed along the side of the hill and passed over 3 or 4 streams. Saw lots of cows. Passed through a very nice chestnut forest, zigzagged down an old trail to a river with a stone bridge and mill. This part of the trail was made for donkeys to carry chestnuts from the forest to the village. It got cool so we were glad of our fleeces. My knees and hip held out even though we were descending alot. Walking up another valley, we saw beautiful views of mountains and valleys with the stream below. We discovered some caterpillars walking in a line head to tail -- 100's of them, then concluded they were intent on wrecking the pine trees. Saw a very cute brown baby calf. There were lots of song birds and a cuckoo. Saw an abandoned car on its side with a tree that had grown up through its windows. I was getting tired so made a beeline for the road. It was a 5-minute walk into Albertacce, another little town with nothing going on. There were a few kids riding bicycles and girls with babies. The stray dogs were having a get-together on the main street but even they looked bored. Happened to see a restaurant named the same as the one where Sarah had made a reservation for us. Their whole front patio had just been paved with new cement. Talked to an old lady and she said they were closed and we should go to the next town, Calacuccia, where there was a pizza restaurant. We walked along the road following the valley with reservoir below and mountains behind. Got to the Convent of St. Francis where we were staying the night. Didn't see anyone around, went in the gate and a lady saw us out her window. She showed us to our room on the 3rd floor which had recently been renovated with a white tile floor and new pine rafters. The room was nice and warm. We were exhausted. I told the lady in my rusty French that the restaurant was closed, but she said she'd telephone and let them know we were coming. It was around 7 PM. So we walked a mile back up the road to Albertacce; it was cool and windy. We were dubious about the restaurant but the door was open and the owner, a short, large French lady with black hair told us to go upstairs where she met us with a warm greeting. She led us to the restaurant, and although it was a family affair and we were the only customers, was a 3-ring circus with friends and relatives running in and out and the phone ringing constantly. It sure was different. I talked to a French lady on the phone who had been to Montreal. The lady, whose name was Sara, was kind and gave us cold sliced meat, huge pieces of fresh crusty bread, red wine, a main dish of ox stew with lentils and zucchini, spaghetti and cheeze. She laid out more fruit, cheeze and creme caramel desserts in packages. Her daughter and 2 granddaughters came in. Her husband shuffled in too, grunted and then sat in the dark reading the newspaper. Sara insisted I have curacao liquer, then gave us 2 oranges, 4 apples and a big piece of cheeze. The whole thing cost $45. Her neighbour came and gave us a ride to the convent in his Audi, which we were glad to accept. Our evening out was an occasion to remember!

Sun. Apr. 16

Today promised to be a long day, because the itinerary said we were to hike for 8 hours. A cab man came to get us at 8 AM. He had a yellow pickup truck that he used for his logging business. We went to a restaurant 1 mile down the road. It had a nice dining room with North-American-style plate-glass windows, a hotel and gas pumps. All the Corsican men (who drifted in like the plot of a sit-com) sat at 1 table and drank expresso. The owners had a big German shepherd dog who pushed the door open himself. There were interesting big photos of old Corsica on the walls, including 1 of a 1900's wedding, showing the bride and groom in a horse-drawn buggy and all their friends on horseback wearing their best suits. The man drove us up a logging road above the reservoir and over the top of the mountain, then let us off near a shepherd's stone house. It was very cool and windy above the tree-line. Walked down the hill through cow pasture land to a refuge shelter which was shut up for the winter. It was in a nice camp-like setting beside the river. Walked across a suspension bridge and took a picture of a waterfall. There was intermittent rain. Walked downstream through the Tavignano Gorge, following the river. My walking stick broke so I found a new one. Had lunch under a hanging rock, hoping it wouldn't collapse on us (it didn't). It was taking us twice as long as advertised to do the trails. Met quite a few people walking uphill. The hills were very large; it would have been rough country before the hiking trails were put in. There were narrow ledges with precipitous drops in a couple of places so I was nervous of them. There should have been good views from the hillside, but it was too cloudy. Got to a second suspension bridge and crossed the river at 4 PM. Talked to an English fellow and American girl who were headed up to the refuge. He said that bicycling on the roads was pretty scary. Once we got below the clouds, it didn't rain as much. The path seemed to take forever, curving around the mountains and across gorges with small rivers. The English fellow passed us going downhill again; he thought it was too far to the refuge. Saw some cute black calves on the trail. I was getting worried we wouldn't make it to Corse by dark, but we reached the end of the trail by 7:50 PM. The town was old and interesting but we made a bee-line for a restaurant in a cellar serving pizza. Glad of civilization for once. It was nicely lit and was almost full. Louise had salad and spaghetti; I had soup and cannelloni. My head was hurting a bit and my feet were wet and sore. I drank a litre of water and had hot vegetable soup. We both had crepes for dessert. It cost less than $40. I was going to phone the hotel and say we were on our way but didn't bother. Left the restaurant at 9:30. Looked for a bank machine but didn't see one. Left town and headed for our hotel which was 1/2 a mile up another gorge. It was very dark with no street lights so were glad to be off the trail. Still raining. Got to the Gardens of the Glacier hotel. The owner was on the phone to Sarah who was worried that something had happened to us. I had a bath which helped relax my feet and legs. We had considered going directly to Corte to look around today, but the new Museum of Corsican History that we wanted to see was closed. The hotel was 3 storeys, fairly new but cheaply built. It was beside a river and cost $125 a night, rather exhorbitant.

Mon. Apr. 17

Got up before 8; it was raining hard out. The hotel owner was a young chap who spoke good English. He said the area is crowded with tourists in the summer and the weather is very hot and dry then. Had orange juice, coffee and croissants in the dining room which was decorated with antique farming things and overlooked the river which was flowing very fast. An older man came with a taxi at 9 o'clock and took us to downtown Corte where I got some money. The town was pretty depressing on a rainy Monday morning. Went to the train station, bought 2 tickets to Ajaccio, $16 each one way. It was pouring rain out. Our train was late which held up another one, as there was only 1 track going in and out of Corte. Got on the train which was 2 day-liner coaches with comfortable seats and lots of room for luggage. The ride was noisy and bumpy even though the train only went 20 or 30 MPH. It went through spectacular hill country, which would have been quite rugged before the train track was put in. Arrived at Ajaccio at 12:15 PM and were met by the same cab lady again who drove us a whole 2 blocks to the Hotel Kalliste. Walked up the street in search of food for lunch but nothing was open (siesta time). Bought pieces of pizza and a croque monsieur and pop, then sat in the band shell. Saw a typical remnant of Corsican driving: a fairly new Honda Civic that was scratched and dented on all sides, with 2 huge dents in the back and the side mirror broken off. Went to the Fesch art gallery and looked at Italian paintings from the 14th to 18th centuries. It was raining out so everyone was depressed. Went back to the hotel and slept for an hour. Our hotel room had 2 washrooms: the sink and shower were in the corner, but the toilet was in its own little room on the balcony -- you had to go outside to get to it. Shopped at the MonoPrix department store; bought a nightgown for Louise and deck shoes for me ($75). Walked up the main street of Ajaccio past embassies to a big plaza with a statue of Napoleon. Had dinner at a nice pizza restaurant where they played a tape with "cocktail" style piano music. When listing the desserts, the waitress described an ice cream variety with "liquer from the tropics and the fruit that the wine is made of". I thought it sounded good, and it was -- rum and raisin ice cream. The waitress told us that many English, American and German girls come here to work in the summer. My hip was hurting. Saw lots of French kids lining up at the movie theatre. The guy at the front desk of the hotel said the weather suddenly turns hot in May but they'd had a dry winter.

Tues. Apr. 18

Our flight left at 6:55 AM so we got up early. Two Irish fellows and us shared a taxi to the airport. The guy drove 80 MPH all the way and wasn't very nice. Louise gave her walking stick a decent burial at the airport. Our 2 flights home were uneventful and we returned to Maidenhead by BeeLine bus. The driver told us the English weather had been rainy and horrible.

Conclusion: A great hiking holiday, although it was a little early in the season.

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