Sunday, April 30, 2006


The Foreign Legion

Ask anyone who doesn't visit Corsica to say what he knows about the island and the odds are you'll get an answer like "Well, Napoleon came from Corsica, and the Foreign Legion are based there."

The French Foreign Legion do indeed have a strong presence on the Island. Any time of the year, any day of the week, you are likely to see strapping young men striding about Calvi in carefully pressed uniforms. They are polite, neat young men who despite their reputation for efficiency and ferocity, don't cause any trouble here as far as I'm aware. You see them in the supermarkets, in the launderettes, and occasionally in restaurants and bars. The severity of the training they receive is apparent from the bulging muscles under their neatly ironed shirts.

One of our close neighbours here is the Legion's Parachute Regiment. Occasionally, tourists will be amazed to see their planes take off from Catalina Airport and drop lines of their boys a dozen at a time into the training ground - it makes a rather special sight as you laze on one of the beaches in the Bay of Calvi.

It's more reassuring than the other airborne sight you sometimes witness from the same viewpoint: seaplanes collecting seawater to bomb forest fires in the interior.

Friday, April 28, 2006


Wine and Romans in Aleria

I don't often write about Corsica's east coast, but I have a bit of a soft spot for two places - Solenzara and Aleria. OK, I like Porto Vecchio as well but I count that the deep south.

I'll tell you about Solenzara some other time. For now I want to say what a great place Aleria is. Once the capital and garrison town of Roman Corsica, Aleria boasts some well preserved Roman ruins and a Genoese fort. If you follow the signs to the Roman Fort, the building you get to first of all is the Genoese Fort housing the museum, not the Roman ruins - so don't go away with the impression that you've just visited the best preserved Roman Fort in Europe! You have to walk awhile before you get to the ruins. The outlines of the building are clearly visible however, and a visit will be a good reminder of how extensive the Roman presence was in these early times. There are quite a few Roman artefacts in the museum.

The Romans arrived in 259 BC, and Aleria remained the major port for the island right up until the 18th Century. Its presence here gives the visitor an important clue about the vineyards surrounding the town.

So what's the link with wine? Of the two main red wine grapes grown on the island, Sciacarellu and Nielucciu, the latter has a first cousin in the San Giovese grape grown in neighbouring Italy. Nobody knows exactly when or why the link exists, but many have surmised that the Pisans and Genoese, rulers of Corsica in the Middle Ages, brought vines into Corsica from their homeland.

The Sciacarellu grape however is a lot more ancient and considerably more intriguing. There is no other grape anything like it grown anywhere else in the world. Perhaps the Romans brought it here much earlier, and then it stopped being grown in Italy? Perhaps it evolved here from some other variety. So next time you're in Aleria, go see the fort, look at the Roman ruins and have a think about all this over a glass or two of Corsica's rare and mysterious red wine.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


August and the travel industry

More stuff in the UK press this morning about how parents of young children and teachers are victimised by the travel industry. As we all know here, the price of holidays and airfares go up in school holidays and at half term. It's not fair, and I wish something could be done to even them up.

In Corsica, there is an analogous but related problem. The island gets densely packed in August, the month when the majority of French people make their annual getaway, and it gets difficult finding somewhere to stay. By far the largest group of Corsica's tourists is that from mainland France, so the impact on the island is huge.

The corollary of course is that the island's economy could do with a few more tourists in the other months. The tourist offices and airlines do their best to spread the season, to be fair. Calvi's "Festival du Vent", in the autumn, is a fun time to go and there is a bit of a carnival atmosphere, and as we saw earlier (April 22nd), Air France has been doing its best to get Brits to visit the island in December. Meanwhile, global warming has been doing its best to sabotage Corsica's intriguing but vanishingly short skiing season.

I much prefer to visit Corsica in the spring and autumn, and my very favourite time is the period from April to May. I'll take in an Easter procession if I'm there on the appropriate dates, but the things I love then are the snow covered peaks, the fantastic flowers, and the sense of everything waking up for the summer ahead.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Bonifacio from underneath

I recently wrote a piece for Tripadvisor in which I decided to put down what I thought was the most spectacular view in Corsica.

It was tempting to put down the view from the train in the area around Vizzavona on the stretch between Punta Leccia and Ajaccio. Instead, I decided to opt for the view of Bonifacio, seen from a boat underneath the cliffs which support this ancient walled town.

The tragic thing about this place is that it is quite possible to visit this town and depart without getting the full impact of its amazing location. By staying in the harbour area, you see a pretty marina with lots of expensive yachts, some nice restaurants and plenty of people wearing designer clothes. If you make the effort to walk up into the Citadel, you will catch some glimpses of the cliffscape surrounding and underpinning the town. And you will see some houses that are built on the overhang, with the whole of at least one building suspended, it would appear, above the sea with very little visible means of support.

But take a boat (they will be plying for your trade shortly after you step out of your car in one of the not-too-easy-to-find car parks) and you will see a mediaeval walled town as you've never seen one before. Even fairytales don't feature architecture like this, so please don't go there without seeing it!

Monday, April 24, 2006


Souvenirs from Corsica

What on earth do you bring back from Corsica as a souvenir for a friend, a loved one or, if you've nobody else to buy for, yourself?

I've often wondered, and I can't pretend to have the complete answer. However, here goes with some ideas. If your recipient is a cook, you could try giving a pack of chestnut flour (oddly, this is almost white - not brown as I had expected) and you can use it for making a range of different cakes and breads (a search on Google will yield some recipes if you don't feel you can throw in a Corsican cookery book as an extra gift).

If you have some luggage space spare, you could try bringing some Corsican wine or beer back with you. Choose these with care (ie taste a sample first!) and they'll be delighted with your gift. Or if you know your recipient really well, you could buy some Corsican music. This, as I've stressed before, is not for everyone but if you know your subject you could convert someone for life. And if you are a European resident, don't forget that you can also bring a plant home with you for the greenhouse, window ledge or a sunny spot in the garden.

There is some lovely jewelry to be purchased in some of the intriguing side streets to be found in Corsica's towns, and as in most Mediteranean islands, there are plenty of leather goods and spectacular pictorial table mats. All very well. However, I nearly always come back empty handed these days, not because I'm particularly mean but because the things I treasure most from this place are in my mind.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Corsica's rosé wines

Rosé wines are becoming increasingly popular at the moment. In 2004 the consumption of rosé consumed by Britons increased by 8 million litres, and it seems to have lost its image as a soft option for people who can't decide whether to drink white or red.

I doubt if the amount of Corsican rosé drunk on the island itself has gone up much - the local people seem to drink it all the time in preference to red and white. I'm not sure why, but there seems to be something irresistible in a cold glass of rosé gris as the Corsican sun is setting. Although I have drunk some wonderful reds and some very superior whites, I drink more rosé than anything else when I'm there.

Could the new fashion for rosés be an opportunity for Corsica's wine industry? I hope so. But if the window of opportunity beckons, I hope it's the small vineyards who benefit. Corsican rosés are made from red wine grapes, the most typical being those made from Nielucciu and Sciacarellu but sometimes they are blended with Grenache. In the case of rosé gris they occasionally add some vermentinu, a white wine grape. The combination is a range of very unusual, incredibly refreshing pale wines that could become world beaters.


Corsica's strange geographies

For an island of around a quarter of a million people, Corsica has more than its fair share of Geographies.

Running down the middle of the island is a range of high mountains (Monte Cinto is more than twice as high as Mount Snowdon) that splits the island into lots of small regions. This is the main reason why Corsica has four international airports when one would have done for a flat island of twice its size. This is also the reason why Corsica has many different climates. You can be up in the mountain villages in dense cloud and rain at three o'clock - and be basking in the sunshine on a beach at four o'clock.

More significantly, the mountainous terrain has affected the island's language. A gentleman writing in Corse Matin, the island's daily newspaper proclaimed recently that "there is no such thing as a Corsican language - there are dozens of them!" By no means all of Corsica's inhabitants would agree with this point of view, but the difficulty of getting around in the days before good roads certainly meant that the dialects in different regions maintained their differences from each other over hundreds of years.

And lastly, the island's geographies will affect the way you move around. If you're driving to Bonifacio in the extreme south from anywhere in the north, and you're in a hurry, it's a good idea to go via the straight east coast road. And heading from anywhere in the west to somewhere in the east is well nigh impossible except via a few well chosen roads.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Chestnuts and Corsica

Last weekend the Financial Times ran an excellent travel feature ( Corsica, concentrating on the gastronomy rather than the Geography for once. Thanks to Rob for sending it to me.

Sarah Woodward, writing winningly about chestnuts and Corsican pigs, was the guest of Air France, who have been busy promoting their route to Corsica (London City Airport to Orly and thence direct to Ajaccio without the inconvenience of the cross Paris navette). Although the focus of the article seemed to be the Bocognano Chestnut Fair (next December), the thing that I took from the article was the fact that Corsicans aren't really into fish. Fish, according to Ms Woodward, is largely for the tourists. This is a fact I can relate to, not being a big fish eater myself - maybe another reason why I am unconsciously drawn to this island.

Meanwhile, fish or no fish, there is yet more discussion about Corsican honeymoons in the Corsica forum in Tripadvisor today. Are you still listening, Kylie?

Friday, April 21, 2006


Kylie and Corsica

After my suggestion that Corsica might become a trendy place to have a wedding or honeymoon (See April 16th) I get an email today from a friend informing me there's a rumour going around that Kylie Minogue intends to marry in Corsica.

Kylie, if you've been reading my blog, I'm, well, rather flattered. But you really don't have to do this just because I suggested it!

She's not the only Aussie that's taken a fancy to this island. Others I know include my daughter-in-law and her parents. The latter still like it even after having bought an air ticket to go there with Air Littoral a couple of weeks before it went bust. So that's at least three others.

More significantly, perhaps, the folks who look at the webstats on tell me that there has been a significant increase of late in the number of Australian visitors to this site. I am convinced that more people from the USA will be Corsica-bound over the next few years, so maybe the Aussies will be the next in line. And a Kylie wedding could be just the thing to get them interested... perhaps.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


The Italian connection

I've been booking my next off-season visit to Corsica this evening and I am reminded in doing so how close my favourite island is to the Italian mainland.

The direct flights from Gatwick to Bastia courtesy of British Airways and Excel Airways have already started, but for someone who wants to travel in the week, getting to the island can pose a few dilemmas. The obvious way is to go to Nice with a low-cost airline and then either take a ferry or an onward flight with CCM, an Air France subsidiary. A less obvious route is to fly to Italy with Ryanair (Genoa or Pisa), then hop on an excellent and punctual Italian train (to Savona or Livorno respectively) then take a ferry from there. It's worth a try if you are stuck or need to shave a few euros off your travel bill!

Corsica is close enough to Italy for your mobile phone to connect to an Italian phone company in some parts of the island - it's geographically nearer than France. There are strong cultural links with Italy too. Not only can native Corsican speakers just about understand Italians (and vice versa) but there are similarities and connections in architecture, food, wine... but these are each worth an entry by themselves.

So how are we going? I decided against the Italian route on this occasion, choosing instead to fly mid-week with BMI to Nice, then on to Calvi with Air France. We'll return with British Airways on one of their first direct flights of the year the following Sunday.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Changeover days - what to do?

This problem has never been written about in a Corsican context before as far as I'm aware, but if you decide to go to Corsica under your own steam, it's one you are quite likely to encounter.

Many self-catering apartments and résidences in Corsica are geared up to cope with French holidaymakers, who like to arrive - and leave - on a Saturday. For most of the early and late season, however, the only direct flights from Britain to Corsica go on a Sunday. So a Brit arriving on a Sunday flight misses the first night of his holiday, then has to give up his apartment to someone else the day before he's due to go home.

I don't think we'll convince British Airways, XL and Thomsonfly (links to all these at to swap their schedules round just for us - we're stuck with it, I'm afraid. So here is a suggestion on how to use the overlap days. First, book into a hotel near your departure airport the Saturday before you fly out and get into holiday mood with a Rough Guide or Lonely Planet and your last pint of English beer for a while. And for your last night in Corsica, book yourself into a small Corsican hotel, B&B or Chambre d'Hote, and use it as an opportunity to find out a bit more about the local culture & food and getting acquainted with some of the local people. It won't cost much, and it could be the high point of your stay.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Getting from A to B

One of the things that people get wrong most often in Corsica is the time it takes to get from A to B.

Take the simple matter of driving from Calvi, in the Balagne (North West), to Ajaccio, Corsica’s capital, in the West. Look at the map, and you’ll see that there is a scenic road that goes along the coast through Porto – and it doesn’t look too far, either, maybe 80 km. An hour and a half maybe? … not on your nelly.

The journey will take you at least half a day, even if you can carry on without a rest to soothe your shattered nerves in Piana or Cargese, or both. The route is breathtakingly beautiful, and the road surface isn’t too bad these days. So what’s the problem? There are two main ones - the bends and the drops.

Between Galeria and Porto, the road is a succession of hairpin bends, and the driver will not be able to admire the scenery. There’s an additional problem if you’re heading south: the sheer, unprotected drop on the right hand side sometimes plunges hundreds of feet straight into the sea below. Rockfalls, wild goats, roadworks and caravans pose even more difficulties.

If you want to go to Porto to admire Les Calanches, a fantastic range of mountains between Porto and Piana, you don’t really have a choice. But if you just want to get to Ajaccio, go the long way via Corte, or even better, take the train. And wherever you’re going on this island, and whichever way you go, if you want to get there in one piece, give yourself about twice the time you think you’ll need.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Weddings and Honeymoons

In the past two years no fewer than three couples have chosen to spend their honeymoons in our apartment in Calvi. The busiest thread in Tripadvisor's Corsica forum at the moment is about honeymoons in Corsica. And I read in the English newspapers over the weekend some survey results indicating that 25 per cent of people are choosing to have their actual wedding overseas.

This all gets me to wondering whether Corsica will ever become a "wedding destination" in the same way that Niagara Falls has become. I was once a remote observer of one of these away-from-it-all weddings in The West Indies. The bride and groom and a handful of their wealthier friends and relatives had decided to tie the knot in a kind of hastily constructed floral arbour in the gardens of a hotel. The gardens were exotic, and the bridal couple looked every bit as happy as one would hope, but it left me with the feeling that it wouldn't be the kind of service or celebration I'd want for any of my lot.

Corsica is certainly romantic, and more breathtakingly beautiful than anything I've seen in the West Indies. However, Corsica is a solidly Catholic and rather traditional place and I don't think it is quite ready to enter the overseas wedding marketplace. But it could do very well as somewhere to go on honeymoon. If you are in the early stages of planning your wedding, why not give it some thought?


Corsica Lista backs Easyjet plans

Happy Easter! Today, a friend and business colleague who has been using our apartment in Calvi will be on his way home to the UK. He will no doubt remind me tomorrow just how pleasant Corsica is at this time of year.

In the meantime, it seems I am not the only one who had doubts (See March 29th) about the French Government's decision to stop Easyjet opening a new route between Paris and Ajaccio. On an admittedly small sample, the Yahoo discussion group Corsica Lista ( voted by 71% to 28% in favour of the proposed new route. This group consists of a potpourri of people from all over the world, including people who live on the island.

Personally, I'd find the new route very helpful. It would also be good to have a route between the UK and Corsica in early Spring (March and April) and late autumn (late October and November). I think the folk who plan these routes are underestimating Corsica's ability to attract tourists in April. If you like walking, wildlife, flowers and lazing around in warm (as opposed to hot) sunshine, it's one of the best times to go.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


River bathing - it's almost warm enough now

People who are used to bathing in the Atlantic in August usually find the Mediterranean comfortably warm from around mid-May onwards.

But what about the rivers and streams? One of Corsica's unique assets is the large number of rivers, streams and mountain pools deep enough to bathe or even swim, but taking a dip in the mountain streams in May may prove a little too chilly even for the foolhardy. It's worth remembering that the water in these streams at this time mainly consists largely of melted snow!

But a few weeks of sunshine will change all that and the braver walkers and tourists will no doubt be stripping off and preparing to take a dip in the Fangu or the Tavignano any time from now onwards.

When I take the plunge, I sometimes take a face mask and snorkel: it's surprising how much there is to see. In the Fangu I've seen groups of young trout preparing to assault the next set of rapids; in the same river I've seen rare fresh-water blennies hiding under stones. I've also seen eels in some of the rivers in the East. It's all there for you to enjoy - but do remember to take every scrap of rubbish away with you when you leave your chosen picnic and river-bathing spot.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Oranges and lemons

I've just been tidying up my greenhouse. Two of its most respected and important residents are an orange tree and a lemon tree.

Citrus trees die when the temperature drops below -2C. So neither of these trees is really suitable for growing in the English climate (especially this last winter). With this in mind. I've been heating the place with a paraffin heater whenever frost threatens, and in the past few days I have been rewarded by the sight of some white blossom just beginning to appear.

The smaller and younger of the two is the lemon tree - given to me by my son and daughter in law as a Christmas present. The orange - much bigger and scruffier - was imported from Corsica. I was inspired to get a Corsican "oranger" when I spotted one advertised in Marshall's nursery catalogue. I ordered one, but after waiting several months it still hadn't arrived, so I told Marshalls to cancel the order - and I would bring one back with me next time I went to my favourite island.

I should have realised what was ahead of me when the amused air hostess said airily "Oh, I used to have one of those but it died" as I struggled onto the plane with my "hand-baggage". Three years later, a little caterpillar-eaten and coated with paraffin soot, it's still there, just. Oranges? Not really. I did harvest a couple of walnut sized examples a year ago, but it hasn't yet justified it's winter heating bill with its output of Vitamin C.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Good Friday in Sartene

Tomorrow is Good Friday. Although I'm not a religious person, it's impossible to escape the sombre tone of this day whatever the country you are in.

Three years ago I spent Good Friday in Sartene in Southern Corsica, having heard about the religious procession that takes place there on that day. It is called the Catenacciu. Despite arriving early, we were amazed by the crowds. I reckon that several thousand people were packed into the tiny Central Square, and they were there to see several priests carrying a statue of the crucified Christ, and a penitent in blood-red robes and a pointed hood completely obscuring his head, walking in procession through the streets of the town.

The penitent was wearing heavy chains attached to his ankles and as he walked you could hear them dragging along the ground. It looked tortuously painful and totally exhausting, yet as I understand it there is a long queue of people waiting to take their turn to be the penitent.

I won't be joining this queue, and I think my lack of a Corsican family name would prevent me taking part anyway. It is a very ancient ritual, echoed in several other Corsican towns and villages, and also in other Mediterranean countries. In Mediaeval times, the pentent was a genuine sinner, having thoroughly earned his penance, and the onlookers used to throw stones at him as he walked.

Thanks to a tip off, we got a better look at the proceedings than some. Someone told us that the procession would soon pass a certain very narrow part of the town and we were able to stand on a municipal flower container to get a better view. It felt voyeuristic to this North European, but like so many other things in this wonderful place, it's perfectly normal in Corsica.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Ways of keeping in touch

No sooner had I sounded off about not being able to catch up with Corsican news while I'm still "over here", than I get a courteous and helpful letter from Corse Matin through the post about geting the Hebdo, Corse Matin's weekly supplement.

So yes, I'll be filling in the form and sending them a cheque. Getting the Hebdo every week will cost me 89.96 euros a year, including postage. And then my friend Will from Corsica Isula responds to the item I wrote last night (see his comment below) to tell me that I can get Radio Calvi Citadelle on their website ( and keep it on all day if I want.

If I do both these things, it seems to me that I will be able to practise both my French reading and listening skills, and also keep up with the latest news - getting a bit of my favourite music while I'm about it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Corse Matin's important role

Just got home after a long day, so nothing very intellectual or demanding tonight I'm afraid.

Just a quick point about Corse Matin, the newspaper I for one enjoy reading when in Corsica. First of all congratulations on the local printing policy - I think the first locally printed (actually in Bastia) edition will be rolling off the presses any time around now.

You were able to get Corse Matin as a PDF file each day on the newspaper's website in the past. Now all you get is job ads and other publicity for the Nice-Matin group. Bearing in mind the newspaper's important role as a sounding board for island opinion and comment, I reckon the web version ought to be reinstated. I love to keep up with what's going on there, and nowaday's it's dificult.

The publishers are offering a chance for foreigners like us to receive the Hebdo (weekend supplement) by post once a week for a small consideration. I have applied for this by filling in a coupon and I posted it to Corsica three weeks ago. So far I've heard nothing. Come on you guys, let's start communicating!

Monday, April 10, 2006


Corsican polyphony - you decide

I'm not very knowledgeable about music, but like most annoying, opinionated people, I know what I like. And amongst the music that falls into the "like" category, there's Corsican polyphony.

It seems that a lot of people dislike it. For others, it sends shivers down the spine and touches the soul. I am firmly in the second camp – I absolutely love it and regularly play recordings at home. But don’t take my word for it, and don’t go to a polyphony concert before you’ve heard a bit first! If you find you hate it, you could be in for a long night!

It is not enough to say that polyphony is a traditional music, totally unaccompanied, or that much of it is sacred in content. For me it sounds somehow eastern in quality – not really what you expect coming to a sophisticated, westernised place like Corsica. I can’t find much about Corsican polyphony in English language except on sleeve notes. I did try and read a book about it in French, once, but got fed up looking up adjectives in my Anglo-French dictionary. Anyway, here goes…

In most polyphony there are three singers, called sicunda, bassu and terza. The sicunda is the singer who generally begins the chant. The bassu, as the name implies harmonises with the sicunda at a lower pitch and the terza weaves a further melodic line. In combination, it sounds nothing like Gregorian chant or later church music and there is a type of strange vocal wavering in the higher registers that is unique to this music, but which seems to be done by all the groups who practise it.

So. I suggest you start off by listening to some A Filetta here… and listening to a few samples. Then make up your own mind. I’ll be writing more about polyphony later on.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Car hire in Corsica

A couple of phone calls from the island this weekend. The most sickening was from a friend and colleague who has borrowed our apartment there for a week.

The weather is warm, he says. He can see the sea from our balcony, he reminds me. And he’s about to open a bottle of chilled Corsican rosé. What a coincidence – I’m quite chilled too, and it’s been raining here in Britain.

Meanwhile, someone on Corsica Lista has been asking about hiring cars in Corsica. Is it better, he asks, to book it before you go, or just hope for the best when you get to the airport…? The answer is you always book it in advance, through someone like Carrentals (you can find them on or Holiday Autos.

When we hire a car there, we always go for the cheapest, most basic model without air-conditioning. Then, when you get there, they’ll usually give you a Peugeot 206 with air conditioning, and at no extra cost. I firmly believe that no-one on this island rents out cars without air-con these days and it’s pretty safe bet to go for the cheapest option and still get what you want.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Am I a Belgian?

I thought I was really getting to talk like a local. All I'd done was stopped my car on an Ile Rousse forecourt to get some diesel, and when I passed over my credit card with the usual pleasantries, the attendant looked at me keenly and said "You're Belgian aren't you?"

The day I was mistaken for a national of one French-speaking country by a resident of another was probably the height of my linguistic achievement. I'm afraid that like so many other Brits, I will never speak perfect French.

I do try. The main language spoken in Corsica is French, and although the Corsican language is taught in schools, is spoken in many of the villages and appears on signposts, French is the lingo you'll nead to get around with and make yourself understood.

The big concern for most first-time tourists is "Is my French good enough to get by in Corsica?"

There is less English spoken here than say Paris (or indeed Brussells) but in most restaurants and bars the staff will be able to understand a little English. However, as in so many other countries, learning a little of the language before you go - and using it when you get there - can pays dividends.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Columbus and Columba - both may be Corsicans

When you arrive in Corsica by boat or plane, you may be tempted to stop at a restaurant and ask for a beer or order a meal with a bottle of the local wine,

The beer may well be a Colomba - with a stern picture of a hooded figure on the can. The wine when it arrives could be a wine from the Calvi region - Clos Colombu. No cowled figure on the label, but questioning will reveal that Calvi is supposed by some to be the birthplace of none other than Christopher Columbus.

If you remember your history, you'll probably recall that the discoverer of the New World was sponsored by Spain, but that he was by birth an inhabitant of pre-unification Italy. So how come the great man came to be born in Calvi? The truth is, nobody knows where he was born, but ancient records have revealed that a man of that name was known to have lived in Calvi at around the right date. And - here's the intriguing bit - Calvi was well and truly under the control of Genoa in the mid to late 1400s.

So that explains Clos Colombu's branding. How so the beer? I have no idea why delicious, aromatic Colomba is so named. I very much doubt if Saint Colomba ever visited Corsica. Perhaps the name derives from the name of the Corsican temptress in the Mérimée novel Colomba. Perhaps the slightly effeminate image on the packaging is of a young Corsican girl rather than an under-nourished Celtic monk. I'm sure someone will eventually tell me who it is.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Air France's Paris dilemma

You won't find many moans on this site about events taking place north of Cap Corse, but I feel moved to make an exception today.

If Air France and its partner CCM are going to make the best of their dominant position on Orly-Corsica flights, they should take a look at the timetabling on the Air France website. Why? because if they don't give us a little more time, incoming passengers transferring from Paris CDG are going to start having heart attacks. Me, for instance!

You'd think that leaving two and a half hours between an incoming flight landing at Paris Charles de Gaulle and one leaving for Calvi from Orly would be sufficient, especially for a sprightly(ish) couple encumbered only by hand-baggage. However, one accident, one huge traffic queue on the infamous périférique caused the shuttle bus I was on last month to be delayed, and our group came within one minute of missing our connecting flight to Corsica. If we'd had hold baggage, we would have been at the mercy of CDG's sluggish and unpredictable baggage handling system - and probably would have spent the first night of our trip in Paris. We love Paris, especially in the springtime, but... well, we prefer Calvi.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


In praise of

When most of us go on a public sector website and find it deficient or inaccurate it's tempting to throw ones' hand up and say "typical!". Then forget it.

Not so the author of Instead of just moaning about the paucity and irrelevance of information on buses and trains, she has created a detailed, accurate and up to date timetable of bus and train times that not only gives you the latest schedules, but also brings readers up to date on road and track works. Based in the Ajaccio region, this latter-day Corsican saint has another time-consuming business to run, and it's hardly surprising that her efforts have been praised so fulsomely in some of the discussion forums this week.

It has to be said that Corsica's public transport network is not the island's strongest feature. In fact, many visitors assume that they must hire a car when they come. But Corsicabus will help youngsters and other foot passengers get the best out of what there is, and if you're doing Corsica the hard way, this site is a must. Mind you, if you are heading into some areas of the interior, you're heading into territory that even doesn't quite reach. More on Corsica's trains in later posts.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Napoleon and Pascal Paoli

Most people know about Napoleon Bonaparte's Corsican origins, but visitors to the island soon realise that the former emperor is out-gunned in affection and street-name count by Pascal Paoli.

Pascal (or Pasquale) Paoli was the first and only head of state in Corsica, thanks to the Government he founded in 1755. Unfortunately, the Government only lasted 14 years - until 1769, when he was defeated by a French army following the surrender of the island by the Genoese to France. He was forced to flee to England. He returned to Corsica from exile in 1790 at the invitation of Louis XVI. The post-revolutionary French Government, however, didn't much like his views on Corsican independence, and after a brief, awkward, period of British rule in the island, Paoli was forced to return to England where he died shortly afterwards.

Paoli is remebered on the island mainly for starting the University in Corte, stopping vendettas and introducing education into the villages. He is also credited with inspiring the first draft of the American Constitution. As a fierce nationalist, one wonders what he would have made of America's adventures in Iraq. Find out more about Paoli at

Monday, April 03, 2006


Corsica's wine has a big export potential

I have a thing about Corsican wine, and in particular (until very recently) I found it very annoying that these excellent wines can't be bought in the UK.

The arguments go
- that Corsican wines don't travel well
- the vineyards are too small
- the wines are of lesser quality than other French wines.

Most of the above is nonsense. You can certainly buy Corsican wines in the USA. And we've brought back as much as we can each time we visit and I've always been impressed by its quality - even when we've stashed a couple of bottles of the most delicate rosé gris in our hold-bound suitcases.

It's true that many of the better wines are grown on 15 hectare mountainside plots, but under these circumstances I'd have expected to see a thriving export trade to the more discerning elements in the UK wine trade. No sign of this - until recently.

On the quality front, I'll just mention the gold medal won recently by Clos Colombu (AOC Calvi) for its stunning and fragrant Vermentinu. The Suzzoni family and their people are to be commended for a real achievement, one that will turn a few heads in the wine trade. (I'm just sad that when I turned up at their place a week or two ago to buy some more, they were closed.)

Imagine my surprise then, when my wife spotted a Corsican Nielucciu on the shelves in Marks & Spencer. If we can get one before they are bought up, I'll let you know what it tastes like.

The honourable exception to the apparent anti-Corsican bias within the wine trade is Yapp Brothers. They are now importing a good selection of Corsican wines into the UK and you can order a case through the wine page of

Sunday, April 02, 2006


August feast, April famine

The love-hate relationship that exists between mainland France and Corsica enters the love phase in August. French people (by far the majority of Corsica's visitors) descend on the island in droves during August and some of the island's more popular resorts get pretty crowded.

In March and April however, many hotels are shuttered, bars and restaurants are closed and Corsica's tourist-based economy goes into reverse. This tourist feast-and-famine isn't too good for the island's wellbeing. I suspect that a major reason for the difference is that the published stats on the island's weather cover the whole island. Look at the rainfall for Corsica in May in an atlas, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that Corsica was under perpetual drizzle, puctuated by occcasional severe storms. In fact, much of the coastal zone - notably the deep south around Bonifacio and the Balagne region - gets splendid weather most of the spring and autumn. So don't be put off!

By visiting Corsica during the non-peak months, you'll have a better holiday, you'll probably have great weather, and you'll help to even out the island's load factors.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


The Corsican Affair - essential adult reading

Petillon's best-selling French comic book "L'enquete Corse" is mainly for adults, I suspect, and is dark, irreverent, highly political and hilarious. It has now been made into a film, which is if anything even funnier but less penetrating. Read or see one of them if you can.

It's the story of a hapless private detective from Paris who is sent to Corsica to find a certain Ange Leoni to give him glad tidings about an inheritance. Unbeknown to the detective, Ange Leoni is a well known Corsican nationalist and in seeking him out, he upsets the balance between the fiercely independent, secretive people in the local community and the forces of law and order. Chaos ensues and, as the plot unfolds, many Corsican stereotypes emerge: some of these rang a few bells with me, but others I think only exist in the minds of people living in mainland France. And the number of explosions per night is certainly an exaggeration!

The Corsicans interviewed over the film credits mostly seemed to have enjoyed the film and felt that, on balance, perhaps Corsica was as it was portrayed. And the Island people I've spoken to also enjoyed it. It's great to know that here we have a people (like those of us who have Irish blood) who can laugh at themselves a little.

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