Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Through Corsica's mountains in comfort and style
The backbone of Corsica's beautiful interior is undoubtedly the famous narrow gauge railway, built in the 1800s, connecting Bastia with Ajaccio.
One of my aspirations for 2009 is to take at least part of this journey on the new, super-swish trains that are coming into service in the mountains for the first time this year. The journey is certainly one of the most spectacular train journeys in Europe, and I have a feeling that the new trains will enhance rather than detract from the experience (see the entry for May 17th 2006 below).
Some lucky folk will be the first to try out Holiday Options' new rail-centred holiday, taking in a couple of nights each in Bastia, Corte and Ajaccio.
The stay in Bastia offers a chance to explore the ancient walled town and the nearby wildness of Cap Corse; Corte was Pasquale Paoli's mountain fastness; Ajaccio was Napoleon's birthplace. If you're into history and spectacular scenery, this has got to be one to try in 2009.
Let's hope they're not delayed by wild horses on the line between Vizzavona and Ajaccio, as we were a little while ago. Still, it's a rather more credible excuse than "reaction to a delayed incoming service" which seems to be the favourite on Southwest Trains here in the UK!
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
The financial crisis - how will it affect Corsica?
The world financial crisis that is savaging the economies of Western Europe and America will no doubt leave its mark on our favourite island. The low season did not start well, with the closure of airlines Zoom and XL, both of which carry holidaymakers to Corsica.
Despite continuing efforts to diversify, the Corsican economy remains very dependent on tourism, and in particular tourists from France. As holidays are an obvious target for cuts and savings in most family budgets, the outlook could be brighter.
But I'm not sure it's as bad as it might appear at first sight. Corsica has a lot going for it as Western Europe settles in for a bleak financial winter - here are some of the positives:
1. Corsica is accessible by ferry, train and car from most countries in Western Europe. Unlike some long haul destinations, Corsica's major markets are on its doorstep.
2. Wealthy (and some not so wealthy) families who usually go long haul to places like Bali, Florida and the Seychelles will be actively considering going somewhere nearer home next year for both financial and environmental reasons. Corsica could fit the bill.
3. Corsica is seen as exotic. With its menhirs, mystery, its vibrant music scene and its impossible beauty to complement its sunshine and beaches, Corsica will always have an edge over Majorca and Benidorm for people seeking more than just a beach holiday.
I could be proved wrong. But I have a feeling that despite all the doom and gloom, Corsica's hoteliers, restauranteurs ansd chambres d'Hote could enjoy quite a good season in 2009.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Is this the scariest road in Corsica?
The roads in Corsica are nothing like as bad as they used to be. In fact, the main roads are as good as any in Europe - if you make allowances for the mountains and the bends and the sheer drops.
However, there are roads in the interior that are the stuff of nightmare. Forget the precipitous drops on the west coast road between Galeria and Piana: it's kids stuff these days. And the circuit of Cap Corse no longer holds the terrors it used to.
But head towards the Foret de Tartagine via Speloncato, and you'll experience the kind of white-knuckle experience you'd pay good money to experience in a fairground. And there's a road in the Niolu that would make a brave man weep...
We had gone for a day's visit to the Niolu, a basin enclosed by mountains which you can reach by turning right off the road between Ponte Leccia and Corte. After an interesting visit (and no, I haven't done it justice here), we decided to go home via the village of Corscia, up a steep mountain to the north of our road home. Going up was no problem, but as there was little room for turning round, we rashly decided to press on through the village, hopefully to rejoin the main road further east. This is what we found ahead of us and I just had to take a picture.
We did take our car down that road, but I wouldn't do it again, or recommend it to anyone else. Anybody found a worse road here? All suggestions welcome!
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Every time I turn on my computer I am reminded of the Lac de Melo, a small lake at the head of the Restonica Valley in Central Corsica. I've chosen a dramatic photo (see left) of the lake as my desktop background. It had been a short but exhausting walk. We'd taken the car as far as we could and then scrambled up to the lake via the supposedly "easy" southern route, avoiding the ladders and chains that help walkers up the harder ascents further north. As we neared the top, there were small flocks of jet-black birds circling the upper slopes above our heads, and occasional helicopters from the French military swooping noisily down the valley to our right.
Nothing could have prepared us for the sight of the lake as we reached the lip of the immense stone wall that stops the waters crashing down into the lower valley. Crystal clear water - not too deep - covering flat stones on the lake bed, and a fabulous view of the further shore and the upper reaches of the valley beyond. As we took in the view in the peace of that mountain-cool afternoon, a large flock of swifts or martens descended on the surface of the lake, dozens of birds kissing the surface of the smooth water in unison, in search of drink or food.
My desk-top picture captures that scene. It's no professional shot, but it works as a reminder of a beautiful moment.