Sunday, June 21, 2009


In praise of L’Ile Rousse

L’Ile Rousse simply doesn’t convince as a Corsican Town. more in common with the French Riviera. artificiality. unbearably popular.

These are the unkind words that the Rough Guide to Corsica uses to describe one of my favourite Corsican towns. I profoundly disagree - and to prove it you can take a look at me enjoying a coffee in the town square with my wife Chris.

I will admit that L’Ile Rousse lacks city walls and does not have the same brooding presence that we find in Calvi, Bastia and Corte, with their massive citadels. With the exception of the granite masif on its rocky peninsula, it is pretty flat. And its sunny square, lined with plane trees and busy bars and restaurants, offers the visitor a charming rather than a historical prospect.

But history it has. Pascal Paoli, Corsica’s hero and one-time president, built L’Ile Rousse in the 1750s as a port to rival and outwit Calvi while the latter was still in Genoese hands. The Balagne was then (as now) a major producer of wine and olive oil and he needed to link it with its export markets. It’s interesting to note that Calvi’s arms bear the Latin words Semper Fidelis (always faithful). I wonder whether this powerful motto was a bit of Genoese PR drafted to oppose Paoli’s upstart town 20 km further north? A few years later Calvi’s Genoese protectors left for good, selling the island and Calvi with it, to France.

So I think of L’Ille Rousse (which by the way means “red-head island”) as Corsica’s first post-Genoese town. And with its proud links with Pascal Paoli, the town can think of itself as very Corsican indeed.

Ile Rousse has long been one of my favourite towns too; I first visited in 1967, and have stayed there every year since 1984. However, this year, possibly thanks to the record number of tourists the island has had, the traffic situation had become unbearable. At the wrong time of day it sometimes took over half an hour to drive from the top of the hill down into town on the western side to the top of the hill going out of town to the east. The problem, of course, is the double crossroads in the centre of town, plus parking in the middle of the road outside the supermarket. Too many cars are trying to cross and turn in too many directions. Without a by-pass (does the concept exist in Corsica? - I think there's one in Porto Vecchio) I don't know what the answer is as the problem will doubtless only get worse. More large hotels and apartment blocks are being built in the centre of town; this will mean more people which will mean even more cars.
Additionally, there has been a change of ownership of Camping les Oliviers at the top of the hill going east. They have chosen to close off the sea-facing slopes (deeming them an unacceptable fire risk) which resulted this summer in more people squeeezing into a smaller area of available camping ground.
Of course, the town itself is just as pleasant, whether on market days, dining out (A Quadra recommended) or simply wandering around. But all in all, Ile Rousse was not quite as much a favourite place as in the past. Next year maybe I'll base myself somewhere else .... maybe it's time to try another campsite. Any suggestions?
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