Martin Lawrence Photography
Corsica Trip Report
Posted on 20th June, 2018
We have just returned from a week on the stunning island of Corsica, a mountainous Mediterranean island located southeast of the French mainland and west of the Italy. It's a mixture of stylish coastal towns, dense forest and craggy peaks along which runs the GR20. We had decided to stay for seven days as Easyjet flights from Manchester went out only once a week and fourteen days seemed a little too long for us to fill. Big mistake.
Martin made a conscious decision not to take his heavy Canon 5D Mark III and lenses as we'd only just got back from our USA road trip a couple of weeks ago and he had had quite enough of lugging his gear around. He needed to have a break from it. Consequently, all the images in this article were taken on either my iPhone or his.
DAY 1 - ARRIVAL DAY
We arrived in Bastia which lies in the north of the island and is the main town in Haute-Corse. After picking up our hire car, we decided to drive around the north coast to our first stop at Porto. I don't drive so this fell solely to Martin. Although quite short in terms of distance, it transpired to be a long drive in duration along windy, narrow but spectacular roads. This was a feature of Corsica which we were expecting from research on the internet but which cannot be fully appreciated until your arrival on the island. The duration of the drive was further lengthened by our continual stopping to take photographs of the plunging cliffs that led to glimpses of the small bays far below filled with turquoise water edged with sparkling white foam. Had we discovered paradise just off the coast of France? 'Wow' was a very over-used word.
There were so many places we could have stopped - St. Florent, Calvi, L'Ile Rousse to name just a few but we had to keep driving. Eventually we arrived at the Col de Croix which was just too tempting and we had to stop. The view down to the tiny fishing village of Girolata only reachable by either walking or by boat was wonderful and we so wanted to take the steep path that went down to it from the col but it was not 6:15 pm and we had to get to our hotel. Perhaps another day?
Our hotel was at Bussaglia just up the coast from Porto. It was in a idyllic spot where a short walk took you down to the lovely quiet shingle beach with a couple of beach restaurants where you could sit and eat whilst watching the sun go down. Yes - we HAD truly arrived in paradise.
Today we visited one of the highlights of the island. The D81, listed is one of the world's most dangerous roads, through the Calanques de Piana is considered to be one of the great drives of Europe. It runs as a single track road along the mountainside for some distance with nowhere to pass another vehicle until the road widens some kilometers further on. You can only pray that nobody is coming towards you, especially one of the tourist coaches that are incredibly found on this road.
The road goes through a spectacular landscape of red granite cliffs and spiky outcrops that plunge straight down into the sea. It is very popular with tourists who park in all the passing places and walk up and down the narrow road making it ever more difficult for cars to pass each other. About two-thirds of the way up, and with the road getting narrower and narrower, we decided we'd had enough. We parked safely in a designated parking spot to walk the rest of the way up to Piana via the sentier muletier.
A small niche in the cliff by the roadside contains a Madonna statue, Santa Maria, from where the sentier muletier climbs up into the rocks above. After climbing up steeply, the route contours through the rocks and pine woods above the restored mill at Pont de Gavallaghiu, emerging after one hour back on the D81, roughly 1.5km south of the starting point. The path was beautifully constructed and a joy to walk on. Views down to the coast were amazing.
A simple walk back down the road returned us to our car. I'm prone to vertigo and even walking up the road made me feel quite dizzy as the barrier on the sea side was only about six inches tall.
We called in at Porto on our way back for a drink thankful that we'd got back with the hire car and ourselves still in one piece.
Next day we walked around Porto harbour and took the short path up to the genoese watchtower. We booked a boat trip to Scandola Nature Reserve and Girolata, having decided that we really couldn't spare the time to hike down there, then killed the time until the trip left by having lunch which consisted solely of a huge ice cream sundae each. Half way through it, Martin suggested that it may not have been a wise thing to be doing pre boat trip.
It was a two and a half hour trip in a speed boat for 12 people. We foolishly grabbed the front seats not realising this would be the bumpiest ride. How the ice cream sundae didn't re-appear I'll never know.
After we left the harbour, the boat slowed down and we were thrilled to be accompanied by half a dozen dolphins swimming around and under the boat. It was truly magical. We then carried on to Scandola Nature Reserve making sightings of Osprey, lots of different sea birds and some wild goats on the rocky headland. The small boat weaved between the rocks and the headland and the sea sparkled in the late afternoon sun. On our way back to Porto we called in at Girolato to take photographs but didn't put ashore. It's been added to my bucket list as a place to stay.
The drive from Porto to Corte along the D84 was one of the most spectacular we have ever taken. The first 20 kilometers of the route travels through the Gorges de Spelunca, a scenic river valley through the mountains, to reach the Col de Vergio. It's a narrow winding road with superb scenery made even more dramatic by the slowly lifting cloud that morning which hung over the mountains and around the tiny hill top villages of Ota and Evisa. There were lots of wild pigs, goats and cows walking in the road most of which were quite unwilling to move. We stopped at any pull-ins that there were as it was impossible for Martin to even glance at the view whilst he was driving. Unfortunately, the low cloud completely blanketed out any view that we should have had at the col and also any chance of a quick coffee at the outdoor snack bar there as it was absolutely freezing!
Once we started to descend, the blue skies soon appeared again and we stopped to take photos at the Ponte Altu over the Golo River at Albertacce. Martin scrambled down to the river to get some great shots of the mountains through the bridge.
The next part of our journey took us along the Scala di Santa Regina road through the Niolo Valley. This road runs through a wonderful, wild, rocky gorge with the Golo River at the foot of the high rock faces. The road boasts numerous viewpoints of the gorges which we certainly took advantage of. Now this WAS a narrow road with hair pin blind bends, often down to a single carriageway and on-coming lorries. But the scenery made it worth it.
Finally we arrived at our hotel which was situated just outside Corte in the Restonica Valley. We had planned a walk from the end of the valley road to Lac Melo. I am by no means a wimp, but the drive up the Restonica valley terrified me - single track, sheer drops with no barriers in places, and lots of traffic going both ways. So we just strolled along the river instead and enjoyed the lovely late afternoon sunshine before our evening meal. The views along the river with the turquoise water and white stones were very attractive and there were many small waterfalls along the torrent to photograph. The wild flowers were at their best.
We spent the next morning wandering around Corte. It's a small town which was once the capital of the island. As you arrive, it's the dramatic citadel sitting on top of a rocky outcrop above the town and the Tavignano valley that first grabs your attention. There is a short walk up steps to the citadel next to which is a viewing platform which provides excellent views not just of the citadel itself but also of the town and surrounding mountains among which Corte is set.
The town has a faded charm with a pretty square and lots of narrow streets with little houses.
Late morning, we headed off to Ajaccio which is the capital of Corsica. The weather was very bad and a storm was forecast. On our arrival, we spent an hour and a half looking for a parking spot with thunder and lightening raging over our heads and traffic beyond belief. Eventually we gave up and headed off towards tranquility and the blue sky we could see along the coast ending up at a little village called Carghese. It's a pretty little place but very touristy. There is a great view from one of the churchyards and a set of steep steps leading down to the restaurant lined harbour.
The sky was starting to look very threatening in the distance and obviously coming our way fro Ajaccio so, after taking some images of the harbour, we slogged back up the steps again in the intense heat that often comes before a storm and headed back to Ajaccio.
We decided that we really didn't want to battle with Ajaccio again and set off for Bonifacio. Views of the coastline along the way were fantastic.
The town of Bonifacio is at the southern tip of Corsica (just 12 km from Sardinia) which helps to give it and its marina a rather exclusive, sophisticated Italian feel. We were made up that our hotel had it's own parking.
The marina was full of yachts and lined with lovely, but expensive, restaurants. The whole scene was backed by the citadel high above us atop a rocky outcrop. Very scenic. After a stroll around the marina and many photos taken we lazily took the Petite Train up to the old town where you pass through a gateway through the the original walls to discover a picturesque warren of narrow streets and alleys enclosed by the sturdy walls of the citadel. There were tall houses along cobbled streets in a spectacular setting along the top of the cliffs of the white limestone peninsula. It was very busy though and quite impossible to capture any images without dozens of people on them.
We descended the Escalier du Roi d'Aragon, a steep staircase cut into the cliff below the old town. It was very steep and the stone steps were wet and uneven but the views of the cliffs and sea stacks at the bottom were fantastic. It's probably the cheapest way that you could give yourself a heart attack at only 5 Euros.
We sat on our little balcony and watched the sun go down which was quite idyllic until the trance music started at the open air club across the marina and continued on until 2:30 am!! Some bad words were said.
After an early breakfast, where we discovered that no-one else had slept either, we drove up to the pretty mountain village of Zonza where we were to stay for the night. Another scenic drive with great views over the mountains particularly around the village of Ospidale and the vast lake of the Barrage de l'Ospedale. The weather was not great and rain was forecast, so we had lunch at Zonza. After an hour, we thought that we'd just risk it anyway and carried on up the winding road to the Col de Bavella.
We were looking forward to this very much and we certainly weren't disappointed. The Aiguilles de Bavella are rocky spikes of red granite: the name means needles of Bavella. The view of the needles from the col is spectacular and the rain, I'm glad to say, held off. There was low cloud drifting in and out of the rock formations which was very dramatic. The white sky was a little disappointing but sometimes you just have to enjoy what's in front of you. Life isn't always about getting good photographs. Being there in the moment is just as important.
It started to rain so we went back down to our hotel where it was raining quite heavily. We checked in and found that we had a lovely little balcony with spectacular views over the valley. The sun soon broke through the clouds and the lifting mist was a sheer joy to watch. Its a memory that will live long with me. A pity that it was almost impossible to capture it on my iPhone.
DAY 8 - DEPARTURE DAY
As we had a late flight we packed up early and returned to the col to hike up to the Trou de la Bombe. The trail is easy and it was not too busy at the time we started but getting more so on the way back.. At the end, there's the hole in the rock which is a bit of a scramble but you can see it very well from the path below which was good enough for me. The trail is a good compromise to the more demanding GR20 that goes near by but you could easily walk sections of it from the col if you wanted. There are great views of the valley and the Bavella needles at the start of the walk before it goes into the forest. The wild flowers in this area were particularly good and the whole place was like a giant alpine garden.
We returned to our car, carried on over the col and traveled down the road to the coast where again the scenery was fabulous but there were very few places to pull in or to stop which was a pity. Perhaps it was just as well as we'd never have caught our flight otherwise!
We both loved the island - the scenery was spectacular and the weather much better than that forecasted. Would we go again? I'm not sure. We missed a lot of things that we'd loved to have done but - those roads - I'm not sure if I could experience them again.
© Martin Lawrence Photography 2018