We spent a wonderful couple of weeks in (or is it on?) Corsica in the summer of 2007. Our eldest daughter had recently been married and we were very much in need of a rest. We stayed in the only house in the extraordinarily beautiful Calanches de Piana, justly a major UNESCO Heritage Site. This is an amazing coastline that rears up high above the deep blue waters of the Golfe de Porto on the west coast of the island. The steep cliffs are topped with some of the most spectacular rock formations we had ever seen and, remarkably, it was just about possible to walk across them on old mule tracks. Our guide book indicated the walks were easy – possibly they had those mules in mind!
One of the main crops in Corsica is the chestnut: in the absence of much arable land, chestnuts have long provided an alternative to grains. The Cosicans make bread, beer and just about anything else from them. Our house was a converted chestnut mill that, once milling had ceased, had been converted into a cafe and, later, a gite. It was water-powered, being fed from a deep green pool supplied by a waterfall. At the height of summer, the waterfall was a mere trickle that echoed as it splashed into the millpond. It was an amazingly idyllic spot and one could almost forget that the main road passed only a few metres away. Corsica has relatively few roads: as a result of its mountainous interior they tend to cling perilously to coastal cliffs with only a few venturing inland. In this daring enterprise, the roads are accompanied by Corsica’s remarkable TGV railway. Not, as on the mainland Train à Grand Vitesse but, Corsca’s own equivalent: a Train à Grand Vibration !
Every evening in the Calanches was an event: no two sunsets were ever the same and never were they less than spectacular, even after a day of continuous heavy rain. As the sun descended, the porphyry formations would change colour from moment to moment and then, when the last of the light had gone, a deeply black sky housed a stellar display only made possible by an almost total absence of light pollution.
We were told that Cosicans were surly and suspicious of strangers and certainly, they were no respecters of authority for its own sake: almost every rural roadsign was peppered with shotgun pellets and farm animals wandered happily (and sometimes lay down to sleep) on the sun-warmed tarmac. Apart from encouraging careful driving along the narrow corniche roads, cows, sheep and pigs seemed to lead a quite idyllic and irresponsible life, browsing happily on the maquis – that uniquely Corsican mixture of aromatic shrubs (lavender and rosemary being especially noticeable) that is found throughout the island and that Napoleon is said to have smelled from his exile on the Isle of Elba.