Walks in Corsica
Corsica has been on our list of walking destinations for some time – the attractions being Mediterranean weather, a large selection of waymarked paths and beautiful scenery. The classic walk in Corsica is the GR20. This runs down the island, crossing the highest peaks and requires several nights in mountain huts. Depending on what you read, only between one in three and one in five of those who attempt it actually finish it. We wanted a holiday, not an endurance test!
There are several organisations who offer holidays in Corsica where your luggage is transported leaving you to walk with just a day pack. Typically these start in Corte and take a week or so reach the west coast near Porto. We looked at several of these but the interaction between Easyjet’s and local bus’ schedules curtailed the time available. And these holidays at around £800 and more seemed expensive (at least until we saw Corsican prices).
So we decided on a DIY holiday where we could choose what to do each day depending on how we felt – and the weather. The hope – probably forlorn – of enjoying a good summer in Britain implied a break in early May using the first flights of the Easyjet summer schedule. They fly from Gatwick to both Ajaccio and Bastia every Sunday. By booking early we paid about £220 for the pair of us, including luggage. There are other flights via Paris and regular ferries from Nice and Toulon (around £250 for a car and two passengers). Some ferries continue to Sardinia.
Corsica is a sizeable island – 100 miles north to south and 50 east to west – and the original plan was for a two-centre week split between Corte and the west coast. A particular attraction of Corte was that as well as circular walks there are several walks where you can catch the morning train a few stops north or south and walk back. But further research found that the centre of the island can still have a lot of snow lying at that time of year so we settled for a week on the west coast. We searched for a self-catering property and found a small, well equipped, 2-person gite in the village of Ota, a few miles inland from Porto. There are quite a few gites in the village of varying sizes and prices and three restaurants (but no shop). Porto is larger with several hotels around the harbour, two supermarkets and a couple of campsites – one of which offers chalets to rent.
Corsica really is a beautiful island. Steep wooded mountains intersected by rivers rushing down to the deep blue sea. In May there was a profusion of flowers including several species that are unique to the island. The island has a chequered history having been owned through the middle ages by the city-state of Genoa before ending up as a department (#20) of France. Although the British held it briefly, too. The Genoese left many bridges and watchtowers around the island. Family feuds were once a feature of the island. Indeed, “vendetta” is a Corsican word.
After a very early start for a 06:10 flight our arrival in Ajaccio was ahead of time. We always used to hire the cheapest car but have recently decided that more space is worth it. Corsica’s roads, however, are mostly narrow and twisty and the parking spaces and village streets very tight. We managed to return our Citroen C4 undamaged but if we go back to Corsica, will rent smaller. The gite exceeded our expectations – even supplying soap tablets for the washing machine and dishwasher. An unexpected bonus was the daily bread van which stopped outside at 7.30 every morning. It was dry and comfortable with a sunny terrace ideal for an evening drink with a marvellous view of the pink granite cliffs opposite. The kitchen was particularly well equipped, even supplying Tupperware boxes for picnics.
But the steep mountains mean steep climbs. In five days’ walking we logged our total ascent as somewhere over 11,000 feet. The walks we followed were not long – none more than about ten miles – and the climbing was rewarded by stupendous views with the sea one side and the – still snowy – central mountains on the other. We felt safe on the paths we followed but there are some exposed drops and one stone bridge with no parapet so there is a slight risk of vertigo. Our routes mostly followed waymarked paths. The waymarking is usually blobs of paint – orange/red/blue depending on the path. Our one attempt at a footpath marked on a map with a dashed line but not waymarked ended in failure. Two of the walks were straight from the gite but we drove to the starts of the others.
Corsica is not cheap! After climbing up the Spelunca Gorge we stopped at a bar and ordered two half-litres of local beer. The bill was €11.60! In Girolata, a 25cl bottle was €3.50. In restaurants, the most popular dishes seemed to be Charcuterie or Goats Cheese salad with a typical price of €13 with a 3-course ‘menu’ at €20 or more. Food in supermarkets such as Spar seemed reasonable but alcohol was more expensive than elsewhere in France.
There are many other reasons to visit Corsica – the beaches, its history and the amazing railway that winds its way through the mountains. But we went for the walking and thoroughly enjoyed it.