We crossed the official border that marks the north/south of Corsica – not that we’d know it without Google Maps. I’m not sure if the summit was the point that it changed.
Evisa just popped into view from nowhere. We rounded one of the many bends, and here was a pretty town with this phenomenal rocky backdrop. It was clearly a well trodden stop on the tourist trail, judging by the number of shops with racks of postcards outside for sale. We didn’t stop, but continued west towards the coast. We were hot and hungry, and wanted to have a picnic on the beach at Porto.
The scenery remained just as spectacular after Evisa, if not more so. The gorges seemed to get deeper, and taller at the same time. I’ve always thought that I had a head for heights, but standing on the narrow strips of road for cars to park, I have to reconsider my feelings. The drone made a flight, and I was absolutely petrified the entire flight. It felt like it was crossing an abyss flying out into this valley.
We passed by Ota from a distance, but it was a detour up a rather unfriendly (to motorhomes) road. It looked almost camouflaged, with it seemingly built from the same stones as the mountains it was standing below.
We approached Porto, and found that the road forbid motorhomes, ruining our plans to head down and picnic on the beach. I later learnt that there is another road that is suitable for larger vehicles, which gives access to the beach, and not the town itself.
Leaving Porto, we were on the D81, starting to climb towards the Calanques de Piana. There were a few tiny gaps in the growth on the side of the road, enough to sneak a well positioned photo back of Porto, and the beautiful bay that it is situated in.
Les Calanques de Piana
Wow. Just, wow. The D81 wound right through the middle of this amazing landscape. There were towering red rocks all around us. We stopped for a really short hike near the Tete du Cien. The heat and uneven ground made it harder than it should have been. However, once we’d made it to the end of the trail, we were blessed with some of the most extreme views we’d had in our time in Corsica. The bar just keeps getting raised.
We had the red cliffs across from the turquoise bay, as well as the spiny red fingers above and around us. It was the perfect place to fly the drone.
We continued on the drive towards Piana, and every time we turned a corner, it felt like we were in a fresh valley, with fresh views to be amazed by – including this famous heart shaped window, awwwwww.
From Piana, the scenery took a break. The roads got a little more manageable, and it became possible to use 4th gear. We stopped at a non-descript cove for a quick swim, which was disappointing, as it was by far the least attractive that we’d seen – other than the asbestos soiled one near Nonza on Cap Corse. It was however warm enough to finally do more than dip our toes.
There was no shortage of nice places to park our van for the evening, however, our water tank was empty (and our waste water full), so we weren’t able to make use of them. We tried in vain to see if we could pay a caravan park to use their dump point (and a fresh water tap), however, it was only for their overnight guests – making use of a dump point seems to be a common thing so far in mainland Europe, just not here in Corsica. Most of the places looked a bit depressing, and were still charging €25 per night. It was getting late, so we gave in just after Ajaccio. At least it was a nice place, with large private campsites (even if the trees were a bit too tight/low for our van), and a really nice pool.
Out of principle, we decided to get 100% out of our €23.5 camp fees. We had breakfast by the pool, lazing by the pool, failed wifi by the pool – even swimming in the pool. We washed our clothes, emptied/filled the waste/clean water, and took to the road again well into the afternoon, ready again for adventure.
Aguilles de Bavella
It was initially easy going from Ajaccio, with a flat two-lane motorway, allowing us to finally get into 5th gear! It didn’t last for long, and soon we were back onto a smaller, though quite recently surfaced, D420. We passed through more rugged mountain ranges, though after the Calanques de Piana yesterday, everything felt a little … tame. Even the precipitous drops failed to make my stomach drop the way it did yesterday.
Our first glimpse of the Aguilles de Bavella came just before passing through quiet Quenza. It looked like a set of spines from a giant dinosaur’s back. Foolishly, I thought the views would only improve as we got closer – which they did and they didn’t. Zonza came and went, and soon we were climbing on D268, right into the middle of them. We had missed the sun, and it was too difficult to get a photo that wasn’t a silhouette of some jagged rocks. Also, from this angle, it was not quite as impressive – again, in context of what we’d seen in the past 24hrs.
The trees up here were all strangely shaped. I guess there must be some rather intense weather/wind at times. Thankfully today it was warm and pleasant.
We hadn’t really tried any Corsica food, other than a little bit of seafood, and some pancakes with their local bocciu cheese. I read positive reviews of a place in Bavella, at the top of the pass, that made good Corsica meat dishes. We roast kid, and some boar stew.
I forgot how good food can be. We eat quite well in our van, with Risa making do with the limited space, resources and time that we have. This was incredible. The sauce of the stew was the richest red-wine sauce I’d ever had, with juicy chunks of tender pork – thankfully free of any gamey smells. The same can be said about the kid, with rich and juicy slabs of meat, roasted to absolute perfection.
It was an undertaking to finish such a large meal, but I did it with utmost enjoyment. The evening only got better as we left the restaurant and caught the tail of the sun set, with beautiful pastel shades setting the sky aglow.
We took our chances again and parked in a small layby on the side of the descent from Col de Bavella. After having rocks thrown at our car a few nights ago near Corte, it was definitely in the backs of our mind. Around 10:30PM, just as we were about to go to bed, a car came and stopped beside us. I got dressed and went out to greet them – only to realise that it was another campervan! We had company, and felt much more relaxed.
An uneventful night, which is my favourite kind. The skies were a little cloudy, but the sun was shining on the face of the Aguilles, allowing us to seem them properly. I think there are better angles than where we were.
It was a long downhill drive, interrupted by occasional parking areas to view the needles. We saw a group of bikes parked, and they had left their boots. We could hear the sound of running water, and thought – no, hoped – that it was a nice little swimming hole. There wasn’t anything marked, but eventually we found a trail through the thick brush, which as hoped, led us down to a small river – and I really regretted not bringing my swimwear. Our Slovakian biker friends were having a great time, jumping into the barely double-digit waters – and I regretted it even more that I couldn’t also jump in.
So, when the time came later, and we saw another car park by the river, I got changed and ready for a dip. It wasn’t as scenic a location, but the waters were just as clear, and maybe a tiny, fractional bit warmer – though still cold enough to take your breath away.
Plage de Palombaggia
We didn’t have far to drive, yet, as always in Corsica, it took most of the day to arrive. This wasn’t helped by our visits to supermarkets (while hungry), looking for specific food for dinner – another BBQ of fish on the beach!
The weather only deteriorated as the day went on, with the occasional breaks in cloud ceasing, and just a dull sky for the remainder of the afternoon. This, combined with the huge amounts of seaweed didn’t make for a best first impressions.
It was quite a secluded area, and even though it appears to be catered for a large number of tourists, we only saw a few other couples. It’s sad to see restaurants and bars with more staff than customers. Still, we cooked our fish, and sat around on the beach, waiting for the sun to make another appearance.
We parked in a large car park, which offered overnight parking (for €10). When we went to the beach, there were several other motorhomes set up, but when we returned, the park was empty. We decided to stay anyway. Since we finished the day early, and tomorrow was forecast to be worse weather, we stayed up late and celebrated with a movie (Lion).
Well, the forecast was wrong. This morning the sun was well and truly shining, and the skies were mostly clear. So, we mixed up our usual morning routine and packed breakfast to have down on the beach – it was only a five-minute walk down a sandy road that really made me feel like I was at home. For the first hour, we had the place to ourselves, and it felt a little odd. With the sun finally shining, I can see the beach how it’s meant to be seen, and it’s far prettier – shallow, crystalline waters, and flat stretches of white sand – just look past all the dark patches of seaweed!
We packed and left close to lunchtime. There was no one around to take our money for the nights parking, so we kept on driving.
Our ferry to Sardinia departs from Bonifacio, which is at the very bottom of Corsica. The two islands are less than 20km apart, and you can see the mountains of Sardinia quite easily – we could even see them last night from Plage de Palombaggio.
I’d heard plenty of hype about Bonifacio, about the buildings that defy nature, hanging bravely above concave cliffs. I have to say, the hyperbole is valid. We were immediately struck by this town. Even from a passing glance, this was by far the most visually appealing of the towns that we’d visited in Corsica. The walls of the citadel were imposing and solid, and perched high on those bright white cliffs.
It also helped that the sun was shining, making the deep aquamarine waters combine in perfect harmony with the bright white of the cliffs.
We had a quick walk through the centre of the old town, which was filled with ambling tourists, and souvenir shops – but, I looked past that.
It wasn’t really possible to get a sense of the precipitous position of these houses from inside the town, so we walked a little further. Again, I couldn’t quite get the right angle from the land – so the drone came out. It was actually a genuine cause for concern today – and a lesson learnt. There were strong wind warnings on the controller. I’ve had it flying in stronger, gustier wind before, and other than ending with some jerky footage, all was well. Today though… the drone was having a really hard time returning, fighting the headwinds. It was only travelling 5-10kph over heavy seas. To further raise stress levels, seagulls started swooping in close to have a look, too. It wasn’t a disaster, but it did make me realise that it’s not indestructible – it’s just a little tiny drone.
There were still an hour or two to kill before setting sail, so we relaxed at the tiny ‘beach’. It was a tiny rocky cove, with some gravelly sand. However, it was filled with pieces of smoothed glass and terracotta, making for some interesting (and colourful) sand.
I tried to walk out along the far peninsular of the town, past the cemetery, to get a better view of the town leaning out over the cliffs. Sadly, it wasn’t the right perspective, either. In doing this, we now had to run to get to the port for our 5PM departure. We checked in (they actually checked our passports this time), and joined a slow moving queue to board the ferry.
It was only a fifty minute journey, yet it still cost us €115! – almost as much as our five-hour journey to Corsica (which was only €165). The strong winds were making for choppy seas, and a rolling boat. However, we braved the sea spray, chilling winds and sea-sickness for killer views of Bonifacio. We really got a sense of how precarious a position this town is in, as well as how heavily fortified it once was. We saw giant caves that were being eaten by the beating waves, as well as the incredible Aragon Staircase, which was carved like an open tunnel from the village to the sea.
Next stop, Sardinia!