We spent the night ‘camped’ in the ferry terminal in Livorno. We enjoyed it so much, we stayed in our van, with the curtains drawn until nearly midday. Time somehow escaped us, and we had to rush to empty our waste water, and refill our fresh water tanks.
We joined the queues at 1PM for our 2PM departure. It was nearly 2:30PM by the time we boarded the ship, and the workers were busy shutting gates behind us as we arrived. No sooner had we made it to the top deck was the ferry in motion, and making it’s way out of Livorno.
We found the other ferry line, Moby, had some pretty awesome decorated ships. Two were in different Looney Toons designs, and a third was decorated in two different Batman designs (old/new). Much cooler than our plain white/yellow Corsica Ferries design. However, joke is on them, because I can see their awesome ferry from our ferry – and they have to look at our boring one.
There wasn’t a great deal happening on the boat. Teenage girls running around, a live covers band, and a constant vibration that I thought was going to send the TVs plummeting to the ground – they didn’t.
We caught our first glimpses of Corsica about 45-minutes before arrival. It reminded me of Jurassic Park – however, any ferry I catch that has mountains in the horizon reminds me of Jurassic Park, just like in Hokkaido.
We parked centrally, cooked a quick dinner, and went to explore Bastia. It’s a rather small city, lacking any real drawcard attractions. There was a simple, utilitarian feel to the city, with buildings serving an honest physical purpose, and less so a decorative one – unlike where we’d come from in Cinque Terre, where everything felt like a theme park.
It’s not to say that it was an ugly city – far from it. We enjoyed the short walk to the old citadel, passing the narrow alleys, the busy new port area, filled with bars and restaurants, and the rolling hills hidden in the clouds.
We spent the night in town. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant night, but we wanted to return this morning for the markets. We had a combination of three very drunk French men communicating by yelling, and all the scooters in Corsica attempting to set new speed records, just 5m from where we were sleeping. I put my ear plugs in, as I always do, and fatigue did the rest.
We returned to the centre of Bastia, down quiet weekend streets. The main square was filled with people, and stalls selling second hand items. I’m usually curious about these random things for sale, but I know I can’t use them – we’re short enough on space already.
I was far more interested in visiting the food markets, just a short walk further. There was the usual fare, with cured meats, locals variety of cheeses, and bread artisans. However, I was interested in their mini-pancakes, with a rich sheep’s cheese stuffing. They were also making small beignets, some with the cheese and salt, some with cheese and sugar, and finally one with apple and sugar – we grabbed a sample of each. I was impressed by them all, but especially the cheese and sugar (I love the sweet/salty combination), and Risa went all sweet, with the preference for the apple and sugar. We ate breakfast before coming to the market, and these snacks added up in our slowly declining stomachs – I’m not gorging on corporate provided lunches any more!
The weather wasn’t great, with dark heavy clouds in the hills above Bastia. It was disappointing to not be travelling around the cape in glorious sunshine, really getting a sense of the waters and coast. The forecast was for sunshine, so we pushed on, hoping it would clear up.
I found that even with the overcast skies, it was still incredibly beautiful. The further north we travelled, the smaller the villages got, and the wilder the landscape felt. I was loving it. It’s the main thing I’m missing on this trip, is a sense of adventure in the wilderness. There has been plenty of history and culture, but not enough wilderness.
While the roads were incredibly winding, they were mostly flat, following the contours of the coast. Eventually we had to cross over to the west coast, and this required cresting a few small passes. At least they had view points to stop and look at the scenery – which we did. Both times.
As we neared the coast, the sun started to break through the clouds, and the waters started to look glorious.
We read about a small town Centuri, famous for the scampi and crayfish they catch here – and the pasta they make with it, pates a la langouste. I’m not a huge fan (I’m happy with simple food, like pizza, hamburgers etc), but I know that Risa is, so we stopped for lunch. There are several restaurants in town, but we settled for A Macciotta.
The meal was amazing, even with all the work that goes into eating these little crustaceans. It was enough to share, and cheap too, at €15.50. The bottle of sparkling water, less so – a slightly offensive €5!
The town was so different to the ones we’d seen in Liguria in Italy. Some were painted in beautiful pastel hues, but mostly they were simple grey buildings.
The coastline continued to get more rugged the further south we drove. The road climbed higher, and the drops seemed more perilous. It was actually making me a little giddy, driving such a wide vehicle so close to such perilous drops. There are some small stone walls, but not on all of the corners.
When the sun was out, this was some of the finest roads I’d ever had the pleasure of driving along. Even though our van is around 2,500kg, with the aerodynamics of a tissue box and being pushed by a wheezy 70HP (when new) 1.9l naturally-aspirated diesel, it is surprisingly fun to drive. It seems to have a low centre of gravity, and quite stiff anti-roll, so it actually sticks to corners quite well – for a giant motorhome. And, with it lacking power steering, it actually feels like you’re driving a fun car. But, then the giant drops to the side of the road come back into focus, and I calm down a little – or a lot.
We passed a giant, disused asbestos factory, and some long, dark beaches. I read that the two were connected somehow – with it being pollution from the mine, which was shut several decades ago. There were still people down there enjoying the dark beach, and the inky water that was washing up onto it. I’d rather find a pool. Or a bath and some lovely photos of a beach.
It’s easily the prettiest village that we passed through around the cape. That said, it was only a quick stop, because there really isn’t much more than a quick stop required. We walked through the small streets to the tower (which was converted into a souvenir store). Just next to the tower, there was a small bar/restaurant, pumping out some great beats. It felt like a beachside party in Ibiza, except we were in a small town, on a rugged coast in northern Corsica.
It was already 6PM, so it was time to start finding a place to stay for the night. We’d driven past some beautiful places along the cape, but it was too early to stop for the night. Just as we were leaving Saint-Florent, we came to a great lookout, which amazingly had plenty of space (and it was level), and there were no signs forbidding motorhomes (also rare).
Risa cooked some of the gourmet sausages that we’d bought from the market this morning, together with some fresh vegetables, which we enjoyed with a beautiful, though hidden, sunset, watching the skies above the cape from where we’d just came, faintly glow.
The skies were clear in the evening, hoping for some nice star shots, I pulled the old tripod out. There were no shortage of stars, but sadly, the Milky Way was still well below the horizon. I think we were spoiled with the number of times we saw it with our naked eyes while travelling Australia.
There was another mountain pass between us and the west coast of Corsica. It wasn’t as winding as some of the others had been, but it still took plenty of time, especially with us pulling over to let faster drivers through. The top of the pass had some phenomenal views, including snow capped mountains! Just as it came as a shock in the south of Spain, it still comes as a surprise to me to see snow capped mountains while hot and sweaty. It’s probably from being accustomed to the snow in Hokkaido, where it falls all the way to the beach.
We followed the stunning coastline towards Illes Rousse, however, about 5km outside of town, we saw a place to pull over, and some tiny trails down to a small rocky cove. We grabbed our airbags, the drone, some sunscreen and our swimwear and went down to investigate.
What we found was blissful, and we had it completely to ourselves. However… we still weren’t brave enough to swim, which was crazy, as we were hot and sweaty when we left the car.
One of the towns on the Artisan Route, Pigna is at first glance a pretty cluster of sandy houses. We were lucky with a park, so went into the centre to investigate. We arrived between waves of tourists and found a ghost town, with far more lazing cats than humans. The town had narrow cobbled alleys, bright flowers, fantastic views, and a small ice cream shop selling artisanal flavours – hello citrus and basil, or garden mint!
The next stop on the Artisan Route, and what a different experience we had! We passed by several tour busses (and all the fun that comes with attempting to pass on these tight and twisty roads). The town is far prettier from a distance, where you’re able to see it forming an extension of the top of the hill. Not only the town, but the views of the area were equally amazing. We drove into town, but it was not motorhome suitable. There was no where for us to park (but plenty of places for the giant tour buses), so we turned around and left – and ran into even more tour buses.
Now, this is where things get serious, and our infatuation for Corsica sours a touch. It was close to sunset by the time we arrived in Corte. I wanted to hike in the Restonica Valley tomorrow morning, hiking to the Mele Lake. With this in mind, we drove up the narrow road from Corte. There were motorhome signs all over the place, but too late for the campsites.
We found a nice level clearing off the side of the road, right next to the river, and with beautiful views of the peaks above. It was one of the few places that didn’t have a warning sign. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have found another amazing place to camp. We cooked dinner, washed, and were preparing for bed. I stepped outside to look at the stars, and see if it was worth taking a photo of the skies. The next thing I know, I heard something that sounded like rocks hitting our car. It was pitch black, and I was in a state of total shock. I then saw two torch lights that were running away from us, then the taillights of a car which drove away. Someone had obviously taken offence to us being here (or just motorhomes in general) and decided to be vigilante.
We were understandably shaken by this, and with little other options (it was 11PM), we drove back into Corte, where we found a small park on the side of the road. It was a restless sleep, unsure if we were going to be vandalised or targeted once again. The only thing beyond where we parked was a small caravan park, so I got the feeling that it was someone from there that threw those rocks.
We were still groggy from a night without rest. But, it was 8AM and the town was starting to wake up – so it was time for us to move. I was amazed when I opened our curtains to see such a stunning view right outside our park – it certainly didn’t look this good when we parked at midnight last night!
We drove back up the road we came down last night, driving further than we had yesterday. It was nearly 9km to the main car park, and the start of the trails, when we came across this fun sign, indicating that firstly, the road was closed; and secondly, even if it wasn’t, we were too wide to use it. I considered walking from here, but it was going to add an additional 18km to the walk – and I just don’t have the time/fitness/energy/motivation/etc to take such a detour. This was our second strike from Corte, and we left in rather down spirits.
Aaaaand then we started our drive across the D84 towards Porto on the West coast. Superlatives are not enough. This was rugged, perilous, and absolutely breathtaking. Steep drops to the side of the road, tight switchbacks around blind corners, giant snow-capped peaks, and clear, deep blue sunny skies. The road wound, and wound, and wound it’s way up and up and up. Just when we thought that we were reaching the summit, it was kick again and we would continue climbing. Thankfully, there were plenty of small spaces for us to pull over to take photographs – which also gave the occasional traffic behind us a chance to get past.
The road eventually flattened out a little, with wide views over a large plain, and a small dam. The road continued to gently climb, passing through a beautiful pine forest, filled with wild (though domesticated) pigs, foraging for acorns. On their own they weren’t a traffic hazard, but with us tourists stopping to take photos of them – the roads were frequently clogged. But, who can blame them! The pigs, and especially the tiny, tiny piglets were so adorable.
We were now into the southern part of Corsica, Corse-du-sud – or 2A to the locals. The journey will continue in Part 2!