Every other year, a small group of girlfriends join me for a week of complete R&R on the French island of Corsica. We’ve had the trip booked since last November—the accommodations and flights on Air Corsica. That may seem a bit early, but under normal circumstances, everything books up early for August and air fares mount. Then, Covid-19 happened and we weren’t sure if we’d be able to make it at all. In the meantime, one of our friends from the group suffered from health issues and another from Covid-related financial issues, so they both declared their inability to stay “en Corse” (on course) to go with us.
We did not despair, nor did we give up hope that the two of us remaining would still be able to go. Our Corsican landlords easily and happily exchanged our three-bedroom/two-bath duplex with terrace overlooking the sea (where we always stay) for a smaller two-bedroom/one-bath apartment with a private garden for two-thirds the price. My daughter agreed to join us, making our party only a three-some, but a congenial, happy one.
One of the great pleasures of going to Corsica for our official summer beach vacation every other year is the ease of going to a place of which we are so familiar. It’s like coming home, rather than attacking a new adventure. We land at the airport we already know well, we pick up our car at one of the car rental companies, all of which we’ve used at one time or another, and we don’t need the GPS in order to drive straight to the apartment at “L’Ecrin” in Algajola. We already know that the landlords under-equip their accommodations with supplies so we bring with us dishwasher detergent, soaps, laundry detergent and even toilet paper…but we don’t hold it against them because all in all the vacation rental apartments are quite nice and well located.
We love Algajola because it’s a manageably small village between Calvi and Ile Rousse in the north side of the island. It has a large and beautiful beach, good restaurants with sun beds and parasols to rent. It’s just a short walk downhill to the beach from our apartment and just a bit of an uphill, but doable climb on the way home. We can stay in Algajola for everything we want, or we can drive in one direction for dinner directly on the sand in Ile Rousse, or head in the other direction toward Calvi for more excitement, or up into the hills for stunning views from one of the perched villages, such as Sant’Antonino (well worth the trip into up the tiny mountain road). The beaches along this stretch are some of the most beautiful on the island. All the more substantial beaches have good restaurants and “transats” (sun beds) to rent for the day. After testing out every side of the island over the years, we’ve decided the northern coast beats them all hands down, especially this 24 kilometer stretch between Calvi and Ile Rousse.
The advantage in being so familiar with the island is the lack of decision-making we need to do—as we have years of experience and research. We know that we need to make reservations in advance to just about everywhere if we want to get a table or not miss out on the sun beds, so we do what we can to plan every day accordingly in order to fit it all in without any snags. We always take one day to do something other than beach…just one out of the six days we have. A boat trip to the Scandola Reserve has often been a highlight of the week. But this year, for the first time, we opted to drive to the town of Corte in the center of the island after the first two days of being total beach lizards.
Corte was the capital of the Corsican independent state during the period of Pasquale Paoli, although the current capital is Ajaccio. “Pasquale Paoli was a Corsican patriot, statesman and military leader who was at the forefront of resistance movements against the Genoese and later French rule in the island. He became the president of the Executive Council of the General Diet of the People of Corsica, and also designed and wrote the Constitution of the state.” (Wikipedia.org) His name is synonymous with Corsica, although France has Corsica to thank, too, for Napoleon Bonaparte who was born in Ajaccio in 1769. Corte is the birthplace of his eldest brother, Joseph (1768–1844), who became King of Naples (1806–1808) and Spain (1808–1813).
The drive to Corte through the mountains is stunning, along a beautifully paved, wide and smooth road that takes about one hour from Algajola. We chose one of the town’s best restaurants, U Museu, in which to have a sumptuous lunch on a lovely patio in the Vieille Ville. The return trip we purposely made more circuitous in order to drive along smaller roads and through the little towns. Most of the way along the RT301, cows were grazing and hanging out along the road. We had to wind our way around them or stop, honk and wait for them to vacate the road. This is the Corsica we don’t get to see often.
The big town of Calvi has its own claim to fame—Christopher Columbus. Still under dispute is his birthplace, Calvi or Genoa: in October 1451 in Genoa or was it 1441 in Calvi? Americans have always believed he was born in Genoa, but the town of Calvi was governed by the city-state of Genoa at the time, hence the confusion. And Corsicans will tell you that the history books have it all wrong. According to them, he was born in their seaside town a decade earlier.
Corsica has always been unspoiled and pristeen compared to other beach resorts in Europe, such as Majorka, Ibiza or Mikonos. This year, however, we’ve seen a lot of new construction of apartment buildings that seemed destined as tourist accommodations. The landscape is changing, but not without estetics and taste. In fact, it’s one of the things that relentlessly puzzles us—how tasteful the clothing and gifts are for sale as well as the tourists themselves. Shopping in the boutiques is always fruitful, filled some of the most elegant things, even if designed for casual wear. The tourists tend to be mostly French or Italian, upper middle class, well-dressed without being glitzy or showy at all and generally very well behaved.
We are the only Americans around. In fact, I’ve never heard another American voice except for the few people we know who live here. Early in the week we stopped at a roadside fresh produce stand and the cashier asked where we were from, which started a conversation about Americans in Corsica. He claimed he knew one who lived on the island and she turned out to be one of the three Americans we personally know! Small world…at least for Americans in Corsica.
According to The Local, “Corsica gets the least amount of love, with only about 61 Americans calling it home. The Mediterranean island is nicknamed the “Island of beauty” but there are no big urban centers for jobs and transport links to the mainland make it a more expensive choice. That’s why Corsica is only home to just under 300 people from English-speaking countries in total.” And this is one of the things we love about it!
This is the island for families—we see hordes of couples with their kids, playing together in the water on the beaches or sitting around big tables at the restaurants. There is almost no real Ibiza-style nightlife that we know of (although I’m sure it exists for other types of tourists) except for local singers and musicians who perform in the local churches or other venues—we made a point of hearing Balagna en Concert at the Église Saint Georges in Algajola mid-week.
Here are our best beaches and their best restaurants—not in necessarily this order—none are cheap, but all are moderately priced:
* Le Beau Rivage on Plage d’Aregno in Algajola: Algajola is our “home” beach that we can depend on for shallow waters (usually calm and great for floating), coarse sand that doesn’t stick, a good restaurant, with pretty landscape…at our doorstep.
* Le Pain de Sucre in Lumio: This is one of our favorites, for the reasonable size of the cove that is not at all commercial, a seriously good restaurant that sits high for beautiful views, soft, but not sticky sand.
* Le Matahari on the Plage de l’Arinella in Lumio: kids and families come in the morning for the very shallow, baby pool-like tiny cove, so expect a family-affair, but they go home for lunch and don’t come back. The sand is slightly coarse and the restaurant is particularly elegant and fine.
* La Licorne on the Plage de Calvi: one of the many along this stretch of Calvi’s big sandy beach, with fine sand that sticks to everything. The water is shallow for a long way out, so great for kids. Calvi Plage is more commercial than most and the private beaches/restaurants use color-coordinated parasols and divider panels that obscure the view of the water. The sun beds are padded and are the best for sleeping and being very lazy, the food is quite good, and the cityscape is stunning from this vantage point…but we prefer the smaller beaches.
Saturday we sadly returned to Nice with our one-week-a-year of true vacation behind us—with plans in the working for next year’s excursion…maybe Greece!
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. On October 13th, 2020, Après Midi is featuring a Special Screening of “Meeting Jim!”
Meeting Jim Haynes is the documentary of an extraordinary journey that, in the summer of 2016, took this unusual 85+-year-old man to the cities of Paris, London and Edinburgh. Because “Meeting Jim” is meeting people.
* NOMINATED FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY * at the World Premiere June 23, 2018 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival
People call him the inventor of the social network, the real-life version of Facebook; his world famous open Sunday dinners in Paris were a must for ‘off the beaten track’ lovers and his life story is the real proof that a life based on the good side of humankind is actually possible.
The film is 1 hour 16 minutes long and it’s now available on DVD, if you don’t want to wait till October! If you would like to purchase the DVD you can do so from FRANCE, UK, GERMANY, SPAIN and ITALY. The DVD is also playable in the US as it is “code-free“ (you can purchase it through amazon.co.uk or zweitausendeins.de and get it shipped to the US)! Or: