Heavy Rafting, of Corse!
The ferry to Ile Rousse in Corsica left from Nice Port. It’s really easy — even if you can’t find anyone who can give you the right information! SNCM is about as user-unfriendly as SNCF — the online confirmations of our tickets gave no instructions whatsoever as to where the boat was leaving from or how far in advance one must board. And by phone to their offices, their personnel was no more better informed. Fortunately, the SCNM office in Nice was only one block away from “Le Matisse” and someone there provided a bit better information, but not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.
So, should you ever ferry to Corsica, just know that unless you are taking a car on (the reason most people ferry rather than fly), you don’t need to board much more than 30 minutes ahead. There was no inspection of luggage — only an inspection of passports (unstamped). The port has several ferries, often leaving about the same time, but a reader board outside will tell you at what “terminal” yours is docked. (Yes, they call it a “terminal” and not a “wharf” or “pier.”)
Boarding is effortless and it wasn’t to difficult to find our lounge chairs. Along the way on the blue waters, a whale caused a stir for everyone to come see and a duo of gymnasts entertained the passengers on an upper deck. The ferry was a 5.5-hour smooth and uneventful excursion.
Upon arrival, the Hertz car rental office located in the Hotel Isula Rossa just near the port was closed for lunch…of “Corse.” No worries — our first lunch in Ile Rousse was overlooking the port with glasses of rosé all round. One car awaited us in the tiny lot behind the hotel and within minutes, we were installed and off on our Corsican adventure.
Like with the recent Costa Rica excursion, I booked a hotel online knowing little about it, but pleasantly surprised. While the Hotel de la Plage Santa Vittoria will not match up to a “Parler Paris or Parler Nice Apartment” for luxury or amenities, the location was as perfect as it gets — right on the sea at Algajola a few kilometers from Ile Rousse. It’s a small town founded in 1800, but evidenced to have been here during prehistoric times. Originally a Roman port, the castle and ruins sit high above the stunning stretch of beach of crystal clear shallow water and “Corse” white sand. East of Algajola is the “canton” of Calvi, the seat of the “arrondissement” which includes Ile Rousse, Belgodère and Calenzana and legend has it that Christopher Columbus came from Calvi, which at the time was part of the Genoese Empire.
There is a row of hotels and restaurants at Algajola providing a better than perfect place to spend a day at the beach without for want of anything.The water at Algajola is warm, calm, shallow, and ideal for rafting. At times, three of us would raft out into the sea and float for an hour or more, joking all the while about all the “heavy rafting” we were doing. We spent 1.5 days on this beach before venturing out to the others nearby for all the obvious reasons — it was idyllic in every sense of the word.
In the towns of Ile Rousse and Calvi we dined in the warm evenings and did a bit “heavy shopping” on the cobblestoned streets — buying parasols for the beach, big straw hats and the “accoutrements” that make a beach vacation excel. The towns are picture perfect, and not so touristy as to resemble Disneyland. In fact, one of the things of which we were acutely aware was the level of quality of everything. The tourists are primarily Italian and French — you hear little English in any accent and the behavior is quiet, subtle and polite. They are upper middle class, dressed nicely, but not extravagantly or showy. They are quiet spoken, refined and not aggressive. Each visit to Corsica confirms my appreciation for the kind of tourists within which we are surrounded.
On the beaches, a few women are topless — more the older women who have been baring their breasts since their youth and don’t seem to care that they aren’t very ‘perky’ anymore. For the young, it’s “passé” and therefore there are fewer. The men are not in boxers, but in “Speedos” and there is virtually no obesity with only a few even overweight, which seems reserved for the over 60 year-olds.
A large older woman sitting next to us on the “transats” (beach chaise lounge chairs) — whose ‘itty bitty teeny weeny pink bikini’ covered nothing of her large mammaries which hung in our faces from time to time as she leaned over to adjust her chair — told me in perfect English (although she also spoke Italian and French as perfectly), that she had been coming to Algajola for 20 years every August and never left that beach. I’d venture to guess that she must have had those particular “chaises” from early on.
In Ile Rousse we dined at a seaside restaurant literally on the sand where we could take off our flip-flops and bury our feet in the white fine powder. In Calvi our restaurant choice was dead center in the town’s little square with an old church looming overhead. The food at the tourists restaurants is ‘nothing to write home about,’ but the Corsican “charcuterie” and cheeses, not to mention the excellent rosé wines pale in color are delicacies on which you can depend to be exceptional. There are also “moules” (mussels) on almost every menu. On Sunday we had a seafood Paella at a beachside restaurant ‘to write home about.’ The beaches all have nice restaurants at which one can have a respectable lunch like a “mensch” (adult) before going back to the beach for the ultimate lazy experience…and that is what we were for four full days…OF CORSE.
Tomorrow we ferry back to Nice and then immediately head to the train to Paris — it will be a long day of travel, but relaxing and a time for reflection. By Wednesday morning you’ll be hearing from me from what I hope is NOT “Gray Paree.”
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
(photo by Anne Morton)
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