Looking back: Corsica (2006)

Even in sunny California, February tends to turn my mind to visions of warm water and sandy beaches. The past few years, while on the East coast, we were savvy enough to actually make plans to visit some sort of tropical destination–in fact it sort came to feel more necessity than luxury.

I know that the French beaches of Corsica are cold this time of year, but I thought it might be a nice time to pull out some old photos from warmer days past.

In the summer of 2006, Aron I spent a few weeks driving around Provence and the South of France. It was an amazing trip. Sadly, we have no photos at all. As soon as we arrived at the coast, we parked the car and ran for the water. It was just a quick 10-minute swim before hopping back on the road to Nice, but in that short time our rental car was broken into and all of our valuables were stolen.

It was completely devastating, the worst part being that our camera and all of our photos from the previous two weeks were gone forever. That night, spent in a danky hotel by the Nice train station, can surely be counted as a worst travel memory for both of us.

The saving grace (besides our generous families who helped us replace so much of what was taken) was leaving the mainland the very next day on a ferry to Corsica, an island 110 miles off the coast. We had planned it that way in advance, not knowing at the time how much that physical change would matter emotionally: we bought disposable cameras (the reason why these few photos are so blurry and grainy) and left the matter behind us, literally.

The ferry dropped us at Calvi, one of the island’s major towns and a popular base for vacationing French families. The culture of Corsica is sort of a mix of French and Italian, as the island is actually closer to Italy. We found a wonderful hotel, not far from the main beach, and were relieved to find that we could get more space for less money than elsewhere in France.

Corsica is known for its charcuterie: ficatellu, ponzu, coppa, and prosciutto are made from Corsican pigs who feed on distinctively tasting native plants. Some are fed entirely on chestnut meal–and chestnuts figure prominently into the island’s cuisine. Apparently, in the 16th century, all farmers and landowners were required to plant chestnut, fig, olive, and mulberry trees annually. As you can imagine, Aron and I were both keen to sample anything considered a regional specialty–including, and perhaps especially, the local chestnut liqueur.

Corsican honey is also distinctly prized and has been given its own AOC by the French government, and one of my favorite dishes was a pizza I had, beside the port, made of pungent cheese, topped with local ham, and drizzled with honey.

Over dinner, (and a glass or two of Muscat), we imagined that on our next visit we’d rent a jeep and drive into the island’s mountain to visit the smaller villages producing these goods (and onto further coastline where’d we, mais oui, rent a sailboat).

The main beach in Calvi was extremely pleasant–and shallow for a long ways out–so Aron dug us chairs in the sand and we pretty much roasted ourselves beside a bottle of Rose most afternoons. (We were SO foolish about the sun.) One day we took the narrow-guage train (tiny and nicknamed “the bone shaker”) along the coast to some smaller coves. The water was beautifully clear and filled with small Octopus and we had such fun snorkeling–just until the sun set.

We went Scuba diving one half day–loads more Octopus!–and ate our weight in Moules Frites before strolling along the port and watching tons of tiny fish circle the lights in the water behind the visiting yachts.

One could complain that, as a popular holiday resort for the French, the town had some artificial character. Maybe. But for these Americans, it sure was lovely. And I really can’t wait to go back.

P.S. Those last four years of warm February trips: 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.


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