I'll never see a pin-stripe suit in the same way again

MY ROUGH GUIDE
Click to follow
The Independent Travel
Best discovery

Like most high headlands on the Corsican coast, the bluff above Campomorro, a sleepy fishing village in the southwest of the island, is crowned with a crumbling Genoese watchtower. From the top of it, I spotted a path winding south into a tempting wilderness of cliffs and maquis, and as none of the other guide books had an account of the trail I set off to follow it. The first stretch, passing through a Dali-esque landscape of weirdly eroded granite, was easy to follow, but beyond a string of flotsam-covered coves the path disappeared in a sea of scrub. With the grunts of wild boar growing louder as the light faded, I was relieved to discover a makeshift shelter, complete with table and chair cobbled together from driftwood, overlooking its own exclusive pebble beach - a Corsican pauper's paradise with an ocean view.

Best hotel

Built in the 1930s, the wonderfully dated Hotel Roches Rouges in Piana is a rare gem along this villa-studded coast, having retained most of its original fittings and furniture. Best of all, though, is its west- facing terrace, which hangs over the cobalt-blue Golfe de Porto - among the most spellbinding views of the Mediterranean.

Most bizarrre encounter

Huddled around a half-moon bay in the northwest of the island is a remote fishing hamlet called Girolata, which you can only reach by boat, or on foot (a three-hour round hike from the road head). Mid-way down the trail, which was tough going, I was overtaken by a fifty-something-year-old local, sporting wild shades, a long-grey beard, and a beach towel strapped foreign- legion-style over his head. By way of explanation for his decidedly un- Corsican haste and garb, the man pointed at the trumpet symbol on his satchel and shouted "facteur" (postman), as he disappeared around the next bend.

The only time I ever plucked up the courage to ask a Corsican woman out for a drink was at a tourist office in one of the main towns. Unless you know someone's family, and have a massive motorbike, you generally won't stand a chance, but to my surprise she said yes - in flawless English - so we met in a harbour-side cafe after work. A couple of gins and tonic into the conversation, I asked her where she'd learned such good English, whereupon she looked conspiratorially over her shoulder and replied "I worked in London for five years ... as a dominatrix". The rest of the evening was hilarious, relieved to have found a sympathetic ear, she regaled me with lurid anecdotes culled from five years whipping businessmen in the West End. I shall never a see a pin-stripe suit in the quite the same way again.

Most harrowing journey

Not a relaxed sailor at the best of times, I had a nerve-wracking experience last summer off Scandola, a wildly beautiful peninsula that's only accessible by sea from Porto. Some Corsican friends had taken me out in a pleasure boat to look for giant gulls' nests on the cliffs, but we hit a heavy swell rounding the headland. A couple of male canoeists had got into difficulty and were paddling half-submerged towards a cove, having deposited their girlfriends on nearby rocks. We picked them up but this overburdened the boat, which started taking water and pitching badly. Judging by the expressions on the girls' faces, I think they regretted leaving the relative safety of the rocks. At no point in the trip, however, did my macho chain-smoking Corsican friends show the least sign of unease.

Most memorable meal

Corsica has its fair share of fine restaurants, but my most memorable meal was one I cooked myself on a little meths stove, perched on granite outcrop half-way up Monte Rotondo. With razor-sharp mountain ridges rippling into the sea on all sides, I tucked into fresh tagliatelle and farm-cured charcuterie, steeped in creme fraiche and freshly picked maquis herbs, which I washed down with a half bottle of Patrimonio wine.

Best souvenir

From my last trip I brought back a rather expensive wild boar sausage (saucisse de sanglier), which I bought in a tiny mountain village in the Balagne region that's renowned for its charcuterie. The meal was delicious, but it smelt gamey after a few days stewing in my rucksack, and sent the sniffer-dog spaniels at Gatwick into a frenzy when they found it.

David Abram wrote 'The Rough Guide to Corsica'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.

FACT FILE

Getting there

By air: Air 2000 and Monarch operate weekly flights to Corsica (May- Sept) from Gatwick. Tickets cost from pounds 150-pounds 200 and can be booked through Corsica specialists such as Voyages Ilena (0171 924 4440). By sea: SNCM Ferries (0171 491 4968) sail from Marseilles, Toulon and Nice.

Details

The Campomorro coastal hike starts 17km southwest of Propriano - take along the relevant IGN map (available in Stamfords and other good map outlets) and a Rough Guide for detailed route.

The Hotel Roches Rouges (00 33 04 95 27 81 81) in Piana is open all year, charging under 400FF (about pounds 35) for a double room in high season.

Boats run daily to Girolata from Porto (120F) and Calvi (240FF), or you can hike there and stay at either of the village's two gite d'elapes, which serve meals and have camping space.

Corsica's famous charcuterie is sold at specialist butchers all over the island; you'll also find the same stuff on offer (at lower prices) in the big supermarkets.

Comments