Q&A: Fragrant, warm and beautiful

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered


Q. We are interested in a family holiday to Corsica next year (possibly in the May half-term week or, failing that, summer) with our children who will be aged six and two. The six-year-old is very keen to practise her French (my husband and I are reasonably fluent) and we are encouraged by the idea that Corsica is not necessarily as geared up to English-speaking tourists as are some other Mediterranean destinations. However, the brochures we have seen so far seem to offer only rather exclusive-sounding (ie expensive) hotels and apartments. How do we go about finding alternative, reasonably priced flights, accommodation and car-hire?
K & I Robertson, via e mail

Q. We are interested in a family holiday to Corsica next year (possibly in the May half-term week or, failing that, summer) with our children who will be aged six and two. The six-year-old is very keen to practise her French (my husband and I are reasonably fluent) and we are encouraged by the idea that Corsica is not necessarily as geared up to English-speaking tourists as are some other Mediterranean destinations. However, the brochures we have seen so far seem to offer only rather exclusive-sounding (ie expensive) hotels and apartments. How do we go about finding alternative, reasonably priced flights, accommodation and car-hire? K & I Robertson, via e mail

A. There is no getting away from the fact that Corsica is one of the pricier destinations in the Mediterranean. This has much to do with the very factors which you clearly find alluring: that the island is free of mass-market resorts, and that its character is wonderfully undiluted, compared with, say, the Balearics or many Greek islands. Corsica's 1,000km of coastline are almost entirely free of high-rise tourist developments, thanks to stringent planning laws that have provided protection from large developments. Instead, you find villages tucked into little inlets, the wild, rugged beauty of the mountainous hinterland that is Corsica's heart and soul, and the powerful, perfume of the maquis, the undergrowth which blankets much of the island. It is said that as he lay dying on St Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte reminisced about this aroma.

Exploring the little inland town of Sartÿne, you'll feel the mysterious aura of Corsica. It clings to a mountainside, with impossibly narrow alleys between tall, grim houses built against walls of granite. On the southern tip of the island is Bonifacio, a medieval citadel perched precariously on a cliff and looking across the Straits of Bonifacio, to Santa Teresa di Gallura in Sardinia. Neil Bowdler's story (see page 6) reveals more Corsican secrets.

Go in May, and you will see and smell Corsica at its loveliest. The wild flowers will be out and it should be warm rather than hot, though the odd day of rain is not uncommon at this time of year. May is also considerably cheaper than high summer. I can recommend a specialist company called Corsican Places (01903 748180, www.corsica.co.uk) which offers a variety of options in the sort of places which might suit you. For example, a one-bedroom apartment in the delightful little West Coast village of Algajola would cost £1,172 for the four of you, including flights in May for one week. These "A Moresca" apartments are just 50 metres from the beach, and near a station on the narrow gauge line which shuttles along the coast between Calvi and L'Ile Rousse.

Another suggestion - I am particularly thinking of your six-year-old daughter's prospects of practicing her French here - is the Résidence du Rateau Bavoir in Calvi, a beautiful, walled old Genoese town. This comprises a scattering of one- and two-bedroom apartments around a pool, in gardens a few minutes walk from Calvi beach. The owners are locals and very friendly; they also run a simple, family-friendly restaurant. This would cost £1,487 for your family, again including flights for a week. If you went in July or August, the prices for these two places would rise to £1,543 and £1,927 respectively. Other companies worth looking into are Simply Corsica (020-8747 3580, www.simply-travel.com) and Corsican Affair (020-7385 8438).

Putting together your own trip can be much cheaper, however. There are not yet any direct scheduled flights from the UK to Corsica, though a couple of no-frills airlines are believed to be looking at establishing services from Stansted to Ajaccio, possibly in time for next summer.

The alternative is to get a cheap flight from Liverpool or Luton to Nice on easyJet (0870 6000 000, www.easyJet.com) for £100 return or less per person, then transferring to a domestic flight for the short hop to Ajaccio - or taking an SNCM ferry from Nice. It is likely to be cheaper still to travel on Eurostar/TGV trains from London Waterloo via Lille or Paris to Marseille or Nice. These can be booked through Rail Europe (08705 848 848), which will be able to advise on the most advantageous way to buy in order to minimise the fare. From either Marseille or Nice, you can travel by ferry onwards to Corsica.

The French Travel Centre, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AL (09068 244 123, www.franceguide.com) will be able to advise on accommodation possibilities. Both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide also publish guide books to Corsica which include information on cheap pensions and campsites should you fancy the do-it-yourself option.

Car rental is good value if you go through a company like Holiday Autos (0870 400 0000, www.holidayautos.com), which quotes £135 a week for a group-A (ie tiny) car picked up from Ajaccio in May, with nothing extra to pay locally; this compares with £190 if you book through Corsican Places. But for anyone prepared to have a bit of an adventure on their holiday, public transport in Corsica is both cheap and fun.

Q. My son, aged 10, is keen that he and I go camping together, probably in the UK or Europe, next summer. He is keen on the whole experience (pitching tent, cooking etc) and a pre-packaged camping holiday on a site is not what he has in mind. Is there a way we can go camping, perhaps in a group, without having to get all the necessary stuff together ourselves and approaching an amenable farmer for permission to camp on his land? Jonathan Masters, Battersea, London

A. Yes, there are a couple of ways that you and your son can go camping in a group. Your first stop should be to contact the Camping and Caravanning Club (024-7669 4995, www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk). This organisation operates a Camping Club Youth programme for 12- to 21-year-olds, and a Camping Club Juniors for eight- to 12-year olds. These give youngsters the opportunity to camp, with parents, at organised events around Britain. If your son really gets into it, they also run training schemes in basic camping skills.

You do, however, need your own equipment. But this need not be particularly expensive - you can get an adequate two-man tent for under £60, which could solve a Christmas gift problem.

My other suggestion, is that you look at what the Scout Association (0845 300 1818, www.scoutbase.org.uk) offers. Is your son a Cub? Boys remain in the Cubs until 10 and a half, when they transfer to the Scouts. Many Cub Scout packs organise "Dads and Lads" camps. Usually, equipment is provided for these trips.

Also, Cub packs and Scout groups are often prepared to loan or rent equipment for private camping trips. You can contact local groups through the association's number, above.

If you decide not to go in a group, I would urge you to pre-book your sites whenever possible. If you stay in the UK, again the Camping and Caravanning Club will be useful. If you are packing the car and heading off to the continent, have a look at what Eurocamp Independent (01606 787666, www.eurocampindependent.co.uk) can do for you. This is a branch of a company that deals mainly with the sort of "pre-packaged" holidays that you are keen to avoid. However, they also understand the requirements of people like yourselves who really do want to hear the sound of wind under a fly-sheet and the creaking of guy-ropes in the night.

In France, you will obviously want to avoid the huge fun factories of the Vendée, where camping is usually more a means to a budget holiday, than an experience in itself. Instead, you might want to drive further down the West Coast, between Bordeaux and the Spanish border. Here, you can find sites scattered among pine forests and hills of sand dunes ribbed by wind and dotted with maram grass, tapering down to the Atlantic. Or you might prefer the French hinterland - a tranquil lake, or a patch of quiet riverside such as a tributary of the Loire, where you can do your own thing and live the great outdoors.

You'll find that in France, campeurs enjoy a special respect among their hosts when they are evidently enjoying life under canvas for its own sake. You might even find that you are invited to pitch your tent in a farmer's field!

Send your family travel questions to S F Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall,London E14 9RSOr crusoe@independent.co.uk

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