Family fun in Corsica - the old-fashioned way

When Helen Truszkowski took her sons to Corsica, she learnt how to rela

Thursday 04 March 2010 12:01
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It's easy to spot the freshly dispatched visitor. We charge around Figari airport in search of a luggage trolley, to no avail. I spit verbal bullets at my holiday rep: "A trolley would be nice."

"Well, it is what it is," Iain replies protectively. He hoists my bags on his shoulder and heads for the car hire desk. But he is in no particular hurry.

As a stressed mother of two, the drawback of a flight to Corsica is not so much its lack of airport amenities as its brevity. It is less than two hours away – and a leap in attitude. The island's laissez-faire mindset takes some getting used to.

Twenty-four hours later, I'm a changed person. It's 9.30pm and I'm sprawled on the sands at Abbartello beach with my butt-naked son (15-month-old Jack). My eldest, George (10) has drummed up a game of football with two brothers. Even now, families are turning up for a swim and a picnic; so much for bedtime routine.

We've spent the day at a local petting farm, Le Parc Corsic. We came across it by chance, a tiny turn-off on the winding road to Petreto-Bicchisano leading us to a hillside ranch. Here, the Parc's owner rescues and breeds endemic species and is keen to share his passion with chance visitors, albeit in broken English. But kids, of course, can transcend any language barrier. With little more than a smile, Jack takes the owner's huge hand and they trot off together to feed the mouflons, hug the baby wild boar and pet a rare brindle cow.

Next day, we venture further afield, slicing through the rugged western province, past Napoleon's birthplace, Ajaccio, and up into the island's interior. At A Cupulatta tortoise sanctuary we visit the world's luckiest turtles and tortoises. After lunch, we take a corkscrewing mountain drive above the village of Vero to Parcours Aventure. At this colossal tree-top obstacle course, George (of the jungle) whoops his way from tree to tree via a network of high-rise log bridges, rope nets, tightropes, and zip lines. With snaphooks on his harness, he clips himself on and off a steel security cable, scrambling through the forest some 100ft above us. Heady stuff for him. Harrowing for me.

Nerves tested, we opt for a day at the beach. But with 600 miles of coastline we are bamboozled by choice: do we plump for accessibility over popularity, pebbles or sand, waves or not, water sports or not? The boys single out Plage de Cupabia, a remote sweep of sand studded with sea-sculpted grottoes. Teeming with fish, its warm, clear, shallow waters are ideal for my curious toddler and first-time snorkeller.

Corsica's roads were opened to wheeled vehicles only in the late 19th century. As a result, a well-trodden footpath system criss-crosses the island. The infamous 120-mile GR20 is out of our league, but the boys tackle a ribbon of walkways lined with rosemary and lavender and get friendly with the local cows.

To do Corsica real justice, though, we hit the road hard. A third of the island's surface is national park, its mountains soaring to 10,000ft, promising spectacular drives. But motoring here is not for the faint-hearted. The roads turn out to be little more than ledges notched into near vertical granite. Flicking past pines on the narrow D268, we rise and fall through hairpin bends passing through splendid walled cities on the approach to Aiguilles de Bavella. Nicknamed the Needles, this jumble of jutting granite peaks looms at over 5,250ft. It's worth the effort. As the sun shifts, the ochre peaks are drenched in honey light.

Next afternoon, we take a boat trip out to Bonifacio. We leave behind its shops and eateries and its chaos of cars and daytrippers. A wall of eroded white clay cliffs tumbles into the sea, morphed into improbable, convoluted caves. Our skipper zips in and out of the crags, to the delight of my brood.

One final hour to spare, and I'm plonked under a mulberry tree at the crêperie in Porto Pollo. I sip a citron pressé and take in the view. Old men play boules; two chattering mums stand in a doorway eyeing their straying toddlers. A waitress snatches Jack up and fingers his blond curls. It's the refreshing lack of pretension here that makes such simplicity a virtue. Island time is catching up with me. I'm starting to believe Corsica is the most spectacular, welcoming and laid-back place on earth. I was wrong. Iain was right. It is what it is. And I couldn't be more chuffed.

Compact facts

How to get there: Helen Truszkowski travelled with Corsican Places (0845 330 2113, corsica.co.uk) which has seven nights' self-catering at Arco Plage in Abbartello from £491 per person (based on four sharing). Includes flights, car hire and a welcome hamper.

Further information: Corsica Tourism (00 33 4 95 51 00 00; www.visit-corsica.com)

Further reading 'Heaven on Earth Kids: The World's Best Family Holidays' by Sarah Siese

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