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Let’s be straight about this upfront. Corsica lives mainly from tourism, whether some of the inhabitants like it or not. The island has everything: wonderful beaches; picturesque coastal resorts; isolated perched villages; prehistoric sites; and mountain walks. The place is humming with history, although this is not always evident to those who go just for the tourist activities.
Read Dorothy Carrington’s Granite Island and then you’ll see that there’s a lot more to Corsica than meets the eye. One of the only places in Europe to escape medieval feudalism, Corsica has always been a world apart. The savage landscape has made its mark on the Corsican character, which successive rulers have never been able to subjugate completely.
During our recent visit to Corsica (our third in eight years) we wanted to sample a variety of places to stay. We travelled without car, on foot with rucksacks, using public transport wherever possible. Tents were off-limits. I have reached the age where I need a hot shower, a decent meal and a comfortable bed after a day’s walking.
So here are some notes on our three principal stops:
L’Hotel Monte D’Oro, Vizzavona
Our first stop up in the central mountains was Vizzavona. This is just past the watershed between the Mediterranean and the Tyrrhenian seas. It’s also at the halfway point on the GR20, the demanding walking trail that crosses the island (more about that in a later post).
The same family has owned the hotel since the early 20th century. The current owner, Mme Sicurani, and her faithful retainers are delightful. The décor is stuck in a fin-de-siècle time warp but is even more charming as a result. Our bedroom had no television (no hardship) but sported a huge and very comfortable bed, which you almost needed a ladder to climb into.
The meals were copious and delicious, served in an enormous dining room the ceiling of which was decorated with ivy that had been allowed to grow in from outside. We were on demi-pension (i.e. room plus breakfast plus evening meal). In France this has always been an ambivalent designation: the demi-pensionnaires are somewhere below the salt. This distinction seemed to operate here too. Wine was not automatically offered (much to the SF’s chagrin). We had to ask and it seemed almost indecent.
We learned later on that Vizzavona is the wettest place in France. It certainly seemed damp when we were there.
Chambres d’Hôtes at Saint-Pietro di Venaco
Our next stop was a B&B run by Corsican couple Antoinette and Charles Hiver in the lovely village of Saint Pietro di Venaco. Theirs is the last house in the village, squeezed up against the hills. Charles built the B&B, which has fantastic views over the valley below and the mountains beyond.
Here, the rooms are clean and comfortable and each room has its own shower/lavatory. We slept like logs after a couple of days of tough walking.
You eat at a long table in the vast living room downstairs. The other guests for the two nights we stayed were six bikers from Saint-Etienne, who did 250 km per day, two fishermen from Toulouse and us. For me, this was the highlight of our visit. Not only did we get the chance to meet natives of Corsica, but we also learned about Corsican cuisine and got the inside track on how life really is in Corsica.
We will certainly go back.
L’hôtel Dominique Colonna, Vallée de la Restonica, Corte
This was by far the most expensive and upmarket hotel we stayed at, owned by a former national footballer who never seems to put in an appearance. We didn’t really want to. First, it’s 2 km outside Corte and we had no car. Secondly, it’s ruinously expensive. The cheapest rooms were 120 € per night, excluding breakfast which was an eye-watering 12 € per person. When we booked in March, everywhere in Corte itself was already booked up since it was a holiday weekend.
We mitigated the costs by trekking into Corte and breakfasting at one of the numerous cafés, having a picnic lunch and buying ingredients for a picnic dinner.
The staff were friendly and helpful. Nothing was too much trouble. It didn’t alter the fact that without a car this was not an easy place to stay. In addition, we met no one. In that respect, this hotel could have been anywhere. It has a lovely setting next to the River Restonica, and a very nice swimming pool, but apart from that (and the L’Occitan toiletries which I stole in handfuls) it didn’t really do it for me.
So there you are. Given the choice, stay if you can with real Corsican people. You will learn far more about the place, its history, culture and food. And that, for me, is what counts.
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