My last post saw us sailing from Elba early on the morning of 12th August….and what a passage that was. We left a sunny bay, turned west and ahead was a huge storm cloud. Fortunately it was travelling in a north-easterly direction so while we saw lots of rain and lightning and heard the thunder, none of it was actually directed at us. However, the storm had kicked up some fairly rough seas so we felt rather like laundry in a washing machine! The 48 mile passage took 7hrs 45 mins and by the end of it the wash programme had slowed to a gentle rinse.
Our landfall was made at Bastia, Corsica….
….where we were scheduled to meet Andrea, Mike’s sister, our first visitor to “Owl and Pussycat”. The following morning, before she arrived, we went ashore for a bit of orientation and shopping. Initially we wandered down the wrong streets and managed to bypass the Place du Marché, finding ourselves instead in the Place St Nicolas….
Fortunately we found the correct market place – with its lovely fountain….
We treated ourselves to a Corsica beignet snack made with “brocciu”, a local sheep’s milk cheese doughnut/fritter cross which was sold either salted or sweet and, surprisingly, the sweet ones tasted as good as the savoury.
“Tiddles” arrived late that afternoon and two weeks of experiences and adventures followed – some good, some less good but as Andrea said “I now know it isn’t all plain sailing and what it can be really like to live on a boat”.
So, let’s get the less good out of the way first. Half way through the holiday we had to be towed back to port having broken down between Macinaggio and Saint Florent. Our engine slowed and then died. No alarms, no nothing but it certainly set our hearts beating given our recent engine experiences. We investigated everything we could think of at the time.
There was absolutely no wind but the waves round the top end of the island were quite big, following the wind the previous day, and these were making us roll a lot and pushing us towards a lee shore so we didn’t have much time for diagnosis. We did wonder whether we might be able to anchor if we were pushed closer but we had discounted that anchorage when planning our route as it was described as poor holding. Not knowing what was wrong we were also a bit concerned about being in a small village at the end of no-where which wasn’t on a transport route. Andrea was being very stoic throughout this time but, as a non-sailor it was obviously pretty scary and then – to top it all – at about midday there was a weather warning on the radio for Force 8 winds expected late that afternoon!! At that time I decided something had to be done, radioed the coastguard and about an hour later, during which time Mike had at least managed to get us sailing very slowly parallel to the coast, along came the “Pasqual Paoli”.
Back in Macinaggio harbour there was much talk about the anticipated gale and we were advised to berth pulled well out from the wall with everything battened down and the passerelle lifted. As it happened the most we saw was Force 5, gusting 6 but that would not have been good in a poor anchorage or on the windy side of the island trying to limp to port. So, we think it was the right decision and we were now in a town with a boatyard and a couple of small chandlers. In the event, it was a snapped connector on the engine end of the battery cable. The cable had obviously been taken off and put back again when our engine was replaced. It was a young apprentice to Luigi who did that work. If he had only told us the connector was dodgy [old/bent/corroded/whatever] a mere €6 would have prevented this happening.
But, strangely enough, it was the incident at the end of Andrea’s holiday which we found more annoying. We hired a car for the day and when we picked it up Mike commented to them that there was no spare tyre. “No” they said, “you have a special repair kit which re-inflates the tyres. You don’t need a spare”. Mike rues to this day saying “Well let’s hope I don’t need it then” – so you know what’s coming next!
Corsican roads are fairly narrow and many are along steep sided, rocky gorges with fallen rocks at the side. Yes, we scraped past some rocks!! To cut a long story short, at around 6pm on a Saturday evening our tyre deflated. The re-inflate kit wasn’t up to the job. The rental office was closing and they didn’t know anyone who would come out but, fortunately, found someone who would do it – for an “out of hours” price. We waited about 90 mins. The rental company had not said we were three people and Mike had to travel in the car on the back of the truck. We all then had to get a taxi from the airport drop off point. We were charged for the tow, a new tyre and a new repair kit and obviously had the taxi cost too. Mike argued the toss and finally they agreed to cover the repair kit. His argument was, and remains, that hiring out a car in those road conditions without a spare is wrong – especially as the manager of the rental company who he met twice and travelled with in his car carried a spare wheel!!!
The positive end to the story was that even though it was around 11.00pm when we finally got back to Calvi, there was a restaurant open and we got some drinks and a decent meal – otherwise it would have been a really awful way for Andrea’s holiday to end.
But – all the rest was good!
As a strategically situated island, Corsica has been occupied, colonised, invaded and generally fought over for most of its history. As a result there is a lot of evidence in the main coastal towns of fortification with walled and bastioned citadels etc. With disease being more rife at the coast and to make it more difficult for some raiders to reach the population, smaller settlements are often of a dual nature – the coastal fishing harbour and the inland village – the latter usually occupying a hilltop or at least a higher point.
All this makes the island very picturesque and fascinating to explore.
The three main coastal ports we visited during the fortnight – Bastia, St. Florent and Calvi – all developed around their respective stronghold, the Citadel. Built mainly by the Genoese during C15/C16, they housed administrative buildings, churches and governors palaces. They were generally laid out with rigorous “Town planning” principles – with houses of the same height and broad squares.
Monumental gateways were sometimes added at a later date….
As well as catering to tourists with the many restaurants, shops and bars contained within the walls……..
……they remain “lived in communities” to this day….
There is only one inland Citadel, which also happens to be the only Corsican one. It is at Corte which was a main stopping point during our day trip by car.
On the upper level is the castle where the former barracks can been seen….
….from the “Eagles Nest”.
…who, as well as founding the University of Corte, drafted the only constitution that Corsica ever had. A fine military strategist, he governed his country during the only fourteen year period in Corsican history [1755-1769] when the island was not controlled by other people or nations. That short period of independence followed 10 years of revolts during which time Paoli worked closely with Jean-Pierre Gaffori, a native of Corte who was assassinated in his home town in 1753.
Despite Paoli’s defeat in 1769 he continued to fight against French rule and in 1794 he appealed to the British for help. Lord Hood and the British fleet were dispatched and attacked at St. Florent. The town was taken but the round Genoese tower on Pte de la Mortella …….
……..refused to surrender, seemed impervious to bombardment and held out for a long time. This so impressed Lord Hood that he had the specifications recorded and on return to Britain advised that similar coastal defences should be built against, ironically, French invasion. They are known as “Mortello” towers – a derivative of the name of the one which almost defeated Hood.
Cruising round Corsica it is impossible not to notice the many towers as there are still 67 of remaining. Built from 1530 onwards their original use was to warn the islanders of invaders, particularly pirates.
In the present day many of the citadels host temporary or permanent exhibitions. In Corte we learnt about the islands links with America. Corsican families emigrated to seek their fortune and then returned and built large mansions some of which are unfortunately now in ruins but some of which have become hotels or are signposted/marked on maps as “The American House” and can be visited. American women often followed their husbands…..
In St. Florent we had the pleasure of a contemporary art and sculpture exhibition …….
….and by the end of our various visits to towns and villages we felt we could have started our own exhibition called “In this house”……
In addition to the citadel cathedrals there are many other beautiful churches and chapels to be seen….
…..and also many old town buildings……
…. and other “relics”!
Of course all of these towns have harbours and I realise it’s about time I showed some of the places we anchored.
Many of the town anchorages mean a considerable dinghy ride. There are sometimes moorings closer to the towns which are probably well used during the main season. We were surprised that when there were only about half a dozen boats in a mooring field containing over a hundred buoys we were still expected to anchor well out….
….and in all places had, of course, to take account of any buoyed off swimming areas.
We arrived in Corsica just after a fairly serious brush fire near Bastia. Whilst we didn’t see any actual fires [a good thing] we did see fire planes. They seem to like flat sea to swoop over and collect water and so we saw them near to the coast and, a couple of times, passing through anchorages……
…and we also saw some dumping water on the mountainsides. It was actually such an occurrence that originally drew my attention to them. Whilst sailing along one day I thought I had seen a plane crash into the side of the mountain. Of course, what I thought was smoke was water… but it certainly gave me quite a start!
The first, from Macinaggio, wound slowly up valley trails and scrabbly paths giving us great views back to the coast……and also up towards our destination – Rogliano.
Rogliano was a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours….
….and we somehow managed to turn the second half of the walk, back down a valley road, into a wine tasting event….
…and during that day and on our walks captured some of the islands flora and fauna.
I have to say that I was rather disappointed by the lack of visible wildlife. Maybe it was the time of year but certainly in relation to sea-life there was a marked absence – which may also account for the very few birds.
There are supposed to be wild boar on the island – certainly there are alleged wild boar products on every menu – but the nearest we came were free roaming pigs!
Synonymous with Corsica is its famous symbol of the Moors head – used originally by the Aragonese kings to celebrate their victory over the Moors [Remember the Livorno statues in my previous post?] It ceded to local clan leaders and was then adopted by Paoli as a symbol of Independence. As well as on the flag we found examples everywhere – mugs, t-shirts and just about every form of souvenir – as well as on bronze plaques….
So hopefully my descriptions and the accompanying photos have shown that overall the “good” was pretty good. Maybe the “less good” has tainted our view of Corsica as it is not somewhere we would rush back to. But it was interesting historically, had some pleasant towns and beautiful countryside and, most importantly, we did have lots of fun….
We now look forward to welcoming other visitors to “Owl and Pussycat” and, hopefully, to more “Tiddles travels” in the future.