Having sat out some strong winds, we decided the Porto Vecchio anchorage was safe enough to leave Emerald to make a few day trips inland. For that we really needed a car. Public transport is available between the larger towns, but it isn’t very frequent nor does it go to the spots we wanted to walk.
So we hired a car from Figari airport for 5 days; the airport is 30 minutes by bus from Porto Vecchio and by booking through an internet search agent (for this hire we used Expedia, the car hire company was Budget) we were able to get a better deal there than hiring at the port. We did well with the hire – it was a new car with only 600km on the clock and essentially, it had good air-con.
Our first stop was Bonifacio, to make up for not having visited by boat. We hit our first traffic jam in so many years as we entered the town; as we crawled through the harbour area we could see it was just down to the volume of traffic with a policewoman bravely trying to keep us all moving.
Having parked, we wandered the well protected harbour side first where there were a few mega yachts in, because of course, we don’t see enough of boats. Looking up we could see the defensive walls that surround the old town or haute-ville, making the most of it’s position surrounded by steep cliffs for protection from invaders. Then we began the upward climb to the citadel perched on the precarious peninsula made of crumbly limestone rock. It was probably best for the nerves that we didn’t see any of the undercuts where buildings sat above eroded hollows until after we’d been up there.
A final upwards push and we were through the sturdy town gate and into the maze of the Medieval town. It was busy with many others doing the same as us. Restaurants and cafes jostled for business. Walking through a dark passage between houses we emerged on much quieter Rue Longue where we craned our heads up to admire the tall houses with their aqueducts crossing from roof to building for collecting rainwater. Some doors were left open revealing incredibly steep stairs; the residents must be very fit. On Rue des Deux Empereurs we had our first Napoleon encounter, a plaque telling us he had lodged in a house there. We enjoyed the cool of the beautiful church before heading back into the throngs.
We chose a restaurant and treated ourselves to lunch; I loved the aubergines a la Bonifacienne – after being boiled, the aubergine flesh is scooped out and mixed with various ingredients including bread, herbs, eggs and cheese. The mixture goes back into the hollowed out skins and is fried in olive oil before being served with a tomato sauce. They were so good I could have easily eaten 3 times what I was given.
Fortified by food and wine we set out to walk to the lighthouse for views back to the town. It was hot and there were thunderstorms bubbling up over both Corsica and Sardinia; we wondered if we were dicing with certain death by wandering on an exposed coastal edge with lightning around…. We kept on and the storms left us alone. Back in town we had refreshed ourselves with ice creams and sat watching the world go by before heading back to Porto Vecchio.
Day two was an early start for canyoning near Bavella, around twenty miles away. We wondered why we’d been advised it would take an hour to drive that distance, but once turning off the main coastal road our speed slowed dramatically as the road wound it’s way up the canyon. Forest closed in around us with tantalising glimpses of jagged peaks poking out above.
Canyoning involves following a river on foot and finding ways over the natural obstacles along the way, be it swimming, jumping, sliding or using ropes. In the Bavella area there is a choice of 3 routes – the Pulischellu, the gentlest one, a second one which involves lots of sliding down waterfalls and the Vacca which has a lot of jumps. Sliding won out over jumping for me so it was the Purcaraccia river I would be visiting.
At the canyoning base I was issued with wetsuit, helmet and a harness, all contained in a sturdy wet bag, with holes punched in the bottom. A five minute drive in convoy took us closer to the river where we parked up by the edge of the road. The scenery had grown even more dramatic the higher we’d gone and now we had a fantastic view of the Bavella needles.
Now we stripped down to swim wear and with the wetbag on our backs, set off along a dirt track to the river. This was a first, hiking in my bikini! The walk was moderate, an easy stretch through trees then some rocky sections to negotiate and made harder by being distracted by all that scenery. I was glad I’d decided to wear trainers rather than my not very grippy wet-shoes.
The path headed down into the gorge where we crossed the river at the point where we would finish later that day, then it was more up, quite steep and rocky in places. Higher up we crossed the river again, getting a good view of where we would abseil down later and continued on even further up.
Finally we stopped under some trees and got kitted up. The wetsuits had been modified with super grippy rubber stuck on the elbows and knees – this would help with climbing out of pools. Along the back was another strip of rubber, I guess to moderate our slide down the waterfalls. The harness was similar to a standard climbing harness, except with a wider rubber section around our bums. Attached to it were two short ropes with a climbing carabiner and abseiling figure 8.
After all that hiking and kitting up, it was delightful to finally get into the refreshingly cool water. The group was quite large, made up mostly of families, and we were split into two – one for French speakers and I joined the ‘others’ who were Belgian, Dutch and German. I was very grateful that English was chosen as the language by our guide, Willy, despite being the only native English speaker there.
So off we go to the top of the first waterfall, about 4m high, the water gushing from one pool to the next over a gently sloping rock covered in green algae. The correct position for sliding was explained to us, then I ended up being the first victim to go over. I laid down on my back, arms crossed over my chest, nose pinched, Willy holding onto the two ropes, preventing me from sliding away too soon. I expected just to slide feet first, but no, he pulled the ropes in a particular way and off I went, spinning my way down. In a second I was splashing into the pool below, a momentary ‘what the f…..’ before moving away before the next person came down. As her head popped up above the water we looked at each other, grinned then started laughing like loons.
The day continued in a similar vein – there were long slides and short slides, twisty slides and one with a little bump halfway down that flung you up into the air before splashing into the pool below. Some waterfalls we went down head first, some sitting and some standing – this was called skiing. It was while on a skiing slide that my feet went out from under me before the end and I landed heavily, bum first on the rock. Ouch! There were two abseils (a 40m and 30m drop) and a couple of jumps. And through it all, Willy was right by each of us, explaining what to do, making sure we were in the correct position and providing support to anyone feeling a little nervous. Three hours later we arrived at the end, got out of the wetsuits and lolled, pleasantly exhausted in a pool for a few moments before the walk back to the cars. So I was a little tired with a bruise to my coccyx, but I’d had some of the most adventurous fun I’d had for a while.
Given that we were in an environment not very suitable for cameras, there aren’t any photos, there are photos on the website here.
We took the scenic drive back, continuing up the valley, the views were doing their best to distract me but the tight, hairpin bends required eyes firmly kept on the road. In Bavella village we parked up and had a stroll around to soak in the views of the jaggedy Aiguilles de Bavella which filled the horizon.
From Bavella it was down, down, down over more twisty roads before climbing back up over another mountain range, then a steep descent back to Porto Vecchio. Driving through the area was huge fun with light traffic, fantastic scenery and wiggly, winding roads to weave our way around.
Lurking Around a French Hypermarket
On Wednesday there were strong winds forecast for the afternoon, so we didn’t venture too far. We visited a couple of beaches for a look around and then called into a hypermarket where we lingered a while, enjoying the many, many cheese aisles and the air conditioning. We were well loaded down as we left with a wide selection of cheeses, pâtés, saussison, ciders, local beers and thick cuts of steak. We would be dining well for the next week or so.
The winds did arrive, five minutes after we’d landed back aboard the gusts were well over 25 kts reaching up to 40kts later that day.
Thursday took us back up the high hills behind Porto Vecchio to L’Ospedale, a village clinging to the hillside, 900m up, with wide reaching views down across the bay. We set off along a well marked and wide track through a forest, streams burbling away, pleasantly warm rather than hot. The walk took us up to a rocky outcrop called the Punta di Vacca Morta (we didn’t see any dead cows) at 1300m where we could look south down to Sardinia; Isola Tavolara clearly visible in the far distance. We could see Emerald as a tiny dot down to the east and boats making their way along the west coast of Corsica.
We took a much narrower track back down into the forest where our picnic on a felled tree was interrupted by some huge ants that wanted to share. Further on down we arrived at Lac d’Ospedale before following a stream back to the car.
Our last day took us high up to the U Cuscionu plateau. At 1500m you’d think it might be a barren, desolate place but surprisingly it’s covered in lush, green grass. Fresh water springs (or pozzines) pop up everywhere forming rivulets through the grass, joining together to make wider, faster flowing streams. It was beautiful. There are marked trails and by taking one of the longer tracks, we soon had it all to ourselves other than the semi wild horses, pigs and cows that roam the plateau, feasting on the plentiful supplies.
There is a downside. The road up to the plateau is in dire need of some maintenance. Steep, narrow and full of potholes we were lucky that we only came across three cars going in the other direction and met them at one of the few passing places. We guess that when it rains, rivers gush down the road, washing the tarmac away and leaving holes big enough for a family to live in (OK I exaggerate). At 13km long it’s certainly an endurance. We survived, but maybe a small car parking charge could go towards some road repairs.
For dramatic scenery Corsica jumps straight to the top of my list of countries we’ve visited. Accessible with well marked trails for hiking, it’s an outdoor lovers paradise. I really, really want to go back for another visit.
We were aiming for a car park a small distance behind the town, pricey still at €10 for the whole day but preferable to the harbour side parking which was 70 cents per 15 minutes. We later found that we could have parked for free out along the road to the lighthouse.
I chose Corsica Canyoning as my guides on the Purcaraccia river, the cost was E50 per person, with wetsuit, helmet, ropes and harness provided. You’ll need to wear swimwear and shoes you don’t mind getting wet – it’s a good idea if they have a decent grip for the walk in and out.
The guides were excellent and very patient; they spoke a variety of languages very well including French (of course!), English and German.
I was able to wear my glasses, but tucked them inside my wetsuit during the slides.
Once kitted up, the empty wet bags are bundled together into one bag and then thrown over each waterfall, so I decided not to take a camera with me as the likelihood of it surviving the trip was low.
We departed the base at 8:30am located on the road between Bavella and Solenzara and we were gone for 5 hours. You need your own transport to get to the base.
The walking route we took can be viewed here.
The followed the Sentiere des Bergers route which can be viewed here.