Along the Tourist Trail – Part 2

Corse isn’t a big island. It’s just 3400 square miles. That’s smaller than Valley County, Idaho, but nearly three times as big as Rhode Island. Whew! That ought to put it in perspective! So getting around should be a snap, right? Well, no. In Corse a “fast” road is a two-lane highway. There are no divided highways and mountains split the island from top to bottom. You ain’t gettin’ no where fast around here!

And the scenic roads our maps suggest? Let’s begin with this…

Located in the northern center of the island, Corte is promoted as the primary starting point for many mountain adventures. Thus our hyper-scenic drive from the Bavella area started a promising day. The exit from the mountains—just 20 km or so—delivered us onto one of the “fast” coastal highways. A short time later, as we neared Corte, we followed the guide book’s advice and took an alternate scenic mountain route.

Lesson #3 – Scenic roads are often dangerous roads. This wasn’t the first time we had encountered narrow roads during the trip. Sardinia had plenty of endlessly winding narrow roads, yet this “scenic” route—and others to come on Corse—achieved a much higher level of white-knuckleness. This road was perhaps 10 feet wide and had a white stripe painted down the middle to suggest that two vehicles could occupy the same stretch of road side by side. In this regard, the Corse are funnier with their road stripes than the Sardinians are with their road signs. Oh yes… we laughed uncontrollably; every blind corner was better than the last. What a hoot!... right up until we encountered a driver rounding a corner occupying our “lane.” He swerved at the last moment. Minutes later we saw an odd sight: a woman sitting on a bench on an outside curve of this road reading a book with her dog lying beside her. We concluded that’s how she spends her afternoon—reading and waiting for car accidents.

So how can this road fun be ever more fun?

  1. Add a tour bus!
  2. Add several tour buses!
  3. Have the tour buses dump their passengers out on these same narrow roads for picture taking!
  4. Place herds of goats here and there!

We actually enjoyed the drives, and we made it to Corte, but we had to always remember Lesson #3 – Scenic roads are often dangerous roads.

Two actual lanes are just an idea.

Corte failed to deliver the charm we had imagined. It’s rough on the edges and has some cleaning up to do, but there are indeed mountains right outside town. We checked into our first hotel, wandered about and ended up having hamburgers and fries for dinner. They were a welcomed break from the now routine pizza. Tomorrow we would hike!

The next day began with a 15 km. drive up a well-traveled canyon on another hilarious winding, single-lane road with stripes painted down the middle; the bridges were even narrower. And the blind corners were to die for! We got back to business at the road’s end: the 3-mile hike to Lake Melo. The trail was easygoing and the rock shoulders were quickly surmounted via permanently installed chains and metal ladders. The lake was still half-iced over and large snow patches were all around. But the lake just above, Lake Capitello, was my target. A half hour and a bit of bushwhacking later, I was standing on top of a frozen lake completely surrounded by snow and granite towers. A goal accomplished—to be surrounded by snow on an island in the Mediterranean. It was a nearly perfect day… right up until…

Lesson #4 – Hotel descriptions are based on a degree of fantasy. The Hotel HR, according to the guidebook, was once a military garrison and looks a bit gloomy on the outside. Yes… that’s true. The book also says its 100+ rooms have all been updated. Maybe… but to what? The book goes on to say the 50 Euro rate makes the Hotel HR a real bargain! You bet!... here are a few bargain-inducing features of the Hotel HR:

  1. The 24-hour check-in counter always has the scissoring metal security screen in place!
  2. The man checking you in —nice as he is—is drinking beer!
  3. Elevators did not exist when the hotel was updated!
  4. The entrance hallway to your room has broken furniture guaranteed to creep you out!
  5. The sink is right by the bed and has no cold water!
  6. There is no TV to help make it all less creepy! AND…
  7. The shower’s so small that the cold wet vinyl shower curtain sticks to you!

Hey, we admit that traveling on the fly requires some thick skin now and then, but this place was just ewwwwwe! To drive it home, the following night we paid just 75 Euro for an absolutely clean, modern room on a beach! So come with thick skin and some skepticism because you’re sure to encounter Lesson #4 – Hotel descriptions are based on a degree of fantasy.

Hooray! Snow in the Mediterranean!

Welcome to our room at the
Hotel HR in Corte. Noooo!

Did I mention “beach?” Yes I did! We ditched Corte and headed for Porto on Corse’s west coast. As we left town, we noticed a tall elderly white-haired man with a rucksack along the road motioning to us. He was hitchhiking. Farther down the road, we stopped for a short hike in the Gorges de Spelunca and, upon leaving, saw the same man wave at us for a ride. How weird! A short time later, we arrived in Porto. That white-haired man was standing on the roadside again. Waving us down again! That guy officially freaked us out!

L’Hôtel Romantique was a breath of fresh air after the Hotel HR, and from our balcony we could see towering granite spires above and giant waves crashing on the beach nearby. Time to get some photos! Minutes later Natalie and I were walking along the pebble beach as sunset neared. Another thing that neared was a rogue wave. In a flash we were inundated. Completely soaked, we both managed to keep our cameras above water. The only casualty was my sunglasses. Back to the room we went… to wash everything in the bathtub.

View from our room at l’Hôtel Romantique!

Soaked from head to toe after
the rogue wave!

The wind and waves had settled the next morning, ushering in a perfect day for another hike. Capo Rosso, a prominent rock cape with a Genoese tower on top, was our target. To get there though, we had to negotiate another super-funny narrow road complete with tour buses and their human cargo. And, although the 8-km hike was in full sun, the view at the top of the ancient tower was extraordinary and worth the effort. We could see the Iles Sanguineres near Ajaccio to the south, and way out on the northern horizon, though tiny, were the Alps.

The view from atop the tower at Capo Rosso
looking toward Porto in the far bay to the right.

As far as places in Corse go, Porto is another thumbs up in our book! We leave Porto but not before we learn…

Lesson #5 – Fill your car with gas always and often. Porto’s only gas station does not accept our technologically crippled credit cards and, being a self-serve station, there’s no one on duty to appeal to. Back at the bakery, we learn there’s another station 6 kilometers away up another wittily winding, perilously narrow, blind-corner-strewn road. Thankfully the station’s open. With the tank topped off, we vow to always remember Lesson #5 – Fill your car with gas always and often. This, by the way, is not the first time we should have remembered this lesson!

Down the coast a couple hours and we’re back in Ajaccio where we officially started the island portion of our trip in April. This time we’re staying so we can explore Corse’s largest city. Ajaccio seems larger and far more metropolitan than its 65,000 population implies. Palm trees, sun, beaches, cafés and restaurants—it’s all here and we really enjoy our time. Among other things, I take note that wearing a top at the beach is optional. Virtually all men elect to go topless and about a third of women do too! Alas, we retained our own tops. Our time was limited and my survey titillatingly incomplete. I vow to renew my research on our next trip. For Ajaccio, it’s two thumbs up!

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls into Ajaccio.

Beachside soccer-volleyball. The rules? No hands!

We’ve come full circle and are back at our IBIS Hotel in Marseille. We’ve driven 1600 miles touring Sardinia and Corse, and we managed to return our trusty Peugeot 200 without a scratch. Well, there is ONE tiny door ding, but I didn’t do that and they didn’t notice; no harm, no foul! Tomorrow starts the third and final leg of our SarCorsiParis Adventure: Onward to Paris!

Gliding into Marseille on the ferry at sunrise.

From the Tourist Trail…. Ciao!

1 comment:

  1. So glad to hear you survived your tour of the island and learned so many important lessons!