Day 63-69: Corsica

We docked in Bonifacio, where the port was in the centre of town and an old citadel towered imposingly above the harbour. We were grateful for not having to reverse off the ferry this time, but we were quickly presented with a steeper challenge in the gradient of the road out of the harbour. As the accelerator hit the floor to haul the caravan upwards we were glad our direction of travel had priority. With wheels losing traction we would have struggled to get going again had we stopped! Visiting Bonifacio hadn’t been on our plan for Corsica, but the town looked so dramatic that we agreed to day trip back down to have a chance to explore.  

Our campsite was in Moriani Plage near the top of the island, and the journey was an easy one up one of the two main roads in Corsica, this one hugging the east coast.

It felt like check in was smooth, until I returned to the car and Simon pointed out that the pitch wasn’t beach-side like we’d reserved. After a protracted discussion with reception, they drew an additional pitch on to the end of the beach front row on the map and sent us on our way. We were right to be dubious. Not only was that “pitch” in an overgrown field, but the only way we could have set up camp in the vicinity would be to block in our neighbours.

Back at reception they then informed me that I hadn’t reserved a beach front pitch, only made a request. They’d apparently sent me an email saying there weren’t any available and to state which number pitch I wanted. Quite how you decide on a specific pitch without having seen the campsite was beyond us, as was the fact that they still had our reservation despite not hearing back from us about where we wanted to stay. 

It turned out there wasn’t much point in debating the matter as there was only one free pitch on the whole site anyway – the one with no shade all day, right next to the toilet block, with a ten foot orange hot water tank scenically plonked in it. Given it was peak season and we didn’t know where else to go, we agreed to it, but requested we move as soon as another pitch freed up. This resolve was cemented when the row of toilet doors right behind our caravan started slamming continuously from 6am the next morning. 

An early morning complaint saw a pitch magically become available but not until later in the day. Their godawful organization skills confounded when I overheard them phoning the customer in that pitch to ask why they hadn’t vacated yet, only to be told that another member of staff had said it was fine to check out at 9pm. Customer service was not their strong point! 

The odd approach to customer service was further demonstrated at the pool. This was open 10-12 and 2-7, but closed over lunch. You weren’t allowed to just stay and accept there was no lifeguard, or even leave any of your stuff there in that time. In addition, the lifeguard was meticulous with cleanliness, insisting we ran the pram wheels through the footbath, and personally vetting each person’s pre-entry (freezing cold) shower to ensure they’d had a good dousing.

But aside from the lack of customer focus, the campsite was lovely. It had its own stretch of private beach, a nice beach bar, was very shaded and obviously had a very clean pool. It also had a very swanky restaurant which didn’t really fit with the camping vibe, but they did do excellent take away pizzas.

While we were staying near Bastia, we’d read this was an industrial town without much to see so, apart from a trip to a DIY store to buy supplies to try (and fail) to fix a leak that had developed in the caravan’s hot water tank, we didn’t explore. 

We headed back down to Bonifacio with heatwave Lucifer still in full swing. After getting stuck in standing traffic it took us three hours to get there and we found ourselves exploring in the heat of the day. Evelyn took the heat surprisingly well, hidden in the shade of the buggy hood, in just her nappy and draped in a damp muslin. 

The heat definitely got to us however, especially when we discovered that the old town was inside the cliff top fort that had wowed us when arriving on the island. We slogged it up the steep hill we’d previously panicked about getting the caravan up, but it was worth the effort. The old town was stunning, with tiny winding alleyways of honey colored stone and awesome views out along the cliffs. 

We followed the cliff top path out beyond the harbour until we got to the end of the headland, with views back over to Sardinia. There’s a path you can take down the cliffside which skirts the coastline just above sea level, but the path and the steep steps looked a bit perilous to do with a baby. We wandered back in to town through a scenic cemetery, and mindful of our long journey there, headed back to base in time for the dinner/ bed routine.

After our experiences on the roads in Sardinia, and our trip down to Bonifacio, we realised that visiting the sights on the west coast wouldn’t be possible in a day. We didn’t fancy packing up camp, nor taking the caravan through the hilly, winding roads of the middle of the island, so decided to treat ourselves to a night in a hotel – our only one of the whole trip! 

We headed to Ajaccio on the Sunday, winding through villages clinging to steep hillsides as we crossed the mountainous centre of the island. Arriving in Ajaccio, it felt very quiet. It turns out not much is open on a Sunday! We wandered past Napolean’s house and managed to catch the end of a food market to get lunch, before following the beach front path out of town. While a nice walk, it didn’t really lead to anywhere in particular, so we headed on to the hotel.

The hotel we’d booked was nothing special, but to us it felt like the Ritz. Air conditioning! A hot shower that stayed on as long as you liked! Properly laundered towels! A big bed, with a proper mattress! We were secretly glad to have the time to revel in these simple luxuries.

We wanted to watch the sunset at Pointe de la Parata so headed out to scope it out, before tracing back down the coast to find somewhere for dinner. The coastline has plenty of stunning but extortionate fish restaurants, but having forked out for a hotel room (and still paying for the campsite for the night too!) we settled for a reasonably priced texmex place. 

We were only five minutes from the sunset point and had well over an hour for dinner. The restaurant was deserted. And yet the staff seemed to find any excuse not to serve us. After asking repeatedly for the menus, we then played a game of “catch the eye contact” to actually order food. By this time I was starting to get a bit stressed. The only reason we were at this restaurant was it’s proximity to the sunset point and we were going to miss it. Luckily we were served our food with enough time to eat it and just threw down enough money to cover the bill – no way were we waiting for them to grace us with it. 

We got to the sunset point with the sky already orange and scampered over the hill to be greeted with a beautiful sunset. If only we’d been there 20 minutes earlier to take it all in. Some bright sparks had come with takeaway pizza and beers – definitely do that if you come! 

Heading back in to town, we made the most of having life on our doorstep and went out for cocktails, before having the coolest and most comfortable night’s sleep of the trip.

The next day we were off to Les Calanques – stunning red cliffs further north on the island. Despite not looking far on the map, we were off the main road and progress along the winding roads was slow, especially with the soundtrack of an overtired and teething baby refusing to nap. At points we drove along roads with scorched hillside on both sides – a scary and sobering reminder of the wildfires which had ravaged parts of the island only two weeks earlier. 

We arrived in the local town, Piana, and after circling for a parking space for some time, finally wrestled a very grumpy Evelyn into the sling, heading off to the tourist information to pick up the map for our hike. Except the hike didn’t start from town, it started from a park a few km away. Evelyn was not happy about being bundled back in to the car again.

Finally in the right place, and with Evelyn finally napping in her sling, we headed out for our walk. There were a number of options, with the tourist office recommending combining two 1.5hr routes over the cliffs and back. The route out was fairly easy going and had stunning panoramic views over the landscape. A final very steep switchback stepped path led us down to the road and a cafe for a welcomed Orangina. 

It was still baking hot, and a study of the basic, elevation-free, map and the surrounding cliff faces showed us that the only way back to the car was back up over the steep cliffs we’d just descended. We headed off on the return route, and soon found ourselves scrambling up steep hillside in blazing sunshine. Luckily Simon is more confident on his feet than me, but I was still worried that he had Evelyn strapped to him as he climbed up tree root steps. And I was getting more and more worried about Evelyn, who I was convinced was overheating as she slept against his chest. Seasoned hikers who passed us also looked quite concerned for our welfare. I was cursing the person in Tourist Information who thought this route was suitable for someone with a young baby strapped to them, and who gave no indication of how challenging the routes would be.

After increasingly frequent stops in any tiny patch of shade we could find we finally made it to the peak and into the woodland for a thankfully easy descent. While we’d made it back to the car, we still now had to make it back to the campsite, and that meant retracing our morning’s journey back towards Ajaccio, and then back over to the other side of the island. Our journey wasn’t helped by being caught behind a fire service convoy for 30km of mountain roads. It was a long day! 

We’d earnt a couple of days of relaxation after that so spent the remainder of our time in Corsica chilling out by the pool (except at lunch time of course) and plotting our next stops.

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