Destination: Corsica, France
By Robbie Dexter, secretary of the Department of Foreign Languages
My daughter Jacqueline Marquis is a 2005 graduate of Salem State College. She got married on June 26, 2009, in Corsica, France. Sorry to admit, I had never heard of Corsica as my interests in traveling didn’t include the Mediterranean. However, being the mother of the bride requires your attendance, so I immediately took great interest in that part of the world. Jacqueline studied abroad in Australia in the spring 2004 semester, and fell in love with Christophe, an Australian. Christophe’s mother is from France and his grandmother lives in Corsica, so the decision to have a wedding there was a good choice as the island was a “halfway point” between the United States and Australia.
My daughter, son and I made it into a whirlwind adventure. We met up with Jacqueline (arriving from Australia) in Paris, rented an apartment, and stayed there for three days. We took a train from Paris through the south of France to Nice where we spent four days in another apartment rental and met up with her friends. We headed to Corsica via ferry instead of flying, and the decision to take a ferry from Nice to Corsica was a great choice. The five-hour trip gave us a good amount of time to relax, and the fare was easy on our pocketbooks. The ferry itself was surprisingly more like a small cruise ship. You can also rent a car in Nice and put it on the ferry to make your travels a little less hectic.
Corsica is in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. It was an Italian possession until 1768 when it was purchased by France. The largest ports are Bastia, Calvi, Bonifacio and Ajaccio (the island’s capital and Napoleon’s birthplace). The population is about 261,000, and the languages spoken are French, Corsican French (Corsu) and Italian. It wasn’t difficult to find English-speaking people, but it is good to learn to speak some French, even if it’s simple. It is a great place for outdoor activities and I read it has one of the most challenging and most famous hiking trails in Europe (the GR20). The center of the island is mostly mountains (some rugged, some with forests), and it has the highest mountain range and more rivers than any other Mediterranean island. There are mountains that are snow-capped almost the entire year. From December to March there are a few small resorts inland that offer downhill and even cross-country skiing. Also there are over 200 beaches that line the coast and some of the finest in the Mediterranean. The climate is hot & dry during the summer, and is mild & rainy during the winter.
We were advised to rent a car. Car rental companies are at the four airports and port terminals. You should know how to drive standard, as automatic vehicles are hard to find, and although they are available, you should pre-book them a few months in advance. Boating is popular and you can rent or take a tour. Boat rental companies have different types of craft and the rates can be by the hour, day, or weekly. There are also ferries that can take you to Sardinia or mainland Italy. Regarding accommodations, there are different types from economy, mid-ranged, and high end. We stayed overnight in a complex not far from the beach that consisted of a few small bungalows. We rented one with two bedrooms, a bath with a shower and a kitchen, part of which was outside. It had the feel of a campground, so no need to dress-up.
The wedding took place in the La Castagniccia mountain region (mid-eastern Corsica) in a village called Felce. This village was founded in the 15th century by my daughter’s mother-in-law’s family (her maiden name being “Felce”), which made it particularly unique. It is a 45-minute drive up from the coast to the village through lush green mountains with hairpin turns and no guardrails (I guess this is typical of Europe). This village has a population of under 30 people, with a beautiful chapel and small stucco dwellings along the hillside. It appears that the other villages are similar and were more than likely settled around the same century. I’m sure they are passed down from generation to generation. In this area, the villages and farms are few and far between. To my disbelief, we passed two restaurants in this remote place, which you would think the locals must use and bring their friends. Tourists would have a difficult time finding these establishments, although I’m sure the true travelers would find their way.
Two days after the wedding my daughter and her husband drove me over 100 miles down the coast to see Bonifacio. The drive was pleasant. It is on the southern tip of Corsica and on a clear day, you can see the Italian island of Sardinia; pretty much the way you can see Martha’s Vineyard from Wood’s Hole, maybe just a little further. Around the marina area, there are centuries-old buildings that house shops and restaurants. When you look up the hillside, there are numerous stairs to climb to a fortress on the side of a cliff that once protected an entire town. After climbing up and walking on what was once a drawbridge and through the fortress, we entered onto narrow streets and alleyways where there are residences, B & B’s, restaurants, cafes and shops. I thought it had the same look as some of the neighborhoods in historic Paris. Looking down, the water on the immediate coastline is emerald green in spots, which I understand is not all that common to see. There are huge limestone cliffs that line the shore.
You cannot go to Corsica without visiting Bonifacio. On my next visit, I will spend more time there.
The next day, I took a flight back to Paris from Bastia airport, and it took just under 2 hours to get to Charles DeGaulle. The best time of the year to visit Corsica is June. The weather is warm, breezy and the crowds are very manageable. Go to http://www.corsica-isula.com/, for more information.