Looking back: Corsica (2006)


Even in sunny California, February tends to turn my mind to visions of warm water and sandy beaches. The past few years, while on the East coast, we were savvy enough to actually make plans to visit some sort of tropical destination–in fact it sort came to feel more necessity than luxury.

I know that the French beaches of Corsica are cold this time of year, but I thought it might be a nice time to pull out some old photos from warmer days past.

In the summer of 2006, Aron I spent a few weeks driving around Provence and the South of France. It was an amazing trip. Sadly, we have no photos at all. As soon as we arrived at the coast, we parked the car and ran for the water. It was just a quick 10-minute swim before hopping back on the road to Nice, but in that short time our rental car was broken into and all of our valuables were stolen.

It was completely devastating, the worst part being that our camera and all of our photos from the previous two weeks were gone forever. That night, spent in a danky hotel by the Nice train station, can surely be counted as a worst travel memory for both of us.

The saving grace (besides our generous families who helped us replace so much of what was taken) was leaving the mainland the very next day on a ferry to Corsica, an island 110 miles off the coast. We had planned it that way in advance, not knowing at the time how much that physical change would matter emotionally: we bought disposable cameras (the reason why these few photos are so blurry and grainy) and left the matter behind us, literally.

The ferry dropped us at Calvi, one of the island’s major towns and a popular base for vacationing French families. The culture of Corsica is sort of a mix of French and Italian, as the island is actually closer to Italy. We found a wonderful hotel, not far from the main beach, and were relieved to find that we could get more space for less money than elsewhere in France.

Corsica is known for its charcuterie: ficatellu, ponzu, coppa, and prosciutto are made from Corsican pigs who feed on distinctively tasting native plants. Some are fed entirely on chestnut meal–and chestnuts figure prominently into the island’s cuisine. Apparently, in the 16th century, all farmers and landowners were required to plant chestnut, fig, olive, and mulberry trees annually. As you can imagine, Aron and I were both keen to sample anything considered a regional specialty–including, and perhaps especially, the local chestnut liqueur.

Corsican honey is also distinctly prized and has been given its own AOC by the French government, and one of my favorite dishes was a pizza I had, beside the port, made of pungent cheese, topped with local ham, and drizzled with honey.

Over dinner, (and a glass or two of Muscat), we imagined that on our next visit we’d rent a jeep and drive into the island’s mountain to visit the smaller villages producing these goods (and onto further coastline where’d we, mais oui, rent a sailboat).

The main beach in Calvi was extremely pleasant–and shallow for a long ways out–so Aron dug us chairs in the sand and we pretty much roasted ourselves beside a bottle of Rose most afternoons. (We were SO foolish about the sun.) One day we took the narrow-guage train (tiny and nicknamed “the bone shaker”) along the coast to some smaller coves. The water was beautifully clear and filled with small Octopus and we had such fun snorkeling–just until the sun set.

We went Scuba diving one half day–loads more Octopus!–and ate our weight in Moules Frites before strolling along the port and watching tons of tiny fish circle the lights in the water behind the visiting yachts.

One could complain that, as a popular holiday resort for the French, the town had some artificial character. Maybe. But for these Americans, it sure was lovely. And I really can’t wait to go back.

P.S. Those last four years of warm February trips: 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.


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Let’s Discuss

  1. The French call Corsica “l’Île de Beauté”. It certainly is that. I remember flying into Ajaccio seeing snow capped mountains on one side of the plane and glimmering beaches on the other side. I would loooove to go back.

  2. We went there too, and also took that ferry. Corsica is one of my favourite places we ever visited. I remember we camped in a eucalyptus grove and I can still remember that smell every time the wind blew. It was magical!

    I can’t imagine losing all my travel pictures…nothing can replace them. Must have been devastating!

    • Ashley

      That sounds absolutely magical. We spent more time on Sardinia a few years back, but I’d really love to see more of Corsica.

      And it truly was devastating–I still have a notepad from the next day when Aron and I tried our best to list every single photo we took on the trip. I was thinking that one day I’d try to recreate it with some sketches and stock images for posterity, but haven’t quite gotten around to it…

  3. Corsica looks lovely. I’ve never been but will add it to our list of places to go.
    I feel you on the winter warm destination getaway. We are headed to Mexico in a few weeks and I can’t wait. Warm sand, warm sun, tacos…

  4. Thanks for the sunshiny images. Despite the fact that I’m living a life of perpetual Indonesian summer, I can’t get enough of warm, beachy-ness.
    Does everyone who travels to Nice have this exact experience? I swear the same thing happened to a friend of mine who had her car broken into when she had walked only 150 m away.

    • Ashley

      Gosh, I sure hope not! Though I must say that the police did not seem surprised. I got the impression that it’s a pretty sophisticated little crime ring that’s working those beach parking lots. We have a whole new attitude about stopping with luggage in the car now. And the other rule, ever since, is that we don’t access our trunk in a visible location by where we’re stopping if we do have luggage in the back. Kind of sad…

  5. Jules

    I lost all my photos from my first trip to Provence because the film tore inside my SLR camera. I left the 36-image roll in the camera until I returned home when the camera could be opened by a professional photographer. No luck. All photos were lost. I did return to Provence, but not to the same locations, so gone are the photos of the scary mountain roads with overturned cars lying in the valleys; the wonderful bouillabaisse I had in Cassis; the fruit stand where I was admonished for picking my own nectarine rather than letting the owner choose it for me: Mademoiselle, ne touchez pas le fruit!! Oops. And that provencal rose wine is wonderful, especially with a sandwich crudites.

    • Ashley

      So sad! But sounds like you have such vivid memories all the same. I think we both deserve a repeat visit, eh?

  6. Camilla

    Hi Ashley, I just spend a few days reading trough most of your travelogues and I was so inspired. Especially now that we have two little ones in tow. We’ve travelled quite a bit with our oldest who just turned three. This summer we went to Amsterdam with my parents, when our boy was just a few months and now we’ve been talking about going to Lisbon at the end of March. But I find it a bit more daunting planning a trip now that there’s four of us and the two youngest are just three years old and nine months. I think I need to be a bit more organized now. Do you think you could write a post about how you go about planning all your wonderful trips. Do you ever use a travel agency or do you do it all yourself online. How do you find all the wonderful hotels that you’ve stayed at and the most interesting spots to visit and the great deals on cars etc. I’d love to get some inspiration for getting more organized about planning our coming trips so that everything goes as smoothly as possible and we spend our time and money most efficiently. Thanks for such a great blog. //Camilla

    • Ashley

      Thank you so much, Camilla! I can definitely see how things get more challenging with two! I’ll start thinking about some posts that might speak to those questions. I have to say, however, that the honest answer isn’t necessarily a silver-bullet. The truth is that I’m always filing away ideas.

  7. Linda

    My husband and I are looking for a great vacation spot for a landmark birthday in October. Southern France and Corsica sound perfect! I would love to know what you would consider the most lovely memorable spots and which spots you would have skipped. Do you think this trip could be done without renting a car? We only have about 10 days to explore. Thanks for much for posting these travelogues– they are truly lovely and inspirational!

  8. My fiancé and I are planning our mini-moon (a pretty short trip) to Corsica.
    Would love to hear more about how you found the ferry ride, getting around Corsica…We are also flying into Nice.

    • Ashley

      Wish I could say more… this is really all just about all the details I have. The Ferry… there are two or three and I’m pretty sure we found them listed in a Rough Guide France. You can see the photo of the one we took in the last image above… SNCM. We prepurchased tickets online as they do book up during holiday periods. We stayed in Calvi, where the ferry deposited us and walked to and from the hotel. One day we used the train to go to a beach and back and one day we took a boat ride to SCUBA. But another couple told us they rented a boat. I think CN Traveler actually just published something on the COrsica interior! Perfect source for a honeymoon. Definitely search the recent travel pubs… one of them just featured the island. Congrats!

  9. I love your travel photos.

    I’m going to be in the South of France for 2 days (between Dijon and Barcelona). I don’t think we could make it to Corsica, but was wondering if you have any recommendations for must-see cities in Provence or Languedoc? How would you spend a short 2 days in that area?

    • Ashley

      Thanks!! We loved Aix, but it is a larger town. St. Remy was my favorite of the smaller towns we stopped in as I recall. It was a bit upscale, but you could see why it was popular. There was the BEST chocolate shop in town, a little waterway, and a nice spot to taste olive oils. We were only there one night though. Cassis is my other favorite stop. It’s on the water and has a nice mix of market town/seaside port. And you can take boat rides along the coast to see the Calanques. But the water is colder there because of these deep ravines nearby and upswelling. The water in Nice is markedly warmer, for example. And I do also love Nice–even if it is, again, larger. Have fun!

      • Zainab

        My husband and I were in Provence and the Riviera last September. We started in Avignon and drove across Provence to Nice. Our favorite stops were the small towns in the Luberon region. You can spend the day driving between beautiful old villages and abbeys (Abbey of Notre-Dame de Sénanque, and Abbey St. Hilaire- my personal favorite). The countryside is really hilly and gorgeous. There are many small and confusing roads, but I think getting lost is part of the experience. The food was also fantastic and usually in scenic settings (L’Auberge de la Loube, near the town of Buoux was a stand out).

        After the Luberon we drove south, stopping for lunch in Aix, which has larger city charm, and then through Cannes, and based ourselves in Villefranche-sur-mer, a smaller town, just east of Nice, about a 10 minute drive away. Accommodations were cheaper and the town was really sweet. We would spend the days in Nice, or driving up to Eze, to Monaco one evening, and often have dinner back in Villefranche. One day we hung out at the beach in Cap Ferrat (and the village of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat), and did a short hike by the water.

        I recommend getting a hold of the “Provence & the French Riviera” Rick Steves’ guidebook. We used that to plan our time. Good luck!

        Ashley, I always enjoy your blog and used many of your Positano and Rome suggestions when planning a trip a few years ago(including that little Pensione!).