Read about Jay Williams’s first week in northern Corsica here
We begin our second week on Corsica with a trip to St Florent, a cosmopolitan marina town known as the ‘St Tropez of Corsica’, armed with a picnic lunch. Although it’s always nice to shop local, I have to admit that the Spar stores here are amazing, with endless charcuterie choices. I found the general rule to be that the gnarlier looking the salami, the tastier, if that helps. Some of them look like they’ve been hanging there since the days of Napoleon but don’t let that put you off).
St Florent manages to pull off the trick of being glamorous while remaining unpretentious and quaint. There are some serious vessels docked in the harbour but the pace is far from jet-set. Parking is straightforward – there’s a large central car park just a minute’s walk from the harbourside. It’s also a short walk to the 12th century cathedral Santa Maria Assunta, inside which are the relics of Saint Flor, a Roman soldier who was made a martyr in the 3rd century.
There’s a great harbourside strip or restaurants and bars and we enjoyed an al fresco supper at Le Grill where I had moules again (sorry, but they are great here) and my other half had a generous helping of langoustines. A fantastic people-watching vantage point and afterwards a gentle stroll around the harbour as darkness falls.
Before setting off on our trek to L’Extreme Sud, we detour to Calvi, presided over by its magnificent Genoese Citadel. The town is reputedly the birthplace of Christopher Columbus – the remains of his house are commemorated by a plaque in the citadel. More obviously attuned to the tourist market, Calvi has a bustling quayside thronged with busy restaurants, bars and clubs, and there are opportunities to hire a boat or a catamaran and explore the coast and creeks and enjoy a marine view of the mainland. The picturesque alleys and lanes leading down to the sea provide the perfect scene for a pleasant afternoon’s meandering.
The drive south to our final destination, Villa Bicu Rossu is inland and cross-country, and a bit of a slog; it’s the thick end of four hours but it’s pretty slow-going at times. The island is a magnet for bikers (and I can see why) and sometimes negotiating the narrow roads can be patience-sapping when you are constantly on the look-out for trains of two-wheeled tourists. But when we finally arrive at the villa, all stresses melt away. It’s an absolute gem, way off the beaten track, built from scratch by a local farmer to extremely high specifications, on a gentle slope above a private swimming pool which in turn overlooks a huge clementine field. It’s just idyllic.
It’s the perfect base from which to explore the south of the island; the east coast boasts a host of white sandy beaches (well-loved Plage de Palombaggia is half an hour away), and picturesque harbour towns and villages, while the fascinating medieval clifftop citadel of Bonifacio is a straightforward 40-minute drive away.
Locals we spoke to in the north told us that the south is much more commercial, and while that may be true when it comes to larger towns, I can’t think of anywhere I’ve been that’s been more tranquil than Villa Bicu Rossu and its environs. To be honest, we could have done more sightseeing during our time in the south but when your temporary home is this peaceful and comfortable, why not stick to the self-catering lifestyle? The weather was uniformly fantastic during our stay, so we fell into a happy routine of tumbling out of bed in the morning, breakfasting on our little balcony and then wandering down to the pool for a day of complete rest and relaxation. Everything about this villa made us happy (apart from the moths which congregated on the windows at night like bit players in a zombie movie, but we’re not going to hold the owners accountable for that).
It’s known as the ‘isle of beauty’ and for once, the guidebook hyperbole is absolutely spot on. This is a place that puts nature first; all pesticides are banned on the island, the looming brand logos of corporate culture are nowhere to be seen – no golden arches or big coffee chains here – and marauding developers have been seen off by a people well-used to having been used throughout history by occupation forces. The land is theirs and they intend to keep it that way – beautiful, unspoilt and as it has always been.
Corsican Places offers 7 nights self-catering from £611pp, including flights, car hire and welcome pack. Corsica.co.uk, 01489 866931.
Corsican Places offers 7 nights self-catering from £399pp, including flights, car hire and welcome pack. Corsica.co.uk, 01489 866931.