How do you get about in Corsica? The island is less than 200 kilometers long but has spiny mountain ranges everywhere. Until well into the 19th century, most roads were mule tracks and many villages were isolated and almost inaccessible. We’ve tried doing Corsica without a vehicle. And I know that Writers Abroad friend Paola lived dangerously while hitchhiking there once. But if you want to see the sights, you’ve got to do it by car.
End of story? Not really. Driving in Corsica is an adventure in itself as we found during our holiday at the end of September. A few good, European-subsidised roads link the main towns. They afford fabulous views of the scenery but you miss a lot if you stick to them only.
The other roads, almost without exception, are narrow, twisting, switchback affairs, often built into the side of a mountain with a sheer, unfenced drop on one side. Since you meet other hazards, such as cows and pigs in the middle of the road, not to mention the not always prudent Corsican drivers, you have to keep your wits about you. All this requires a rather different approach to driving.
We stayed a couple of nights in Albertacce in the Niolo Valley, reached via a narrow mountain pass with tour coaches looming improbably as you round the bends. The jolly woman who runs the B&B said, “In Corsica we don’t talk about distances in kilometers we talk about how long it takes to get there!”
A case in point was a visit to Morosaglia on the edge of the chestnut-forested area of the Castagniccia. This was the birthplace of Pascal Paoli, father of Corsica’s short-lived republic in the 18th century and I was keen to see it. At the turn-off in Ponte-Leccia the signpost indicated 15 kilometres to Morosaglia. “That won’t take long,” we said. Famous last words. Forty minutes later the fortress-like buildings of the village came into view.
Paoli’s house was worth the visit and we had the place to ourselves. There are statues of him everywhere around the island and countless paintings and drawings of him at the museum. Maybe he was a bit vain: he was said to be very handsome but never married, presumably because destiny had marked him out for great things.
We had to go all the way back by the same route, mostly in second gear, avoiding the odd rock fall and various livestock. I was driving and the SF kept leaning towards me.
“Sorry,” he said. “But there’s a sheer drop on my side of the car.” He doesn’t like heights.
Our hairiest experience was driving along the Restonica Valley near Corte in central Corsica. The scenery is breath-taking, with the river rushing along below the road and the mountains soaring up on either side. This is a popular route since it ends in a walk up to two mountain lakes. Unfortunately, for much of its length the route is single-track with passing places. If you meet another car you have to fold in the wing mirrors and inch past.
Coming back down we were on the side of the road with a steep drop into the river. We met not only a car but also a cow coming towards us – a case of force majeure. The SF had to reverse gingerly while I leaned out of the door to make sure the rear wheel didn’t slip off into the void – taking the rest of the car with it.
So driving in Corsica is not for the faint-hearted. But we love the place and will surely go back – once we’ve saved up for it.
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