Wednesday, 23 May 2018

At what point do I throw myself in?

The short answer - not yet. The weather forecast pinned up in the campsite reception noted sea temperatures of around 19°, not bone-chilling, but hardly inviting either. In fact the weather generally has been mixed and unseasonably cool right across the western Mediterranean. There is a kind of meteorology reversal going on; the conditions here resembling a bracing Scandinavia spring, whereas the Baltic is basking in Mediterranean warmth, Stockholm being listed two days ago as Europe's warmest capital. This would be of passing, academic interest had we not abandoned a planned trip to Denmark and Sweden for this one, on the basis, after England's snowy April, that what we really needed were blue skies and some southern warmth.

A distinctly northern looking sky
. However this morning it is a little warmer, 18° in the van without needing the heating and looking up through the bedroom skylight I can see a deep blue sky beyond the eucalyptus branches, which, unlike yesterday, are not wafting about in a chilly breeze. 

Blue sky morning
So, packing a towel and trunks into the cycle panniers the other day has developed from an expression of hope to one of expectation. At what point do I throw myself in? Quite soon, I think, but not here - the campsite's beach near Porto Vecchio promotes itself as being safe for children - which means shelving so gently that even 100m from shore the sea barely reaches an adult's knees. Paddling does not count as jumping in.

Camp site beach - shallow bay.
Another nice wooded site with hazardous branches

Sadly the forecast is more optimistic than reality. The former predicting long sunny spells with occasional cloud and the latter precisely the opposite. It's certainly not beach weather, so we cycled into the nearby town of Porto Vecchio. 

It took rather longer than expected as a large luxury yacht was being moved by tractor and trailer. It was so tall that a brave soul was in duty on the top deck with a long billhook raising drooping telephone wires so the yacht could progress very slowly. 

Eventually we arrived at the marina and port area. A Corsica Ferry was moored up. There is a service from here to Porto Torres in Sardinia. We had considered extending our current trip to include Sardinia using this route as the Bonafcio crossing involved driving through the old town, which is not a moho friendly place. In the end we decided that six weeks was insufficient to tour both islands, though given we are a week ahead in our plan, maybe we would have had the time. Oh well, another trip maybe.

The harbour area of Porto Vecchio looks to have been redeveloped in the 1970s. The surrounding apartment blocks it are grim. The old town on the hill above lies within the remains of a bastion, one of a series of fortress ports built by the Genovese, including Bastia, Ile Rousse and Calvi.

Like much of Corsica, until the last half century, Porto Vecchio was impoverished, undeveloped and somewhat dilapidated. A photograph of the main square dated 1960 looks a century older. The contrast between then and now could not have been more stark, given that the image is part of tourism 'fitness walk' with distances and kcals burned duly noted on the waymarked signs, each adorned by a 'vintage' photo. The irony here is inescapable. For many Corsicans for most of their history consuming enough daily calories to keep body and soul together would have been the issue. Now the aim is to burn them off. I guess this is progress.

Tourism dominates Porto Vecchio. Almost every shop exists to meet visitor's needs, not locals. Many summer frock and straw hat shops, 'produit Corse' delicatessens, tacky gift shops - the usual thing. It's all a bit dispiriting. This side of Corsica, across from the Italian mainland, feels like a slightly less crowded version of the western resorts of the Cote d'Azur, such as Frejus and Ste. Maxime, more mainstream touristy Med than the more remote and mountainous north and west of the island. 

Summer frock shops - no customers

Lots of restaurants - mainly empty

We did our bit for the local economy and bought two small ice creams....
In the next day or two we are planning to search out a place we discovered on our first visit here. The beach at Rondinara is one of the most famous in the western Mediterranean. It is quite remote down a 6km dirt track. The campsite is about half a kilometre inland from the sea lost amongst the maquis. We remember it as being wild and idyllic. Will it have changed? Have we changed, have all our wanderings over the past twenty years made us a little more sceptical and more difficult to charm? Will the sun finally break through? Will I get to use the new snorkel I bought? So many unknowns that only the future can reveal.

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