Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Mooching towards a perfect day

The rocky road from Rondinara
Once we decided to leave Rondinara, the inevitable question - where next? Northwards towards Bastia Gill found six sites listed in Acsi, two were naturist - err... no - which left the remaining four. The first, 'Camping Eucalyptus' at Solana was by the main road in a patch of woodland by a god forsaken looking beach. We drove in, wandered about, it was somewhat ramshackle, so we drove back out. 

There were two more sites 20kms further on at Ghisonaccia. The village is the nearest you get in Corsica to the large sprawling 1960s French tourist developments like Marseillan Plage on the Languedoc coast. The place itself is bland and soulless; still, we followed the camping signs down towards the sea. As we approached the turn-off for the first site, suddenly we were surrounded by a large flock of scrawny sheep. They were making their way towards a fromagerie; ewes milk cheese is a Corsican speciality. As the sheep were blocking the road to the first site we carried on to the second. It was big, commercial looking and somewhat regimented. No, not our style - we motored on towards Aleria. If the place is terrible, we agreed, we could always return here.

No ewe turn
Luckily, the Marina de Aleria site seemed Ok, a typical seaside site in pine trees next to be beach, reminiscent of the places on the Atlantic coast in Les Landes we used when the children were small. We pitched un-enthusiastically, with a 'it will do I suppose' attitude. Our spirits were depressed further when, as darkness fell, it began to rain steadily. 

There was a knock on our door. The Dutchman next door had spotted our awning was drooping in the middle, I had pitched it at too shallow an angle, it was slowly filling with rain. No problem, thanking him profusely, I hopped out of the van, lowered the front awning leg, this released the trapped rainwater. With comic timing worthy of Mr. Bean 20 litres of cold water fell on my head. My neighbour roared with laughter, "You've made my day!" He kept repeating. I managed a wan smile and swiftly retreated indoors to wring out my tee shirt and shorts in the shower.

Next day the weather improved. We had a practical morning cleaning the van and doing our laundry. A cycle track runs from the beach side site to the small village of Aleria. It's a modern development in the main, but not unpleasant and has a small, but well stocked E Leclerc supermarket and a bank - all useful. The site's facilities are hardly luxurious, but serviceable with plenty of hot water in the showers and washing-up sinks.

Though the site was almost full - again mainly families with small children - because the pool, sports field and tennis courts are some distance from the pitches there was none of the problems we experienced at Rondinara with feral tweenies. Indeed, the problem now was not unsupervised kids but overbearing parents. The French Swiss family next to us in a minuscule VW Camper had two kids, one a boy about five, and his younger sister - almost two, at a guess. Dad seemed to spend the whole time lecturing them, he went on and on in a measured, but admonishing tone. This made the kids miserable. They cried half the day. I dubbed them - Prince and Princess of Wails.

The estuary of the Tavignano
Aleria is situated at the mouth of one of Corsica's larger rivers, the Tavignano. The landscape here is gentle by Corsican standards, the mountains some miles inland beyond a broad fertile plain growing vines and fruit. As well as the river mouth, there is a large tidal inlet nearby. It's name, L'etang de Diana, reveals the area's classical heritage. The Greeks established a colony here in 578BC and afterwards the settlement was in turn controlled by the Carthaginians, and Romans, continuing to be the major town on the east coast until the Genovese developed Bastia in the sixteenth century. 

The area began to grow on us, 'it's ok here' becoming 'its really nice'. There is nothing spectacular about it, but wandering down the beach at twilight among driftwood sculpted by the wind and waves, or pedalling around the coastal tracks through dunes awash with flowers, the charm of the place is irresistible. Yesterday was lovely, today one of those perfect Mediterranean days, the ones that call you back south when really you had been determined to explore Scandinavia.

Driftwood = Travis earworm
So, what is a perfect day? It started well with temperatures first thing hovering in the low twenties with a gentle cool breeze blowing in off the sea. We had breakfast, bought some bread for lunch from the site shop then pedalled north past Aleria's 'Réserve du président' Cave Cooperative, it's vineyards covering the old dunes. Soon the tarmac ends and you are on a network sandy tracks. Apart from a ramshackle beach bar  'La paill'hot' the area is completely undeveloped, acres of scrubby dunes covered in spectacular wild flowers. 

Quiet tracks by the sea - Ebike perfection

Carpeted with wild flowers is not a cliche hereabouts
After a few kilometres you reach the entrance to the L'etang de Diane. It is guarded by a ruined Mortello tower and an old breakwater protects the inlet itself. The oysters and mussels produced here are famous - Napoleon Bonaparte's favourites allegedly. The Etang is off limits to the public but the empty, peaceful beaches are reason enough to make the trip. I reminded myself to pack my swimming trunks and snorkel if we returned another day.

Etang de Diane

home to Napoleon's favourite oysters


The towers are there to protect the populace from Saracen pirate raids - not keep the oysters safe.

The concrete breakwater probably protects the oyster beds.

We returned to the campsite for lunch. By now the clouds on the distant mountains had dissolved, blue skies prevailed. Gill cooked up a courgette and mint frittata, the thermometer notched up towards the 30s. We relaxed for a bit. However, we did have afternoon plans. 

Yay! outside kitchen moment...
The site of ancient Aleria is situated on a rocky outcrop above the river, about two kilometres south of the modern town. We are still using the guidebook we bought for our first trip, though it is almost a quarter of a century out of date, it still seems accurate enough. At least so I hoped, because it mentioned that the Genovese fortress at the old town had an interesting small museum containing pottery excavated from the archaeological site. 

Ancient Aleria's old citadel occupies an outcrop about two kilometres south of the modern village.
First we had to find it. Though the turn-off was only a kilometre up the main road it was not a comfortable ride. The traffic on the T10 is fast and unforgiving towards cyclists. So keen were we to get off the main road that we headed off at the junction prior the archaeological site. This only became apparent after a few kilometres when the 'nearby' ruins were nowhere to be seen. The valley of the Tavignano was beautiful on this gloriously sunny late May afternoon, so we were not too put out about our accidental detour. We just turned around and read the sign properly.

unusually pastoral for Corsica - but lovely nonetheless
What was once a substantial settlement of 30,000 people is now reduced to a tiny village on top of a crag overlooking the coastal plain, the original acropolis I suppose. The current buildings are from the medieval period. The museum is housed in the Genovese fortress. 

All that remains of the old city is a hamlet of a few houses gathered arounf an ancient church and Genovese fort


The excellent archaeological museum is housed in the old fortress.
Our antique Rough Guide did not lie, even better, the entrance fee no longer apples - it was free. The collection of ceramics reflect ancient Aleria's strategic position at the intersection of Greek, Carthaginian, Etruscan and Roman sphere's of influence. There are superb examples of pottery from all these cultures, from the 5th to the 2nd centuries BC. In particular the collection of 4th century Attic red figure ware is stunning. We spent over an hour being wowed. We did not expect work of such quality to be on show.

Vernacular ware from the  6th century BC - possibly S. Italy

Ancient Etruscan ware

Attic Black Vase - late 5th century?
Attic Red figure Krater - early 4th century BC perhaps?

Back to earth with a bump - a short, but scary ride downhill to modern Aleria, a quick visit to E Leclerc, - we had plans. Up until the last few days the weather had been too unreliable to unpack the outside kitchen. In celebration of outside kitchen moment - tonight's menu - hake cooked en papillote  on a bed of Puy lentils, grilled peppers, sauteed spuds. What we needed was a bottle of local white produced from a grape variety unique to Corsica grown less than half a kilometre from our pitch.  E Leclerc duly supplied..

Our en papillote  culinary triumph!


The meal was delicious, the sun-set, the stars popped out into a velvety sky, the night was warm, eventually, next door, the Prince and Princess of Wails dropped-off, Scops owls bleeped among the pines trees - a perfect day. Very few days are perfect. Today happened to be one of them..

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