Saturday, 2 June 2018

A field in Corsica

As any one who follows our blog should know Gill's equivalent of my ideal 'blue Med day' is her 'field in France'. Today we discovered that the paragon of 'un champ en France' is in fact in Corsica, or more precisely, located at Camping Ernella, about 25kms inland from Aleria in the valley of the Tavignano. 

On most of the Mediterranean's larger islands there is a distinct difference between the culture of the coast and the mountainous interior. The contrast predates the last few decades 'sun and fun' invasion - that is simply the most recent of many seaborne incursions, from ancient Greek colonists to Saracen pirates. However, the shepherds and pastoralists of the interior have been remarkably resilient at resisting coastal influences and managed to maintained a unique traditional culture for centuries. Of all the islanders, Corsicans have proved themselves the most fiercely independent.

That is not to say Inland Corsica is an unwelcoming place, but you do have to make an effort to seek out what remains its traditions. The most practical way of doing that would be to hire a car and stay at farm based B&Bs in the mountains. The most impractical method would be to attempt do this by motorhome. Most of Corsica's roads in the interior resemble ravelled string - narrow, steep and badly surfaced. The villages themselves, often perched on precipices, have narrow streets and overhanging balconies. Unsurprisingly, places to park motorhomes overnight are few and far between.

However, we did not want to visit Corsica and only stay by the sea. Our usual guidebooks, both print and on-line, ACSI, Campercontact, ParkforNight, - they all proved unhelpful. However, Google maps showed two unlisted campsites on the main road halfway between Aleria and Corté. The reviews were ok, though the term 'rustique' occurred repeatedly.. We decided to give it a go.

As soon as we turned onto the N200 and began to follow the valley of the Tavignano it became clear why the ancient Greek colonists chose to settle here. Vineyards and fruit farms abound, it must be the most fertile spot in Corsica. After a while we began to climb, the valley narrowed to a gorge but the road remained good. The sat-nav warned us that our destination was imminent, but I still managed to sail past the campsite entrance. About three kilometres further on I found a place to turn and retrace our steps. The entrance to Camping Ernella was narrow and steep; the owner came out to direct us, "Park anywhere," she indicated, waving her arm towards the empty camping field. We were the only guests.

The main camping area occupied a big field next to the owner's house. There were a few EHU points dotted about, but we decided to save €4 and rely on our solar and batteries. The place really did conform to the image conjoured-up by Gill's evocative phrase - a luscious meadow dotted with trees lost in a deep wooded valley with a cool river rippling nearby. Craggy mountains momentarily lost in wispy clouds towered above us. Spring flowers everywhere - poppies, scarlet pimpernel, wild sweet peas, dusky pink convolvulus - it was an outrageously beautiful scene, and we had it all to ourselves.

Scarlet pimpernels and daisies

Before bed I hopped out the van, utter darkness, stars scattered above - another perfect day. Not all days can be - Carpe diem perfectum!

Evening light
If anything, next morning was even bluer, not a wispy cloud to be seen. When we use campsites we tend to use their facilities rather than ours on board. The reviews were correct, kind even - very rustic. However everything worked, there was plenty of hot water and given the surroundings it would seem to be curmudgeonly to complain about corrugated iron toilet doors and a lack of hooks in the showers.

Rustic - and slightly rusting..

A brown bird with black and white tipped wings which we noticed yesterday returned, flitting about from mulberry tree to cork oak. We googled it and discovered it was a Jay. It was such a lovely morning I decided I wanted a swim. It was only a couple of hundred metres down the track to the river. The water was crystal clear, downstream of some rapids the river wound through a s-bend of loose schist cliffs. It formed a deep pool. I could see the river bed easily, but soon I was out of my depth. In the sunlit patches it was refreshingly cool, in the shadow of the rock overhang, bone-chilling.

The Tavignano - what else could you do on a morning like this than jump in?

Time was getting on, we needed to find some lunch stuff at E Leclerc at Aleria, then drive to Bastia. Though we stayed at Camping Ernella for less than a day, I will never forget it. Gill may yet seek the ultimate field in France, but I think we found it here.

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