Holidays and Other Excursions

Category: France

Corsica – Sardinia – 7.10.23

Bonifacio Cliffs

Saturday  7.10.23

This morning it is bright and warm again and I have a wander around Sartené taking some photographs of the town – it is very steep to get out of the hotel but once at the higher level it is reasonably flat around the town centre and there are some welcoming restaurants around the square – very pleasant all the way round.  Our coach has to leave the hotel with some careful navigation the wrong way along a one-way road – one of the hotel staff stands at the far end of the one-way stretch and prevents vehicles coming the other way as we exit.

We proceed through the southern part of the island to the port at Bonifacio, which like Calvi and Ajaccio has a string of restaurants along the water’s edge and we choose one for lunch.  The weather remains unseasonably warm and it is very pleasant to be able to eat outdoors so often.

An inter-island and international ferry, M/F Ichnusa, provides the transport between France and Italy,  With experience from our earlier ferry journey this time we secure our cases and carrying important items we are able to secure the cases in the facility at the rear of the ferry – no attempt to hoik them up numerous staircases this time.  Leaving Bonifacio the cliffs are an outstanding feature which is duly recorded and we then head to Sardinia.  Approach Teresa Gallura it is somewhat surprising when we reverse onto the berth.  The ferry is a little unusual in that it is not a normal ro-ro – the vehicles do indeed roll on and off – but always at the stern as there is no ability to open at the bow end.

A new coach collects us to move us across to Palau where we are in a hotel for the next couple of nights.  The hotel is approached by quite a steep slope and stairs making it memorable for the wrong reasons!

Once booked in and clothes slightly re-ordered as we are here for a couple of nights we wander down the hill to the town.  There appears to be a variety of restaurants and we make our choice before having to face the climb back – it seems much further uphill!

 

Corsica – 6.10.23

Napoleon Bonaparte overseeing Ajaccio

Napoleon Bonaparte overseeing Ajaccio

Friday 6.10.23

Having packed yesterday we move on and we are separated from our luggage as we leave it in the hotel reception and walk to the station whilst the luggage will meet us in Ajaccio.

Once again an AMG 800 – also pretty noisy but we avoid sitting on adjacent to the motors today.  We start with the same route as yesterday trying to spot the now closed line which branched off at Casamozza to Porto-Vecchio a small town on the south east corner of the island.  This suffered badly during WWII and part closed as a result with the rest closing in 1953.  Partial re-opening has been considered but seems unlikely.

The line runs through some amazing landscapes, not quite as dramatic as yesterday – but equally remote and unoccupied for much of the journey.  Until Vivvazona the road and rail are not that far apart but the line enters a tunnel and the road climbs over a pass nearly 4000ft above sea level and can be closed in winter.  Road and rail come closer to each other around the Viaduc du Fondali.  They then separate and wind their own ways through the valleys as we head (typically) in a south westerly direction although we probably visit most of the other points of the compass as we twist and turn.  This is more obvious looking later at a map as I spend the trip watching the countryside through the window.

Ajaccio is the capital and (not surprisingly) there is a large fortress of Genoese origin adjacent to the original harbour.  There is a much more modern harbour where one of Cunard Queens is berthed for the day as part of a Mediterranean cruise.  We walk along the harbour front to the Town Square.

Historically Napoleon Bonaparte was born here in 1769 (or possibly 1768) and did not initially learn French which was required before he could enter Military College.  Needless to say as a cruise ship port the town now celebrates Napoleon!  Following a light lunch we return to the Town Square and rather than exert ourselves await the departure of one of the two Dotto trains.  Be careful when buying tickets – there are two trains – and one takes longer than the other, our time was limited so we could not take the longer trip and initially bought the wrong tickets – which were exchanged and the difference refunded without difficulty once we realised.

The train takes us to the Monument to Napoleon I in the Place d’Austerlitz which  was inaugurated in 1938 following a public subscription which had commenced in 1935.  We also pass the Buonaparte house and the fortress on a circular route around the town.  The town also attracts winter visitors as it maintains a relatively mild climate at 59 deg F during the winter months.

Timewise we should not have worried as our coaches materialises later than anticipated and we now take another twisty journey, but this time by road, initially eastwards but then south to Sartené a hill town in the south of the island.  An important activity in this area is wine growing and it makes a welcome place to stop for the evening, although on first sight it appears a little vertiginous.  Dinner in the hotel as the walk even up to the road appears steep.

 

 

Corsica – 5.10.23

AMG 804

AMG 804

Thursday 5.10.23

This is a railway holiday and today we finally get to see a train and indeed ride on some!  The remaining railways in Corsica form in outline a “Y” shape.  Running roughly north-east to south-west is the line from Bastia to Ajaccio which will be our main journey tomorrow but today we are headed across the top of the island to Calvi – via Ponte-Lecchia where our train will reverse and wind away into the hills to our destination.

The prime movers on the island are a fleet of AMG 800 units which are an earlier version of the units which run out of Nice along the Chemin de Fer de Provence line which we visited some years ago.  The bogies have been adjusted with the addition of a tilting facility to suit the tight and twisting Corsican permanent way and on initial entry into service, technical problems led to the fleet being grounded until it could be re-engineered.  There are a total of 12 units and they are maintained in a modern depot at Casamozza built a few years ago to allow complete redevelopment of the new Bastia station which is our starting point.

Initially, having passed through a tunnel, the line heads south passing alongside a number of smaller towns where we pause briefly until we reach Casamozza.  the depot to the left of the line in the direction in which we are heading.  The line now swings around to the right and the route commences twisting left and right as we start a more significant climb away from sea level and into the hills in the centre of the island.

Ponte-Lecchia, as already mentioned, is where the two lines diverge and a service arrives from Ajaccio to enable interchange before we reverse and take the diverging line to Calvi where, if anything, the curves are ever tighter.  Previously we had been tracking a river but now for a while our accompaniment is a road – which eventually twists away in a different direction and the train is on its own in an amazing mountainous landscape which appears to be largely uninhabited with no obvious occupants in any direction.  We emerge on the other side of the mountains commencing a descent and pass some small settlements as we head towards sea level.

At L’île-Rousse we are again hogging the coastline which lies to the right of us and one of the ferries from here to the mainland is currently present.  From here to Calvi there is a local service along the same line referred to as the “Tramway of La Balangue” which utilises much older rolling stock and works back and forth to a limited  (more frequent in summer) timetable serving the large number of villages which lie largely between the railway line and the sea.

Calvi is a pretty little town on the north western coast line with ferries to Nice and to Vado Ligure in Italy.  Historically it was developed after 1950 as a holiday destination mainly by the Horizon Group and I can see the attraction.  The hill above is surmounted by a Genoese fortress which was rebuilt in 1491.  There is an attractive run of restaurants along the waterfront here – with lots of bibbly-bobbly boats.  The appeal as a  holiday destination with trips to the other villages along the coast is immediately obvious and might be a nice place to get some sun for a week with trips to the other villages.

Admiral Nelson and Lieutenant-General Charles Stuart had little time to contemplate the leisure aspects of the town when capturing it in 1794, following the siege of Calvi during which Nelson lost his eye.  We have a group walking tour through the town and then up and around the fort above including the plaque recording the loss of B17 bomber on 14 February 1944.  We also visit to the Cathedral which is within the fortress.

Our return trip almost mirrors the outward journey – which is hardly a surprise.  The exception is at Ponte-Lecchia where we disembark to join a train from Ajaccio heading to Bastia.  For this section of the journey we are sitting over a very noisy motor – to be honest these units seem to have particularly loud Deutz engines – and whilst I admit they are working hard there is a lot of energy going into sound rather than traction!

Once back at the hotel we eat in the small restaurant attached to it in pleasant evening warmth.  The scenery is outstanding throughout the journey and it is impossible to convey how beautiful it was in the afternoon sunlight on the return journey.

Corsica – 4.10.23

Wednesday 4.10.23

We remain in Bastia today as we have a walking tour from our hotel through the town square and onwards.  Essentially we are walking south with the seafront to our left and again the temperatures are well above expectation – so sunscreen protection is needed.

Corsica remains part of France but there are significant powers vested in the Corsican Assembly which rules the island from Ajaccio with Bastia being the second largest town.   However it was not always this way and at one stage Corsica was (almost inevitably for a Mediterranean island) part of the Roman Empire, subsequently coming under the control of the March of Tuscany.  The rise to power of  Pisa led to them taking control in the 11th century with the northern end of the island seeing the construction of many Genoese fortresses to act as a repellent to the threat of an Arab invasion.  From 1284 the Genoese became dominant until 1767 when (having lost control of much of the island) sold it to the French who lost control in 1794 to an Anglo-Corsican alliance.  That did not last long when the British withdrew in 1796 and French control was re-established.

So a mixed history and there is a strong local language which can be understood by many Italians as it is closely related; the other local language is French.  There is some evidence of a wish to become independent – FLNC  (National Liberation Front of Corsica) appearing as graffiti, alongside “French go home”, defiling many walls.  However it is not entirely clear how serious the current movement might be having been dormant for a few years.

Beyond the main square is a shopping street and we come across A Tinella which is a decent looking cheese shop (and we note wines).  At this point we also feel that our walking range is always slightly limited and having consulted the online guides one item we do wish to see is the Silver statue of the Virgin Mary within the Sainte Marie Cathedral which is at the far southern end of the town in the oldest part of the fortress area.  So we head off in that direction leaving the group behind and from sea level to the older town it seems we have to ascend numerous steps at the Ramp of St Charles.  Eventually I find the main entrance to the Cathedral – which is completely closed.  A local resident shows me the way to the working side entrance (repair works in progress) and we are able to access the Cathedral and then find the statue.

For those who want an easy way to get there we have odd sightings of a Dotto train around the town – but never when we want to use it!

We had hoped to see the local equivalent of a model of the town in the Musée de la Miniature for which we see signposts – but on reaching it the location appears locked up and permanently closed.  It does however enable us to get back to almost sea level and a very pleasant walk around the edge of a marina and then back into the town.  Dinner is acquired from the previously mentioned cheese shop which we repass on the return journey and on reaching the town square we choose one of the restaurants for a lunch before walking the rest of the way back to the hotel.

In the later afternoon I make use of the rooftop pool area – both for some sun and then a little later in the pool itself.  A good way to spend the day.

 

Corsica 3.10.23

Tuesday 3 October 2023

This morning we have a n early crossing to Corsica, so leaving Italy for France.  In retrospect the journey has elements of high comedy although at the time it was less amusing than that.

Minibuses were booked for our transit to the ferry – it is an early sailing and given the potential for delays in crossing a national frontier the arrangements indicated an early arrival at the port.  We joined the first minibus and headed off to Livorno, where our driver seemed not to know the departure point for the ferries.  The other minibuses were late and so the tour manager convinced a number of taxis to take them to the port gate – which they reached before us even though they had started their journeys somewhat later.

Our last experience of Mediterranean ferries was visiting Greek Islands and we have a distinct memory of cases being piled high and Jackie was never convinced that some cases left the ferry with the right owners – no checking mechanism – so we sat in sight of the cases at all times.  For this journey we are offered two options for our luggage – either a cupboard at the rear of the ship as we boarded or to keep them with us – so probably wrongly we opted to retain them – something I regretted as I had to get both cases up about four decks inside the ferry.  A fool and his money may soon be parted – but the Whitbreads and their luggage – never!

The ferry is Mobyferries and is decorated to reflect the “Looney Tunes” characters and serves a Wily E Coyote breakfast – which might impress some young travellers but cold scrambled egg remains cold scrambled egg!

We retire to the bar with our luggage and remain there throughout the journey – we are not going to lose our cases.

The appointed transport is awaiting us in Bastia – although as we can see the hotel once we have disembarked it probably was not necessary – the Port Toga Hotel immediately adjacent to the Dock Gates was modern and attractive.  It has dining facilities immediately outside and is not far from the marina with other dining options.  This is our first chance to unpack some of our bags as we are here several nights and can have a bit of a sort out.  It looks like being much warmer than expected so tracking down all the lightest clothes is the way forward.

Dinner down in the marina is a huge pork chop amongst the bibbly bobbly boats and a pleasant evening.

Italy and France – 1.10.23

Sunday 1 October 2023

Time for a new adventure, travelling this time with PTG Tours – with whom we visited the (undocumented) Douro Valley just about a year ago and we are partaking of another tour, in view of how well the previous one ran – this time Pisa, Corsica and then Sardinia.  This is the first time the tour has run post-covid and inevitably the world has changed significantly since the operator wrote the original brochure for this tour and indeed there were uncertainties around aspects even at the time of our departure from the UK.

Unusually for my travels in recent times we are allowed onto the tarmac at Gatwick and head up the rear boarding steps as all operators are keen to minimise time on the ground and utilising the rear steps speeds up the process (and we are sitting near the rear so it suits us) and allows a photograph of the plane!

EasyJet provide our transport to Italy and this time Jackie and her luggage are re-united (unlike her return from Israel).  We are a decent sized group enhanced by some Australians with further travellers due to join us in Sardinia, so quite a mixture.  Most of the participants are, it seems, likely to be more interested in the scenery and similar rather than the trains, although to me this is a railway holiday with a hope to try and cover most of the railways on the two islands.

The good news is that our hotel is immediately adjacent to the Cathedral and the Leaning Tower and we walk past them to reach the street full of restaurants which we had previously identified as the location for dinner.  We walk  past a number and it is more or less a question of tossing a coin, we make a choice as finding the precise one we had found online was not simple (slight difference in name – I do spot the restaurant the following day).