Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Bastia

Sardinia – 9.10.23

Elephant Rock

Monday 9.10.23

We descend the slope to where the coach is waiting and we now commence to traverse the northern part of the island with our first pause at Elephant’s Rock which had two tombs carved inside and the rest of the shape resembles an Elephant.  An interesting curiosity if nothing else.

Castelsardo is our stopping place for lunch and we are dropped a little out of the town and descend to the current centre which has a circular open space (I can hardly call it a square!).  The town is dominated by (surprise, surprise) a Genoese fortress – Castello dei Doria!  We do not have the time to walk up to the castle but survey the choice of restaurants before selecting a very light lunch and a drink.

DMU at Sorso for Sassari

Moving onwards our coach takes us to Sorso which is the terminus of a railway line.  This line is operated by ARST – Sardinia regional transport – owned by the autonomous Sardinia regional administration.  It is mainly a bus operator but also operates a small number of railways plus it is responsible for the Green Trains – one of which we have already covered.  We join the train and head to Sassari – a major town on this side of the island – which is about 10km.  It uses 950mm gauge in common with other secondary lines.

Our service is one of the relatively modern (2017) Stadler units – there are nine of these and they provide a pleasant environment for the 15 minute journey to the large station of Sassari where there is now a barrier between the lines showing the separate ownership of the ARST and the main operator which we will mention later.

Having booked into the hotel I return to the station in the hope of catching a train to Porto Torres – when I arrive at the station it is showing as delayed and the anticipated departure appears to be growing.  Given the uncertainty I abandon the wait, which later turns out to be entirely justified as the service is terminated at Sassari and did not operate at all.  So a length of uncovered railway.

Instead I walk back up the hill to the hotel and onwards to the Town Square plus some side streets to track down a restaurant.  I only spot one candidate and initially reject it – but fellow travellers have been recommended to dine there so I retrace my steps to L’Assassino and book a table for later.  Our dinner is excellent and apart from our fellow travellers the courtyard tables all seem to be full with locals so a well like restaurant.


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.