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.