Corsica is one of those destinations where the name itself gets your senses going. A Romanesque land of fantasy and history. A barren rock in the ocean covered in clefts. And, at the same time, it is a paradise just calling out to be explored. Julie Sarperi is a travel blogger and author of Carnets de Traverse. She stayed with Airbnb hosts Martine and Philippe, not far from the Restonica Valley, and followed their advice in discovering the wild parts of the Island of Beauty. Below, her travel journal is filled with mementos and recommendations from her adventure.
I hadn’t gone back to Corsica since my university years. When I arrive, my host Martine is waiting for us at the old inn set at the foot of a pink mountain, 10 or so kilometres outside Corte, which she has renovated with her husband Philippe.
The ‘Casa Magdala’ guest house is a large reddish building blends seamlessly into the D84 – or maybe it’s the other way around?
Martine shows us to ‘The Suite under the Stars’. We already feel far away from the outside world. But then, we also feel at home. Our host has taken great care to preserve the beautiful furniture and decorative objects that would have originally been found in this old family home. There’s the portrait of the grandfather who died in the First World War wearing his military uniform. There’s an old dresser, some metal tins that I am itching to open, candles, a fireplace. The flooring and beams have certainly been there for a long time. The atmosphere is somewhat like spending your summer holidays in a beautiful country house.
Martine knows Corsica’s history and its subtleties. Indeed, she’s truly passionate about it. No questions asked: we will be following her advice for exploring the region.
An Afternoon Swim
As it descends the little valley in front of the inn, the river has carved itself out a pretty riverbed with sandy banks almost as comfy as our bedroom. In high summer, kids come to jump the rocks at the ‘diving pit’.
Go down the dirt track after the little car park, cross the bridge and turn right down the little path through the maquis shrubland to some ruins. There, down below, you will come across a beautiful pool surrounded by white rocks, perfect for you to flip, bomb and dive.
Tara, Martine and Philippe’s dog, has followed us and looks like she’s having a field day. The end of May is still a little early for swimming in the river, but even the fragrance of the maquis delights us. Mmm! The scent of fig trees!
And what can one say about the light? That Southern light….
Exploring The Gorges of Asco
The further we drive along the valley, the narrower it becomes and the more we gaze about us, daydreaming. But not too much – driving in Corsica is definitely a sport. Especially in the mountains.
But it’s so beautiful. We’ve got just enough time before starting on our second marathon of the day: lunch.
Lunch at Chez Jacqueline
Jacqueline Costa has been serving the same menu at her restaurant for 51 years. Martine promised us “real Corsican” cuisine and lots of it.
Indeed, this is what we get. In the large white dining room (it’s much too windy to eat on the terrace under the vines) there are already quite a few locals and travellers. Even though we’ve just been seated, they warn us, “Above all, don’t eat any bread!” It’s a delicious temptation to be avoided at Chez Jacqueline!
We fed on a stream of fritters, lasagne, cannelloni and cheese. Jacqueline began cooking at 18 years old and this place is a family affair: her little daughter serves us in the dining room and I suspect that the kitchen is run exclusively by a workforce of aunts and cousins.
Le Relais – Chez Jacqueline
Set menu costs €25, out of season: lunchtimes only
A Journey Along the Scala di Santa Regina
It’s known as “le défilé de la Scala”. For a long time, the Scala di Santa Regina was the only route between the mountain and the plain. A mule track, a drover’s path. A mountain road made by the hand of man entirely out of rock. Magnificent dry stone switchbacks drawn into the granite, ancient stairs that seem to be carved out of rock.
“The destination isn’t the important thing; it’s the getting there that counts.”
On the D84 secondary road.
We pull over near to a little spring (the Scala is shown).
The best macaroons at Anne’s
Anne Marchetti’s Corsican macaroons are known to be the top, the taste of the maquis. Flavours like citron, chestnut whiskey, olive oil and honey from the arbutus and black fig sit alongside the more traditional pistachio, rose petal and fresh mint.
If you’re in the mood for a good bottle of wine, there’s also Le Clos Venturi. It’s a love story. Anne left Porto Vecchio to follow her love, a wine-grower. He produces a rare thing, high-altitude wine. Husband and wife – wine and macaroons – go well together in this big house built entirely from river stones.
Corte Taverna road
The Wild Wonders of La Restonica
It’s THE most popular valley of the region, but I’ve got nothing against the must-see sites. Sometimes you have to know when to indulge in the classics, the safe bets while, at the same time, trying to avoid the crowds.
On this rather rainy day at the end of May, we were quite alone and it was simply fantastic. There are beautiful pools of crystal clear water to swim in and hiking paths leading off in all directions. The most popular are those going up to lakes Mélo and Capitello.
Even just driving up to the car park at the top is worth the trip. More than once it reminded me of Yosemite – OK, it’s true, I’ve never been there, but still, I promise you: I’ve seen loads of photos on Instagram and it really looks like it.
Two other suggestions from Martine:
* The Niolu valley and Lake Ninu (1,743 m), with wild horses, sheep: a beautiful hike, around a five-hour round-trip (plus an hour to go round the lake).
* La Castagniccia, a region filled with chestnut trees, impressive churches and painted convents. It’s also home to the Orezza spring, where Corsica’s famous sparkling water comes from (you can visit the factory).
Thanks to Philippe, Martine, Jacqueline, Anne, Audrey, Padoune, Tony, Tara, Scotty, Flora, Grisouille, Lilou, Bonux, Eliot, Sissi, Basile, Câline, Margot, Charlie, Noémie and Jules for their hospitality, charm and friendliness. (Not all of them are human, but that doesn’t matter; I can guarantee they are all 100% Corsican.)
Julie Sarperi is founder of Carnets de traverse, a blog created in 2007 and dedicated to travel,. Julie is always on the road, photographing the world with her Leica camera. In her blog she shares her most amazing experiences and most inspiring addresses. You’ll often find her here and there bargain-hunting for her little travelling treasures: tickets, old photos, etc. Read her stories at carnets-de-traverse.com.