Most people think of Calvi and Bastia as the main points of northern Corsica but there is far more to discover off the beaten track as Steve Newman explains.
Corsica has to be one of the most spectacular regions of France, the snow capped mountain scenery and forests of the interior are truly unforgettable, whilst the southern coast with towns such as Ajaccio and Porto-Vecchio are very popular.
However, the northern part of the island also has much to offer but is often ignored by British visitors. This northern region of Corsica stretches from Bastia in the East to Calvi in the west and includes the Cap Corse peninsula. We stayed in the coastal village of St Florent and explored the region by walking in desert like areas, driving along mountainous trails and experiencing pure white sandy beaches. This area too is famous for its cheeses and wines whilst its seafood is simply superb.
This part of Corsica is known as the Nebbio region and charcuterie and cheese are a way of life here as the wild pigs are left to roam free and feed on chestnuts, acorns and other natural foods. This gives their meats a special flavour and you will find many local charcuteries where the meat has been prepared by the owners from their own animals, try the figatellu, (smoked sausage) and prizuttu (cured ham) washed down with a fruity Malvasia made from grapes grown on the Cap Corse terraced vineyards.
St Florent is one of those places that is just too large to be a village and too small to be a town but it makes a good base to explore the north of the island as both Calvi (2 hours) and Bastia (1 hour) are within easy reach.
With about 1500 inhabitants it still retains much of its charm with its pastel washed houses, restaurants and bars that have no wide screen televisions with Match of the Day blaring out. In fact most of the local’s money comes from the sailing boats and huge motor yachts that make the short trip here from Italy and France as the string of some twenty plus restaurants along the front testify. Do please note that in the summer the village can get very busy and noisy but if you have an apartment overlooking the harbour it’s well worth it. However in the old part of the village behind the seafront you will still find traditional life as it has gone on for centuries with small restaurants and shops serving local dishes, fish, cheeses, the local pate and wines that are a marvelous assault on the taste buds.
You’ll also find La Maison de Pizzas where everything is cooked in wooden fired ovens. It’s very popular with the locals and there’s also a little hatch where you can order a takeaway. We took our picnic up the short walk from the square to the old citadel. There is not much left of the original 15th century Genoese fort but from its ramparts you can get amazing views of Cap Corse, the old village and the mountains beyond. If you really do want to try something different, then pay a visit to the open air cinema just to the south of the town!
St Florent also offers one other excellent reason to use it as your base as you can take a boat from the harbour for a 10 Euros return trip to the beautiful white beach at Plage du Loto on the edge of the Désert des Agriates, a wilderness of chalk and maquis scrub where the only sign of human life are found in the ‘pagliaghji’ that provide shelter for shepherds and their sheep. Covering 60 square miles, until the 1850s this was the bread basket of Corsica but now the fields are abandoned and the maquis or ‘mucchio’ has invaded the terrain.
The boat drops you, via a rubber dingy, on to the Plage du Loto beach where you can stay until the return journey or if you like to take a three-hour walk back along the coast to St Florent. The beach is also the start for an easy 30-minute walk to the magnificent beach the Plage de Saleccia but do take a hat, plenty of water and sun cream if you attempt either.
St Florent is full of restaurants cafes and boutiques along the harbour catering for the visiting Italian and French sailing and motor yachts. The main town square is now a dedicated boules court with often six or seven games going on each evening and is surrounded by cafes where you can sit and idly watch the locals whilst you try out some of the local delicacies.