Wednesday 18 May 2011

A Wedding Favour

It’s always nice to get a bit of extra time to walk when you weren’t really expecting it.

For our recent Corsica trip, our flight was scheduled for very early Sunday morning. But for some reason – some wedding, if I remember rightly – we also had an extra day off on the Friday as well, which meant we had two days to fill as we saw fit.

Friday morning, we spent packing and dipping into the wedding coverage. After an early lunch, with everything loaded and ready to go, we headed to the Chilterns – part way to the airport – where we had managed to find a cheap hotel deal for two nights. It’s only about a one-and-a-half-hour drive to the Ashridge Estate, so by 2.30pm we were parked up by the Bridgewater Monument, ready to go.

As you might imagine it was fairly busy, but by the time we had wandered a few yards away there were far less people about. We followed a level track through woods thick with carpets of Bluebells on either side, and between the trees we could see the surrounding ridges and vales.

At the end of the track we turned northwards and made our way up on to Ivinghoe Beacon, a prominent outcrop on the chalk downs and end point of the Ridgeway, the ancient track running across the high ground all the way from Overton Hill near Avebury, some 87 miles away. Hmmmm, now there’s a possibility.

The weather had been quite warm and sunny so far, but as we climbed up to the summit of the Beacon we could see a brusque storm rapidly advancing. Almost before we knew it, it had arrived. So it was waterproofs on, and quickly – the rain was quite sharp, turning to hail briefly.

We followed the track back, drying out on the way. In fact so rapid was the change back to sunny again we were pretty dry by the time we got back and couldn’t resist the lure of an ice cream!

Next morning we made the short drive to Wigginton, near Tring. Firstly, we followed a four-mile stretch of the Ridgeway through Hastoe and Chivery before swinging round to Buckland Common where we had a pint and a very nice, very long, very large lunch at the White Lion. That just left a three-mile stagger back to the car. Lovely.

Later, we did a few final errands and bits of shopping prior to turning in early since we would have to be up at 1.00am. But we had enjoyed a lovely, relaxing couple of days, completed 16 miles of easy walking by way of a warm up for Corsica, and were raring to go. And that is what you call a real bonus.

So here’s to the Royal Wedding – may there be many more of them.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Mare a Mare Nord, Corsica 1st – 8th May 2011

The centrepiece of this holiday to the wonderful Mediterranean island of Corsica was a 5-day walk from the island’s mountainous centre to the dramatic west coast, combining sections of the well-known routes the Mare a Mare North and the Tra Mare e Monti plus part of the ancient trade route from Ota to Piana.

We booked this on the basis that most ground arrangements, accommodation, meals and transfers had been pre-arranged, with maps and trip notes supplied to help us with the walking. Between the three – maps, notes and waymarks – the routes are generally very easy to follow.

We had last been this way in May 2008 when completing the Mare a Mare Sud path, a 5-day coast-to-coast walk across the south of the island, and were really looking forward to reaquainting ourselves with the island’s countryside, wildlife, culture and food.

Spring is a good time to walk these paths. Although there may be odd showers, there is much clear air and the temperatures do not reach the hideous heights of the summer months, where 35º plus is not uncommon – too hot for walking as far as we are concerned. Even so, in early May, temperatures were nudging the mid 20ºs in the open on occasion, so it was pleasantly warm for much of the time and rarely were more than two layers needed, even in the cool of the evenings.


Mileage = 52.26 miles
Ascent = 3,170m
Descent = 3,088m


IGN Carte de Randonnée 4250 OT 1;25,000 – Corte & Monte Cinto
IGN Carte de Randonnée 4150 OT 1;25,000 – Porto & Calanche de Piana

Sunday 1st May 2011

Day 1: Arrival

We arrived in Ajaccio early on a Sunday morning after our no-frills flight from Gatwick had landed pretty much on time. Being so early, our plan was to spend a little time walking around the town and finding a spot of lunch before checking in to our hotel.

Of course, it was the only day of the year that buses weren’t running between the airport and the town centre, so we hailed a cab instead and were soon pootling along the main pedestrianised shopping street, Rue du Cardinal Fesch.

Being a National Holiday, there was little activity bar the most dedicated of traders. So we worked our way through town in the sunshine to the beach below Bvd Pascal Rossini, past the citadel, and eventually back round to the marina for something to eat. These ports are the hang out of some of the Med’s “beautiful people” – not quite Saint Tropez or Monte Carlo, perhaps, but you get the idea – so, in our walking gear, we fitted in perfectly. Well maybe not, but who cares.

We settled to a bit of people watching and a light lunch (Jules = Charcuterie / Missyg = Chèvre Chaud) before popping back up to the hotel to book in, unpack and change. Having risen at something like 1.00am, we had a snooze, too. Then we set about the business of re-packing our backpacks – having brought only these and a lightweight bag as hand luggage we needed to reorganise them slightly for trekking, sorting things into dry bags and making sure urgent things were at the top. Pretty soon the room looked as though a bomb had hit it.

Then it was out again for dinner, once again down by the marina, where we shared a Chèvre Chaud and a Pizza washed down with a glass of the excellent local beer Pietra, produced by Corsica’s only brewery from a mix of malt and chestnut flour. An early night beckoned in readiness for the start of the trek.

Monday 2nd May 2011

Day 2: Transfer, Scala di Santa Régina to Calacuccia – 8.92 miles

Ascent = 850m
Descent = 350m

Route Summary:

Transfer Ajaccio to Scala di Santa Régina – Pont di l’Accia – Corsica (Village) – Croix de Poggie – Pont d’Erco – Lozzi - Calacuccia


Today began with an early transfer to the beginning of our walk. After breakfast and a final check all was properly packed, we made our way to the railway station to join the Trinicellu (“Little Train” in Corsican) for the two-hour ride to Corte. While we were waiting to embark, we bumped into three Canadian women (3CW) who were doing a similar route to ourselves only with a slightly different itinerary to allow for luggage transfers and more upmarket accommodation (not that there was to be anything wrong with ours!)

As train rides go, this must rate as one of the most spectacular. Almost at once, we seemed to start climbing into the hills, and a series of bridges and tunnels – one over two miles long – were negotiated as we gained height. In fact, by the time we reached the village of Vizzavona, the train was at an altitude of over 900m having started from sea level. It is an impressive feat of engineering.

Arriving in Corte, we met our minibus driver and joined with the 3CW as we transferred to the start of our walk. This involved a 30-minute drive into the Golo valley along a very narrow, very twisting road. The driver had devised a technique for negotiating the tight bends and hairpins: a) accelerate hard into the corner (NB. Lane discipline optional) regardless of visibility b) apply brakes, the later and harder the better, then c) coast round in 4th gear and try to pull away. It worked, after a fashion.

Soon enough, though, we were being dropped off at our start point – the Funtana Vignente spring at around 490m – and it was still only 11.15am. Since leaving the coast it had been an overcast morning with low cloud hugging some hilltops, so layers were adjusted finally before setting off. We let the 3CW go ahead, but soon overtook them, rising steadily along a balcony path amongst red granite cliffs, an age-old shepherd’s path high above the Le Golo river used to move their herds into and out of the Niolu valley. Transhumance has played a major part in the history of this island.

After about one hour, having crossed the Pont di l’Accia, we stopped briefly for lunch. It had become cooler, and rain appeared to be on the way, so we didn’t linger too long. Pushing on, we rose higher on the valley side eventually meeting a track at about 887m and headied for the village of Corsica as first few drops began to fall. It was time to don waterproofs.
Climbing out of the village, we followed the track to the Pont d’Erco, a small Genoese bridge spanning a tumbling mountain stream and a sight we would become quite familiar with over the next few days. By now it was raining full on. The tops of all the hills were under low cloud and we were getting a bit wet – not quite how we had envisaged out Mediterranean escapade to turn out, weather-wise.

Crossing the bridge, we made the steady climb up to the village of Lozzi at 1,040m.

For the last stretch, we ended up following the road for much of the way. Heading downhill out of the village, the path that should have cut the corner off appeared not to be there. Perhaps we missed it. Either way, we followed the map and the instructions in our notes to our hotel – only to find we we had been led to the wrong one! The lady there was very helpful and phoned where she thought we should be staying to check our reservation there had been made. It had, so it was back out into the rain for a further half-mile.

Back on track, we finally pitched up at the Hotel des Touristes (part B&B, part gîtes) in the centre of Calacuccia and were met by a Very Nice Man. While we stood dripping on his beautifully clean floor, he chose his nicest room for us, made us feel very welcome and ensured the heating was on so we could dry out our soggy stuff including the all-important map and notes. Then he gave us a lift to the restaurant in the evening so we didn’t need to get wet again.

We had dinner at the nearby Restaurant Corsica where we met the 3CW again. They were staying at the hotel to which we had first been guided, arriving quite a bit later than us. We were slightly concerned we had not seen them all afternoon, but all seemed to be OK.

Tuesday 3rd May 2011

Day 3: Calacuccia to Col de Vergio – 11.83 miles

Ascent = 821m
Descent = 492m

Route Summary:

Transfer to Albertacce – Pont de Muricciolu – Mare a Mare Nord (W) – Pont San Rimeriu – Ciattarinu – Military Camp – Junction with GR20 – Bergerie de Radule – Col de Vergio


We woke to another overcast morning, although it was not actually raining. Breakfast was simple but good – juice, pastries, jam, coffee and just enough bread to eat some and pinch some for lunch. By 8.20am, we were packed and ready to go. The VNM said goodbye and wished us “Bon Vacance!” and we all shook hands.

We were only waiting a few moments for the driver for the short transfer to the trailhead at Albertacce, so by 8.30am we were underway. We followed the clear track through a chestnut grove, passing an array of wooden exercise equipment and some free-range pigs. Just before crossing a stream we caught sight of an elusive Red Kite and could hear Cuckoos calling in the near distance.

Waymarking is a little different to that in the UK. Here, and in much of mainland Europe, paint splashes are used in a combination of colours (not necessarily always unique combinations) and usually appear at frequent intervals along the way. Our route at this point, the Mare a Mare Nord, used an orange blaze that appeared pretty regularly – there are three in the picture below as well as the sign! Therefore, route finding was usually pretty simple – just look for the next mark – and in any case, the paths are often clear enough on the ground, too.

Eventually, with the rain just about keeping off, we contoured into a side valley to the Pont du Muricciolu and an old Chestnut mill by the Viru stream.

From the bridge we began to climb the valley side, eventually levelling out at around the 1,000m mark amongst woods of Chestnut and Pine. We took a short rest before continuing along the gently rising path, the quiet of the woods punctuated only by birdsong. These woods are home to the Sanglier – Wild Boar, no less. They are quite abundant but rarely seen being part nocturnal and very shy. We definitely saw a couple of pig-like shapes trot quietly into the undergrowth; whether they were Sanglier or just more free-range pigs, who knows? But it is nice to think we might, just might, have seen an elusive Wild Boar. Sightings may be scarce; evidence of their passage through the woods, however, is commonplace, with digging in the undergrowth extensive.
Across the valley, between the trees, we could see occasional glimpses of Calasima, the highest village in Corsica at 1,095m. Behind, but unseen in the low cloud, were some of the island’s giant mountains including the highest, Monte Cinto, at 2,706m. Rain began to fall steadily, so full waterproofs were brought to bear.

At a junction of paths, confirmed by use of our GPS unit, we continued in a southwesterly line contouring a hillside with views open to the south across the Le Golo valley. Around 11.00am, we stopped briefly near the Ruisseau d’Alzetu for a snack and to enter the waypoint for a tricky juction ahead into the GPS.

The skies lightened a bit and the rain stopped, and we could see our target for the day ahead. We had both arrived in Corsica with a cold, and mine was being particularly bothersome today, requiring me to reach for the tissues every couple of minutes or so. Which is probably not the “blow by blow” account of the trip we had meant to write about. So I was particularly pleased the weather was doing it’s best to improve.

The tricky junction proved easier to find than we expected, although the GPS did help confirm we were about in the right place. Heading downhill, we passed a shepherd’s hamlet at Tillerga on the way to the Pont San Rimeriu where we decided to stop for some lunch – tuna steaks from a pouch and stolen bread! While we were eating Missyg had a coughing fit – what a pair we are today!

After lunch we followed a track alongside the Le Golo River then, at a side stream, began the steepish climb through the woods to the D84 road by the Military Camp at Ciattarinu. Last time we were in Corsica, the ground below the trees was covered with flowers. Less so this time, being at higher altitudes and further north they were not fully out.

We crossed the road twice as we continued upwards, stopping briefly to change into drier clothes. Soon we reached a major junction of paths where the Mare a Mare Nord bisects the infamous GR20 route, who’s tough walking and lack of infrastructure have led to it often being described as the hardest trek in Europe, as if some sadist had linked together the most inaccessible and tough-to-reach points on the island and marketed the result as a long distance path.

We decided to do a short extension, northwards along the GR20 to the Bergerie du Radule and back on a high-level path. The route was easy enough to follow, descending gently along a line of red and white blazes. Soon, we could see the Radule waterfall through the trees and, on turning a corner, the bergerie up ahead.

The rain returned for a few minutes and we dived for waterproofs, but it blew over quickly enough. From the bergerie, the GR20 climbed the upper gully of the waterfall and disappeared, leading on via the Bocca di Guagnerola to the slopes of 2,525m Paglia Orba. We turned back and picked a scrambly little path up the mountainside, one of the best so far.

Soon the path levelled out to contour round the hillside, slowly descending to the Col de Vergio. A steady stroll down the road brought us to our stop for the night, the ski hotel Castel di Vergio. It was a simple place, but the room was clean, the bed comfy and we had a bathroom with a bath (!) and plenty of piping hot water. Fantastic for getting properly clean, warm and dry.

Later, our meal of thick vegetable soup, Pork and ravioli, and fried Brocciu dumplings really hit the spot for two hungry walkers.

Wednesday 4th May 2011

Day 4: Col de Vergio to Evisa – 8.42 miles

Ascent = 337m
Descent = 776m

Route Summary:

Col de Vergio – Ruisseau de Vergio – Pont de Casterica – Wire Bridge – Piscene Naturelle – Chemin de Châtaignes – Evisa


Woke early to a much better looking day. Feeling quite refreshed after a good night’s sleep, we were raring to go and were down for breakfast a bit on the early side! Still, after coffee, jam and breads, we were packed and on our way by 8.30am.

It was surprising what a difference a bit of clear weather made to the view as well. Yesterday’s walk had been pretty good as it was – if we had been able to see all the mountaintops, it would have been amazing!

We began by following a short stretch of the GR20 back to the crossroads we had reached yesterday afternoon. In the clear, morning light it was a delightful amble through sun-dappled deciduous woodlands. At last, it looked as if a cracking day was on the cards.

It took no more than a couple of minutes from there to reach the Col de Vergio again, with its statue of Christ the King. At 1,478m it’s a spectacular setting amongst fantastic mountain scenery, the highest road pass on the island and the boundary between the two counties of Corsica.

Our path struck west from the col, quickly heading back into the trees. Again, the route was well signed, and the connection to the historical movement of people and livestock was never very far away – most of these tracks were originally created for this purpose.

Turning sharp left, we began to descend. After an initial steep section, the gradient lessened and we started to follow the bed of a stream, the Ruisseau de Vergio, a jumble of rocks and branches with water constantly running beneath. After the brightness of the morning, the thick woods were shady, speared only by occasional shafts of sunlight.

After perhaps half an hour we came to a track and turned right. It was beautiful and so peaceful, having left the roads and villages way behind – the silence of the woods only being broken by birdsong and our quiet passage. We stopped to watch a Coal Tit chunter at us; in the distance a Cuckoo could be heard. It was truly magical, that enchanted forest of our imagination.

We sauntered along the path undisturbed. After half an hour or so, we came to a junction and the Pont de Casterica spanning another crystal clear, tumbling mountain stream. Down to one side we could access the smooth, river-worn rocks, and stretched out on them for a while, basking in the sun.

Although hard to imagine, we were still at about 1,200m altitude. So, after our break, the descent continued along a steepish, loose, rocky path that eventually reached the bank of the Aïtone River by a disused wire bridge, following alongside for a while.

Shortly the path began to climb steeply, zig-zagging its way upwards to negotiate a rocky bluff, and still paved underfoot in places – further evidence of the ancient transhumance route we were following.

It was quite warm by now, so we took our time, able to see back across the gorge into which we had earlier descended and over to the high mountains behind. After a flat section at the top at about 1,100m, we started to drop back down to river level on a steep, bouldery path of big steps that certainly took its toll on the knees. We also came upon something else for the first time that day …….. other people.

At the bottom of the descent we came to a wobbly wire bridge over the Aïtone River. Safely over, we followed the riverside for a few minutes to reach the steps down to the Piscine Naturelle. These natural pools, close to Evisa and the road, are very popular for picnics, swimming and hanging out on sunny days such as today. We stopped for our picnic (tuna and bread nicked from breakfast) but didn’t linger too long as low cloud was once again beginning to gather and it was getting cooler.

It was now 12.30am, and with lunch eaten and the walk two-thirds done, we opted for a lazy afternoon. The final stretch into Evisa took us up to the road then along a path themed on the history and practice of chestnut farming which is an important crop in this area. The information boards gave us a chance to practice our French.

The last part of the walk led past a piggery, along a walled lane and into the village with the promise of refreshments. It was only 2.30pm, so we settled into one of the many bars to while away the remainder of the afternoon. Known locally as “the pearl of the mountains” Evisa, at 830m, is relatively high for a village so close to the sea, and enjoys a special climate, cool in the summer heat. It is also the crossroads of two major walking routes, the Mare a Mare Nord (Coast-to-Coast North) and the Tra Mare e Monti Nord (Sea and Mountains North) – two of the five Corsican National Park paths.

As we were reading up our notes for the following day, we caught sight of the 3CW who stopped for a brief chat. Then we walked uphill to our hotel – the Scopa Rossa – to settle in for the evening. Again, we had a nice room with a bath and good hot water. So we had a wash and brush up before dinner at 7.30pm – terrine of Sanglier, roast Pork and haricot beans, and chocolate mousse for pudding.

Thursday 5th May 2011

Day 5: Evisa to Porto – 11.13 miles

Ascent = 331m
Descent = 1,090m

Route Summary:

Evisa – Spelunca Gorge – Pont de Zaglia – Ponte Vecchiu – Ota – Fiumicellu – Bocca Lenzana – Porto


With breakfast at 8.00am, we were away quite late by our usual standards. The sun was again shining, the skies were clear, and we were looking forward to another day of fine walking.

Leaving the hotel, we headed back down hill towards the village centre. It was already quite warm and the views shrouded in last afternoon’s low cloud were now clear to see.

Today’s route involves a significant height loss, starting with a steep descent into the magnificent Spelunca Gorge. Yesteday morning we were at a touch under 1,500m – by this evening we would be at sea level.

Walking through the village, we found the Tra Mare e Monti path we were seeking. Again, information boards were on hand to tell us more about the forests and wildlife of this area.

Once more the path was an old mule route from the transhumance past that zig-zagged into the gorge. All around were sheer cliffs, high peaks and oddly-shaped pinnacles. It’s a beautiful and interesting path.

You may have noticed that we haven’t, as a rule, walked particularly big distances on any day, or especially quickly. That’s partly down to the schedule – the villages are where they are – but also down to the fact that the going isn’t always swift.

Apart from the fact that there is much to savour along the way, haste is not always rewarded. Many of the gradients are quite steep, and paths often loose and rocky. Progress is, therefore, often relaxed rather than rapid.

Part way down we passed the 3CW – otherwise we saw hardly anyone else for the first hour or so. Ahead, in the distance, we could see the target for lunchtime; the village of Ota nestled below the Capu d’Ota.

Soon, though, the oncoming tide arrived – well, a few people passed us as they climbed out of the depths. The Spelunca Gorge is very popular, fairly easily reached from the Evisa end, much easier from Ota, so it was no surprise there were people around enjoying the sights.

By now we could hear the rushing river in the valley below, and soon we were crossing the torrent by another Genoese bridge, the Pont de Zaglia. Looking back, we could see the valley headwall we had weaved our way down – in around 90 minutes, we had dropped some 650m.

We turned to follow the south bank of the Porto River, sometimes high above the water, sometimes close by it. By now there were daytrippers aplenty: having said that it was nowhere near as busy as Dovedale would be on a hot summer weekend, and those pools do look good for a swim. It’s a spectacular area and rightly feted.

We reached the road below Ota, the path keeping to the south side of the river until crossing a large Genoese bridge, the Ponte Vecchiu. The merchant state of Genoa had wide-ranging influence in the Mediterranean – for almost five centuries, Corsica was occupied and dominated by the Genoese.

Now on the north bank, it was a slightly longer than expected rise into the village – probably around a mile – hampered at one point by a short, ugly section which seemed to be the local unofficial tip. Soon, though, the olive trees appeared as we entered the village. We had been on our feet for around four hours with barely a break, so we needed a stop and it wasn’t long before we were sitting on the terrace of Chez Felix. Good job we weren’t any later as they were closing for the afternoon.

So we chose our snacks (J = Omelette with mint and cheese / Missyg = Charcuterie) and sat down to eat. I should have guessed something wasn’t quite right because when it came I found I wasn’t hungry – very unlike me! Anyway, we polished everything off and enjoyed our rest.

Walking through the village later we saw where the Tra Mare e Monti Nord path struck out to the north. Our route followed the road for a while, gently dropping towards the coast. It was quite a change to experience walking without needing to watch our feet; as has been mentioned before, a lot of the paths are loose and rocky and usually care with foot placement is needed to avoid twisting an ankle.

Part way down a shortcut path was marked, but when we tried it was overgrown and guarded by ferocious-sounding dogs. We beat a hasty retreat, sticking to the tarmac instead. Rounding a corner, we could see the sea in front of us, only a couple of miles distant, and the towering peak of Capu d’Orto – almost 1,300m high yet only around a mile from the coast. 

Again, as was usual in the afternoons, some cloud was bubbling up, but the day remained quite warm. We reached the corner at Fiumicellu and picked up a path contouring the hillside high above Porto and the marina. The first half-mile involved a steady climb and seemed quite hard going, but soon we levelled out and followed the balcony path round round towards the headland north of the port.

A short, steep descent brought us out to a road that we then followed downhill past some expensive-looking houses. Porto is a town split into two, with the marina at the mouth of the river and the town centre, such as it is, about a mile inland. In between is a string of hotels and restaurants of all shapes and sizes.

Our hotel, the Méditerranée, was located in Porto Marina, just back from the sea front. It looked a bit too smart for two scruffy, smelly walkers, but they seemed fine about us. We had a super room with a nice shower and a double aspect balcony with views to the mountains, the marina and the sea – just right for a relaxing doze.

Getting ready for our evening meal, neither of us really felt like it. We went down anyway, but probably shouldn’t have done. Not that there was anything wrong with the food, but the Carpaccio St Jaques starter (raw scallops in a lime and olive oil dressing) definitely wasn’t what the doctor ordered for two slightly queezy hikers. And what a waste of perfectly good scallops! We needed good, comforting mountain food, and this was ……. not.

After that, we didn’t really get into the meal, and by the end we were happy to leave. We took a quick stroll round the sea front but soon headed back to our room. Me being off my food is a sure sign things are not right, and during the night I developed what turned out to be an ear infection on top of my cold. Dreadful earache kept me awake all night, and my constant tossing and turning didn’t help Missyg to much rest, either. Not ideal preparation for a day’s walking.

Friday 6th May 2011

Day 6: Porto to Piana – 9.46 miles

Ascent = 681m
Descent = 230m

Route Summary:

Porto – Beach – Coast Path – D81 Road – La Tête du Chien – Les Roches Bleues – Balcony Path – D81 Road – Piana


Next morning we struggled through breakfast, glad of the drinks if not the food. We wanted to explore the town a little before moving on and a quick assessment of our situation showed we needed to do sort a couple of things out before setting off on the walk: topping up our cash and getting hold of some extra painkillers.

So we had a wander along to the main town to find an ATM and the Pharmacists. Solvent again, and suitably medicated, we ambled back for a look round the marina area.

As well as the harbour, there is a little Genoese Tower on a rocky promontory. We went to have a look round – it’s now a museum to the history of the port – and there was also a small hut with another exhibition.

Coming down from the tower we stopped at a café for a quick drink, then began the day’s walk proper. We crossed the river by the pedestrian bridge and headed off across the beach. At the far side, below the cliff, we picked up a rocky path just above the waves.

After a short stretch at sea level, we climbed a steep path to level out again a few metres higher, contouring above the clear blue sea until we met a quiet road which we continued to follow westwards to the next hairpin where a steep path up through the scrubby vegetation cut off a length of road walking. We managed it, but it was rather overgrown and brambly. We got scratched and tired from ducking under the overhanging branches. With the heat and our feeling off colour it was quite hard going. So we abandoned the corner-cutting paths and stuck to the road instead, which, although a little busy, was clearer underfoot and of a gentle enough gradient to walk easily.

The highlight of today’s walk was the Calanches de Piana – weirdly eroded rock formations amongst the Forêt Communale de Piana, high above the rugged coastline and some of the most beautifully clear sea anywhere. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular attraction, not least because much can be seen from the road. Before long, we reached La Tête du Chien – the dog’s head.

We carried on along the road a short way to the café at Les Roches Bleues, a wonderfully-situated stopping point perched high above the blue waters. We decided on a break, sat down and ordered a drink only to be press-ganged into a piece of Chestnut flan too. Good job, really. I don’t know what was in it, but we felt a whole lot better afterwards.

Somewhat fortified by the rest, we decided to follow the recommended path for the next section, part of the old mule track linking Piana, Porto and Ota before the roads were constructed in 1850 under Napoleon III. And we’re glad we did – although it was quite a steep climb for the first few minutes, it soon levelled out after a fashion and provided wonderful views ahead to the village of Piana and to the right across the Calanches and the whole Gulf of Porto.

We had a short rest part way along, just enjoying the view and the quiet. Then onwards, tending downhill, to meet the road for the last mile into the village. Fortunately, it had not been too long a walk today, but well worth it and we were pleased we had opted for the high route into Piana although we couldn’t manage any of the extension walks.

Coming into Piana, we bumped into the 3CW buying an ice cream. Thanks to the slight differences in our schedules, we hadn’t seen them since the morning of the day before. Leaving them to it, we went in search of our accommodation, the gîte Giargalo. We found it up a track behind the village – one of those places that had “gîte” written all over it.

We were a bit early – it wasn’t due to open until 5.00pm – so we hung around tidying ourselves up and administering various medicines. A couple of other guests turned up before the woman who ran the place finally arrived, all French and hippyfied. We checked in and were shown to our room, simply decked out in a shabby chic style.

We took showers and got ourselves clean, then popped out for a quick tour round the village to choose a restaurant for our evening meal. We picked one with a large terrace and a view across to the Gulf, and indulged ourselves with Pizzas, Tiramisu, Tarte Tatin, wine, beer and coffee, a lovely way to celebrate the end a fine walk. Then bed, and, thankfully, a better night’s sleep.

Saturday 7th May 2011

Day 7: Piana to Ajaccio – 2.50 miles

Ascent = 150m
Descent = 150m

Route Summary:

Piana and surrounds


Today, we were due to return to Ajaccio by scheduled bus at 11.15am. We enjoyed a communal breakfast with the other guests, packed up our bits and pieces, and said our goodbyes. We still had well over an hour to spare, so we walked up a track behind the gîte and found a sunny bank on which to lie reading.

We ambled back into the village. The 3CW turned up soon afterwards, and other travellers began to gather as we waited for the bus. And waited. And waited.

We got talking with a local who decided to give the bus company a ring. Turned out today was the day the summer timetable came into force, and the bus wasn’t due until 14.45. At least we hadn’t missed it. So we went off for some lunch – J = Moules Frittes / Missyg = Charcuterie. Actually, a few more hours in this beautiful village was no real hardship.

Then, with more time to spare, we walked back up to the spot we had reached earlier and spent a while reading again. Back at the start of the walk, in the Scala Santa Régina, we had picked up a small pebble as a lucky charm. We decided as this represented the furthest point we had reached on our walk that it was as good a place as any to leave it and, after a short ceremony, that’s what we did.

Back in the village, we grabbed an ice cream and went to wait for the bus. Other expectant travellers were gathering once again, as 14.45pm grew closer. Then it arrived – a minibus! A wave of mild panic went through the assembled crowd, but after a bit of shrugging and rearranging of luggage, everyone managed to get on, bags and all. Just.

It was a spectacular ride, following narrow, winding roads past beaches and over headlands. But, in the heat and being so full, I can’t honestly say it was pleasant.

Eventually, around 5.15pm, we arrived in Ajaccio and straightened out our crooked limbs. First things first – we needed to hit the shops and do some emergency present buying. It wouldn’t have worked any sooner as we didn’t want to carry the stuff unnecessarily. That sorted, we checked in at the hotel and got ready to go out for dinner. As we had had a decent lunch we decided to share a Chèvre Chaud and a Pizza in one of the harbour-front establishments.

Afterwards, we had a final walkabout, out along the quay (pretending we were choosing ourselves an expensive boat) and up to the citadel where we watched a large cruise liner arriving into port. It was a lovely evening, but sadly it was time to get back to the hotel, to sleep and pack for an early start in the morning.

Maybe our dreams would be of a future visit.