Bastia, Corsica. A fifteenth century citadel, and Genoese stronghold that has survived intact, as you can see from the photographs.
A week ago we sailed from Elba, Italy to Corsica, France. Thirty nautical miles and worlds apart. Arriving in Vieux Port, Bastia, the first thing I saw was ruins. The port is so small we anchored just within the sea wall. The make it interesting, we had to anchor and take a line ashore and tie it to an exposed rock, to prevent the boat from swinging in the narrow confines of the harbor. We have never done this before. Needless to say, someone (not me) used more than a few swearwords. That was my first contact with Corsica. A grumpy spouse, ruins, run down fishing port, dirty hot and noisy.
Arriving on shore however, I was pleasantly surprised. Corsicans actually live in these ‘ruins they call home. Crumbling plaster, exposed bricks, shutters askew, roofs held down with stones, narrow dark alleys (I wonder how children find their way home…). How the roofs must leak during rainy season. One day I am going to knock on a door and ask to see inside. To see if they have running water, which I doubt.
Walking around we were pleasantly surprised. The most beautiful shops, flowers, food, local produce, leafy green, shady squares, cafe’s and bars. The citizens of Bastia is well dressed and my spouse’s head turned more than one, as did mine. The is something about a french woman…they way they walk and dress. The French men are not as handsome. In my humble opinion, the Spanish men are number one when it comes to looks.
Back to history. Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans came in successive waves, driving the native Corsicans inland. Inland means high mountains, narrow valleys, dry and hot. In the country side grows wonderful wild herbs, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, basil and fennel and a dense scented scrub, maquis. The air, fragrant with smells of herbs in the hot sun, the sky azure blue. Hazy mountain peaks on the horizon, the highest nearly 5000 feet.
The Vandals ousted the Romans and for the next thirteen centuries the island of Corsica, was attacked, abandoned, settled and sold, as an island state, with generations of islanders fighting against foreign governments. France bought Corsica in 1768 from Genoa.
The Baroque churches, Genoese fortresses, Catholic rituals and Tuscan influenced indigenous language and cuisine are more Italian than French. We enjoy the food; simple and well prepared. There are still wild boars running around the island, hunted by men, hopefully not with spears and dressed in loin clothes. The meat is then cured in cold cellars in old village houses in the mountains. The pigs… taste so good ’cause they eat so good… feed on chestnuts, once the staple diet of the locals too.We have eaten fragrant wild boar and blackbird pate on fresh bread washed down with local wine. My spouse love the smoked pork, smoked with the herbs and wood of the maquis.
Brocciu, a soft mozzarella like cheese made from ewe’s milk, we tried last night, melted on soft bread with tomatoes, olive spread and herbs. Yum. Shellfish and fish are abundant in their cooking, I particularly like the mussels. Prepared in about ten different ways, from the standard white wine and herb broth to piquant tomato and even blue cheese, somewhat rich for my taste.
Mojito is not Mojito without wine. Corsica wine is excellent and little known outside of the island. Again fragrant with herbs. Cap Corse is a fortified wine flavored with quinine and herbs. It keeps the mosquitoes away, another reason to drink wine for medicinal reasons. See I’m getting good at this.
The Corsicans are fiercely proud of their island, maybe too much. They pay little tax yet France give nearly all the money needed to sustain this little republic, and the Corsicans continue to bite the hand that feeds it. In 2006 they blew up ten holiday villas a week, because they were foreign-owned and prices of property climbed beyond the reach of locals. Tourism unfortunately does that to the world, not only Corsica. This sentiment of locals not really wanting tourists around, we have seen in Spain and Italy too.
Still, Corsica is beautiful, rugged, wild. White sandy beaches, clear water, warm and excellent sailing. I have seen more than a couple of beaches over the years. Great Guana Cay in the Bahamas and Saleccia, Corsica, the two most beautiful. So far.
For more history on Corsica, please read ‘Asterix in Corsica.’