I’d seen it featured on a few travel programmes and for some reason, I remember that Bob Dylan had raved about the place, so that was good enough for me.
We flew into Ajaccio and getting off the plane was a sensation in itself. First, the heat out there on the tarmac was incredible. Then the sights – verdant green mountains, the deep blue sky that Yves Klein waxed lyrical about and the sea. Wonderful! And then, the smell hits you. The whole island smells of herbs – myrtle, thyme, laurel and mint. They call it Maquis. It’s a heady mix and one that Napoleon wrote about – did I mention that this tiny island is where the great Emperor hails from? More of that later.
There is golden sand for miles and that gentle lapping of the Mediterranean Sea. I thought that there would be more tourists than there were, but Corsica seems relatively free from holidaying hordes. There was fine dining there, in the Maquis Hotel – apparently members of the French government stay there and it’s no wonder. This really is the high life!
The next day we were up early to catch the small railway to Corte in the centre of Corsica. The Chemins de Fer de la Corse is a charming railway, carrying us up into the chestnut tree covered mountains and beyond. It really is a charming way to see the centre of the island. Corte, as the name would suggest, is the heart at the centre – the site of the University of Corsica and a magnificent fortress.
We were offered a triumphant finish to our dinner - Brocciu is produced from a combination of ewe’s milk and whey. It is a bit like cottage cheese. It’s fantastically creamy. And at your table they mix it with sugar and add the local tipple – Eau d’Vie to give it a strong alcoholic kick. Wow, that Eau d’Vie (water of life), distilled from myrtle really cleared my head!
Ajaccio itself is a beautiful city. It’s actually like an English seaside town with a port. The pace is relaxed and the seafood restaurants are abundant. And there amongst the tight streets is the house where Napoleon Bonaparte grew up. It’s an unassuming house, in a small neighbourhood near the cathedral. It’s hard to imagine how a kid from this area would grow up to be one of the most brilliant and feared generals in the world. And I think that sums Corsica up. It’s small, but it punches above its weight. They call it the beautiful island and it sure is. Extremely Euphoric!