Another warm and sunny morning, another lovely drive to Algajola, midway between Calvi and L’Ile Rousse. I struggled with where to stay in this area...Calvi seemed too congested and I couldn’t find a charming, reasonably priced place to stay. Ile Rousse had gotten some mixed reviews. And, we planned to travel around the area a lot, so thought Algajola would be a good central location and the Stella Mare had received good reviews. In hindsight after being there, I might have picked the “Best Western Santa Maria” (yes, I know...Best Western?) in Ile Rousse simply for it’s outstanding location on the water looking across to La Pietra headland and lighthouse. The views were incredible with a short walk into town.
We arrived too early to check in, so spent an hour on the village beach which was unremarkable. The Stella Mare looks charming enough, a three story villa sited up a hill with some Moroccan type cushioned booths outside. The reception people were very nice, the common areas had lovely natural artistic touches, but our room was tiny. It was on the first floor (we would say 2nd floor) so the standard size window looked out to a partial view of the sea just over a terracotta roof. If we could’ve been on the second floor, they had a full French door with a better view. The bathroom had colorful turquoise tile framing the mirror, a single pedestal sink, and the standard small, triangular shower module we encountered everywhere...large people beware! The furnishings were simple and natural colors. They had a mini bar, but a sign on it said if you put anything in it, they’d remove it! Bizarre. The hotel is located on the mountain side of the tracks of the tiny train that runs between the towns, but you don’t hear it. Breakfast featured a more lavish buffet than usual including scrambled eggs, local jams, honeys, muesli, nuts, juices and fresh yogurt. Turquoise mosaic tables lined a lovely open terrace, with more of a garden rather than sea view.
Later in the afternoon, we set off to explore a few nearby artisan mountain towns. The first was Sant Antonino, the oldest and highest perched on top of a mountain. It was fun to wander around their narrow stone alleys looking down to distant views of the Mediterranean but there were really no artisan shops. Then, we went to Pigna, which I liked much better. It was prettier and offered more shops. Bought another “modern” polyphonic CD, which I later threw out. Enjoyed our dinner on Casa Musicale’s terrace looking down to the sea. We had a friendly, cute waitress who spoke English well....very rare. Tonight we tried a citron and a muscat Patrimonio aperitif...both delicious. I had read that Corsica had outstanding veal, but I was disappointed in my veal roast, which was a little tough. My husband’s langoustines (crayfish) were very sweet but you don’t get much meat from them.
We came to Pigna tonight to attend a polyphonic concert at their Auditorium. When we got there, the group that had been scheduled had been replaced by a single woman singer, Battista Aquaviva, who apparently was famous because the crowd of locals went wild for her and they filled the seats and lined the aisles. She was very thin with massive black curly hair wearing black jersey knit slacks, top and heels. Standing with a slight tilt with one hand covering her ear, she had a most amazing voice, but frankly, the concert was torture. It was too hot , it was too long (9:40-11pm)...and it was boring. I think the whole point of polyphonic is to have a multitude of voices that cover the spectrum. A few songs, she sang with one other person, which was better, and at the end, about 20 people came up and sang with her which was outstanding. But, for the most part, a single singer was just monotonous. It reminded us of the Fado, from Portugal....more of a lament, a wail. Unfortunately, I had to listen to my husband’s (who can’t sing a note) interpretation of this for the rest of the trip.
Note: Be sure to have plenty of 1 and 2 Euro coins for parking. Often,you can’t even enter a parking lot without depositing them. And, the vendors seem to hoard coins. When you buy something, they do not want to give you a lot of coins in change insisting that you give them some coin so they can give you a bill back.
The next morning we headed to Calvi, about 15 minutes away, for our delayed boat trip to Scandola. First, we hiked up into the Citadel and admired the views of the marina and surrounding mountains, had a good lunch at La Scola tea room, ducked into the Cathedral and headed back down to the Quai Landry where we admired all the yachts and colorful buildings. At 3p, we boarded the Colombo Line boat to Scandola, which was larger and held about 100 people. It was full, but we snagged the upper deck back facing seat, so had an unobstructed view and it felt like our private little boat, as long as we didn’t turn around. It was another sunny, low 80’s day, so getting a breeze from cruising felt great. It took about an hour to get to Scandola, and then the ship weaved in and out among the massive and intriguing red rock formations for another hour before we headed back and returned by 6pm. It was a very beautiful, calm and relaxing ride.
Shopped a bit in the cute boutiques and my husband got a white linen shirt and flax clamdiggers. Then, a quick drive out to the Chapelle Notre Dame de la Serra for a sunset view of Calvi, where we quick changed in the car for our dinner at U Fanale. We sat on a lovely terrace shaded by a huge tree and tried vin d’peche aperitif...delicious. The food was good but not outstanding (except for my braised lamb) and it was quite a wait between courses. Did enjoy a local red wine from Lumio, Clos Colombo.
Today is 9/11 and we are so glad we’re not in the States knowing that all the broadcasts will be replaying the events of the 10th anniversary of this tragedy.
Drove to Ile Rousse and first visited their market, housed in a historic covered building, and bought a few items. Then, we walked along the waterfront and up to the top of La Pietra, the hilly area after the ‘umbilical’ cord isthmus to the lighthouse on top. Amazing views of aquamarine water, the town and mountains. It was pretty hot already and I envied the people who had ridden up on the cute little historic train that we found in many towns.
We skipped lunch and I tried to find some glace before we headed for the beach, but we couldn’t find any that were open yet. For some reason, ice cream shops often don’t open until late afternoon. We drove to Ostriconi beach just to look at it, because it’s a very steep climb down....beautiful. Then backtracked to Lozari beach, which was almost as beautiful but is much more accessible. The color of the water is incredible...not blue, not turquoise, something in between and very clear. It was very refreshing, but took a little while to get used to it. While in the water, you look back at and see the waves of giant mountains and realize again that Corsica is like one great Rock...full of differing shapes, textures and colors.
Back in Algajola, we tried again to find artisanal glace, but had to settle for a packaged Magnum bar, which was actually quite good. There’s not much in Algajola, except for it’s central location. That night, under a full moon, we enjoyed another picnic sitting outside on the Morrocan style low cushions, enjoying our favorite red, Domaine Gentile, and eating our bounty from the morning market. (I had packed a small, collapsible cooler and ice pack so the cheeses, etc. we’d bought earlier would stay good).