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Posts from the ‘France’ Category

on wandering the medieval streets of a citadel in calvi

During a recent trip to Haute-Core (Upper Corsica) and while driving north from Bastia to Macinaggio on the east coast of Corsica and down the west coast from Centuri to Cargèse, I noticed the many, many stone towers that dotted the two coastlines. Corsica is a, was a fortified island. They provided points of view for searching the waters for pirates and invading forces. The tower shown in the post, “on being high as a kite in nonza,” is an example.

Citadels—“a fortress, typically on high ground, protecting or dominating a city”—are prominent on Corsica as well. The major towns have them: Bastia has one that overlooks its harbor; Corte has one that sits on a high knoll that overlooks the surrounding countryside; Saint-Florent has one but it is modest and lacks interest; and Calvi has a large one that overlooks its port.

While the definition of “citadel” suggests a fortress, meaning a military base of some kind, the citadels on Corsica had villages in them. People lived there, and it is still true today.

In every town with a citadel, the citadel is a tourist destination for good reasons. They provide excellent views, often panoramic, of the towns, the countryside, and the Mediterranean Sea. The citadels are medieval in design and construction. Anyone wanting a partial sense of life during the Middle Ages will walk through their narrow streets.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

on the small truly small isolated village of girolata

Approaching Girolata, Corsica from the north via a promenades en mer after visiting the Réserve Naturelle de Scandola.

When my French tutor mentioned Girolata for the first time, I did not care. I was told it is isolated. No roads go to it. One needs to hike in or to take a boat. Really, what would be the point to travel there?

Trying to find it on a digital map requires some clicks of the “+” sign to hone into the map before it appears, if it is actually listed at all.

On the other hand, now that I have visited it, I find myself a part of a group, a club, so to speak. I mention my trip to Upper Corsica, and from those who have traveled in Corsica, I am asked, “Oh, did you go to Girolata?”

Girolata is on the west coast of Corsica, to the northwest of Porto, and on the edge of the Réserve Naturelle de Scandola. Look for the gulf of Girolata.

Typically, one reaches it by boat, during a Promenades en mer. It is often a part of a trip to the calanches de Piana and to the Réserve Naturelle de Scandola. The two hours, maybe 2 ½ hours, in Girolata are devoted to eating lunch or hiking or swimming. You may make arrangements to stay at a gîte or to hike out.

The port of Girolata dominates the village. It provides support for its existence. Without the daily stream of tourists, debarking from the boats arriving from Calvi, Porto, and Cargèse for meals and for the purchase of local, artisanal products, Girolata would cease to be.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

on james baldwin & the presqu’île de l’Île-rousse

While reading the biography of James Baldwin by David Leeming, I learned that James Baldwin had traveled to Corsica, more specifically to L’Île-Rousse on the west coast, at the time of the publication of Giovanni’s Room, his second novel.

He went to L’Île-Rousse “where he would try to finish Another Country.” It was September, 1956. He stayed for six months, living in a house provided by a friend Mme Dumont.

It was the first time I had heard of L’Île-Rousse. I knew one day I would travel to Corsica and decided then that L’Île-Rousse would be a part of that visit.

I assume at some point James Baldwin wandered out to the presqu’île of L’Île-Rousse and looked back. (“Presqu’île” refers to the peninsula that juts out from the port in L’Île-Rousse.)

Walking out there is what you do while visiting L’Île-Rousse. A small tourist train is available as well, and it will take you to the top and down again. You follow the Route du Port and then diverge to the left and walk up the Chemin de Phare. It is an easy walk.

At the top and at the end of your walk is the Phare de la Pietra. (Phare in French means lighthouse.) On the way up is the Tour Genoise de la Pietra à L’Île-Rousse.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Looking back to L’Île-Rousse you get a sense of the rugged landscape that dominates Upper Corsica. It looms up in the distance and reduces L’Île-Rousse from a city to a town.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

on a bridge and trees & a bush and boats of martigues

With each visit, when I descend from the bus in Martigues, I wonder why I wanted yet again to visit. What one sees does not elicit much confidence. Will the day will be worth the 30-45 minutes bus ride from Marseille?

The Place des Aires, where I get off the bus, is a terminal without buildings and may even be a park with large bus lanes. It is adjacent to the water which makes it somewhat pleasant.

However, when you stand there, waiting for the bus to leave you behind, and you look around for that inspiration to explore, and when you remember having heard or read that Martigues is definitely worth a visit, you begin to have misgivings that maybe, just maybe, you have been had.

Fear not. Whoever told you that Martigues is a gem had learned something.

After walking across the street from the Place des Aires in a direction that suggests a central area–surely–you will see a blue blue bridge. It is blue. There is no escaping it. That bridge is the escape route from the bus stop. That bridge will take you further into the older sections of Martigues. Further along, a moveable bridge will take you into a section of Martigues where tourists rarely venture, simply because it is far away from the port and the central tourist areas.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!