06 November – Time to pack up and leave our nice apartment. Another fine day with clear blue skies as we set off – this time for the central mountains. The road through the Agriate mountains was a re-run of the first stage of a previous trip to Calvi, then much easier going towards the interior and Corte than the road we took from Bastia over to St Florent a few days ago. Arriving around lunch time we had plenty of time to explore the town and its surrounds before having to check in to our next stay. Corte has a bustling centre-ville; mainly one long main street with the old part of the town higher up. Walked up to the citadelle only to find that it was “lunchtime”, therefore the tourist office and museum were closed for a couple of hours! Back down into the town for a bite to eat – a small bar advertising crepes which took our fancy. I think they had to grow the wheat for the flour judging by the time it took for our very basic meal to arrive but it was okay when it finally came. Anyway, it killed some time until we could go back to the citadelle.
The tower from the 14thC built by the Genoese housed an interesting museum with artifacts showing the progression of settlement and life in Corsica. There was also a temporary exhibition about “Islands” and their unique position within the world at large. Back down the narrow cobbled streets – these cobbles are not your normal flat ones, but made up of round river stones set in concrete – not easy to walk on and would be an interesting exercise in high heels. Just out of the town was our nice chambre-d’hote accommodation, where we were the only guests and had the choice of rooms, settling on a large room with terrace. Everything very new and nicely appointed.
Back into town for dinner, and after a bit of investigation found a very charming local restaurant offering Corsican specialties. In a vaulted basement, it had a nice ambiance and our waiter, black as the ace of spades, was excited to learn we were from NZ as the All Blacks were his heroes. Ordered our meals and then were presented with a complimentary entree – cheese deep-fried in a sort of batter and very tasty. A bit of local wine with dinner was followed by another little gesture from the restaurant – shots of limoncello liquer – mmmm. Managed to find our way home easily enough.
07 November – Breakfast in the little dining room was basic but enough, with croissants, baguette and jams plus a little pot of yoghurt. Our hostess suggested that while in the district we visit the Gorges de la Restonica just a short distance away. Found the road easily enough and it started off quite nice – a little narrow but room enough for two cars as it headed up into the hill country. It was fine for about 20 minutes, before a notice that the road was going to decrease to 1.9m wide for the next 10 kms. A couple of km’s of that was enough for me, as the drop-offs got steeper with very few places that two cars could pass each other. Managed to find a turn-around spot and got a good view of the dramatic rocky canyons with the most beautifully clear river tumbling down it. Stopped again on the way down at a camping area, closed for the season and much closer to the river. Very pretty with the autumn leaves in amongst the evergreen pines.
Back through Corte and out via more river gorges to the east coast at Aleri. After a spot of lunch in the patisserie we found an ancient site with an early citadelle, as well as quite extensive Roman ruins. In this citadelle there was an interesting museum displaying the contents from tombs which had been excavated from a necropolis site nearby. These tombs were from the 5th-3rd century BC and had a lot of pottery buried with the funerary urns, the majority of them black glaze with paintings in relief. In all they had uncovered around 120 tombs.
A walk around the Roman ruins was equally fascinating – although from a later period, 1stC AD, it didn’t take too much imagination to work out what was what. It had remains of the collonaded porticoes where markets would have taken place, a sizeable forum, villas and of course the Roman specialty – baths. Our bed for this night was near Travo, in the local hotel. Fairly basic room, but served it’s purpose and with a restaurant downstairs that made life easy.
08 November – A coastal wander down to Bonifacio, stopping off to walk to another Martello tower with commanding views up the coast towards Bastia, followed by a lunch break in the small port town of Porto Vecchio. Surprised how much air pollution there was further north – a big brown pall which must have been coming from Italy as there is no significant industry in Corsica. The little port of Bonifacio was wonderful – a town perched on the top of tall cliffs dominated the peninsula with walls all around it which would have been quite impenetrable. Driving around was a bit tight but fortunately they had the sense to make a lot of the narrow streets one-way only. This being a Sunday, everything was relatively quiet and parking was easy.
Finding our accommodation was a little more difficult as it was out of the main town and it didn’t feature on our GPS – making sense of my hand-written instructions taken off Google Maps took a little while, but we made it. Our rooms were out on the lighthouse road, with lovely views from the garden back over to the town. Made do with cheese, fruit and biscuits for our supper.
09 November – Back down into the town for breakfast on the marine promenade – mostly closed up for the season but a few restaurants were open to capture the late-comers. Some spiffy boats moored in the small harbour. Drove back up the to “high” town and had an explore of the city walls and views over to Sardinia – our destination. By the time we had crepes for lunch it was time to head down and get in line for the ferry. Not a very big one and probably only about 20 cars and a handful of trucks were ready to board. Not quite a roll on-roll off, so Bob had to back into his space being given rapid directions by excited French crew members. A very quick hour had us over the other side to Italian Sardinia at Santa Teresa and we were soon off the ferry, my pre-written instructions working a treat. The drive in to the farmhouse, with a little block of 6 rooms, was easy and our hostess with her limited English got us settled and advised where we could eat later on.
We have to get used to the different way of life here – siesta seems to be from about 12-3 and restaurants don’t open for dinner until after 7pm. We set off in the dark with only about 5kms to go back into Santa Teresa, our little map in hand, finding the recommended restaurant without difficulty and settling in for a very pleasant meal – we both had grilled sea bass with a crust of grated potatoes accompanied by grilled eggplant and courgette. A nicely balanced meal and not too heavy, leaving room to sample the dessert menu. I had a local dish which was a huge deep-fried ravioli filled with a sweet soft cheese and covered in honey – that was tasty! Found our way back without trouble.
10 November – After an interesting breakfast (chocolate cake at this time of the day is a bit strange!) we got away for another relaxing drive towards Porto Torres, stopping at some interesting spots along the way. Nice little towns with gaily painted houses and pretty harbours. One side turn we took was down to a very exclusive resort with houses neatly built into the hillsides so as not to stand out too much, but it was like visiting a ghost town, hardly a soul in sight and all the villas closed up for the season.
We got to Porto Torres in the early afternoon and after identifying our accommodation for the next couple of days, went further up the peninsula to Stintino finding gorgeous beaches and turquoise water. Just offshore is an island run as a national park which would have been nice to visit, but it seems the ferryboat only runs during the summer.
Back down to Porto Torres and booked into our apartment – quite nice to have a bit of room with a little kitchen and even a washing machine. We are on the top floor with views out over the port from the balcony. A nice little supermarket just around the corner – so I spent a little while deciding on what to have for dinner – always interesting to see what there is when you visit a new place. Lashed out on wine at 2.39Euro a bottle and picked up a few other goodies to keep us going. After dinner we got the next couple of days accommodation sorted out via my favourite site – Booking.com.
11 November – A nice quiet night in our little apartment. Good to have proper breakfast ‘chez nous’ before setting off towards Porto Conte National Park. It was quite industrial getting out of the Port, but then we were into typical farmland for this region – mainly small holdings growing veges, some sheep and a few cows.
After seeing so many nice beaches and clear water over the last couple of days I thought I would be prepared with swimming togs and towels – but of course that put a jinx on the weather and the sun didn’t really show itself for most of the day.
Out on to the headland at Capo Caccio we saw that tours were going to the Grotta di Nettuno on the hour – had just missed one so booked for the next along with about 10 others.
This cave is only accessed from sea level – that meant a descent of 654 (going on 10,000) steps down the side of a sheer cliff with the brilliant coloured ocean below us. Down at the bottom we had a short tour into the caves – some interesting formations but nothing to write home about. The caves were discovered by fisherman in the 1500’s but it wasn’t until 1954 that the path down the cliff was put in – before that you had to enter via the sea and getting off a boat in even the small swell that was running at the time we were there would have been quite difficult. With the caves being “open” for over 500 years there has been a lot of destruction of the stalactites and stalagmites, but the untouched ones were quite massive.
With the tour done we had to go up all those darn steps again – that was definitely our exercise for the day.
Around the bay a bit to Port Conte in search of a gelataria – no luck as everything in this area was closed for the season, so nothing left but to head back for another leisurely evening and home cooked meal.
12 November – Packed up again – the nice girl at the reception kindly let me print out our bookings for the next few days before we got on our way. First stop a pre-historic ruin on the road to Sassari. It was a temple and an altar site from 5,000BC. A large altar table made from one huge piece of stone was the focal point of this site – the sacrifices made here were thought to be all of the animal variety – pigs, goats, sheep, cows and deer. Being the only visitors so far for the day, hope they get more people through during the summer months, as it must be very boring for the curators.
We bypassed Sassari in favour of Alghero for our lunch stop – another little port town and a little more lively than the ones we had visited in the last few days (less touristy and more locals). An old city again dominated the headland with it’s narrow streets, towers and city walls.
We had another hour’s drive to our night’s destination of Bosa. Found our B&B but couldn’t get in – no-one was around but finally a local man came and got “Mama” from next door – turns out it is her son that owns the B&B, so while we waited for him to arrive she took us into her lush garden and chatted away quite happily in Italian to us. Could make some sense of what she was saying – she found keeping the garden up hard but rewarding work. The son duly arrived and let us in to our digs for the night. There are three rooms but we are the only guest with a nice shared lounge all to ourselves. The view from the terrace looks right up to the castello on the hill. Armed with all the necessary info to get in and out of the building, we were left to it.
Walked down into the town around 7pm to have a very pleasant surprise – the little shops were all open, there were people all around and the little town was just gorgeous with narrow cobbled streets, wrought ironed balconies and a couple of nice little piazzas. The restaurant suggested by our host was a small local one, in a vaulted room. The menu translations were again amusing – the course I ordered was Pork and Beef in a traditional sauce with a taste of Mediterranean shrub. Basically ground up meat in a tomato and herb sauce. Bob’s shrimp in wine sauce were prawn size. Lemon sorbet and saedas (the fried ravioli stuffed with cheese and drizzled with honey) were our choice for desert followed by a complementary local digestif called Mirtol – strong enough to knock your socks off but very tasty – good job we walked to town. We haven’t seen any sign of the baddies that you are warned against in Southern Italy – everyone here is just very normal.
We finally seem to have got our American bank in step with our travels and have not had our credit card stopped with the crossing over into Italy – they are extremely pedantic so we have got wise and given ourselves a day’s leeway when advising a change of countries. They really want to know which town we are going to be in and on what day but I can’t seem to get through to them that we just don’t know where we will be and they have to be content with the country as a whole. Fortunately credit cards are much more widely used and welcome here than in the Netherlands and Germany.
13 November – Up to the Castello for a walk around – great views over the town. It was built in the 13thC by a very wealthy merchant who wanted to protect himself and the villagers from the marauding Saracens. Later a little church was built within the walls – the frescoes had been covered up with lime and only recently discovered – vibrant colours and quite well preserved.
Back down into town for morning coffee and chocolate (the thick stuff seems to be the norm) followed by another walk around the narrow streets and along the riverfront before starting on our way south again. Visited a few non-descript coastal villages and then the interesting Phoenician and Roman ruins at Tharros, before arriving at Cabras and our accommodation in the centre of the quite confusing old-town.
14 November – Breakfast was not too bad with some fresh fruit and yoghurt as well as sweet things. Got the next few days booked ahead before we headed for the local archaeological museum. Very nice little museum with artifacts from Monte Prama, Tharros and a very early local shipwreck from 1st C BC. The statues on display were from the Nuragic period in the Iron Age and very basic in form, but very significant archaeologically; the team that undertook their excavation and restoration were awarded a significant United Nations award.
The shipwreck that was found was carrying nearly 1,000 lead ingots, each ingot weighing in at 33kg and most of which were marked as being made in a Sardinian foundry with lead ore from Spain. The anchors for this ship were massive although only the lead parts now remain; it seems that there were four anchors, each one weighing in at probably something like 1 tonne.
With our cultural fix for the day completed it was on to a rather twisty few hours of driving over a couple of small passes through Guspini and the small town of Fluminimaggiore. Our lunch break was novel – we stopped in a little layby on the downside of one of these passes and were in the process of getting our cheese and biscuits together when a little three-wheel ute came up the road and pulled in for a visit. Lovely little old man came and chatted for a little while, then beckoned me down to the back tray of his ute where he had a tray of apples. He offered them to me and I took a couple but he insisted that I have the whole lot – what on earth am I going to do with 30 odd apples? Well there was no way that he would take no for an answer so I had to off-load them into the back of the car and accept his very generous offer. We then all sat down, he peeled a few of the apples for us and proceeded to chat to us. We could understand that his name was Pepino, he was 89 years old, had four sons – one was in the Police but not sure what the rest did. After about 30 minutes, he said his farewells and pottered back down the hill in his little truck.
Just after Fluminimaggiore town we sidetracked to visit some ruins – the Punic/Roman Temple of Antas and a Nuragic village. They were in a small valley, seemingly miles from anywhere so a bit hard to understand why they were in such a remote place – perhaps the nearby iron and lead deposits.
Sidestepped confusing Iglesias before turning off towards Portoscuso where we made landfall at around 4.30pm and found our hotel easily. The smaller towns down in this corner of Sardinia are very basic, the farming areas just small blocks, with many growing artichokes. Small flocks of sheep, some still being managed by shepherds and loads of little three-wheeled trucks. The lovely woman on the reception got us sorted with her very limited English and our room – basic but clean – overlooks the small port. I managed to offload all the apples on to the reception lady with the help of google translator and got the gen on the local restaurants. A nice walk along the waterfront after dinner. Very impressed with how clean and tidy it all was – the promenade was lined with date palms, nicely paved and not too much doggie-doos around (that is a real issue in most parts we have been to).
15 November – I think I made a friend for life with the reception lady – she was so thrilled that I gave her the apples. Next step of our journey was a drive down the coast and out on to the little island of Sant’ Antioco reached by a small causeway. At Calasetta right on the north tip of the island we had a look around the little tower and it’s display of early pottery urns before meandering around the small streets of this very quaint town – very Mediterranean feel with whitewashed houses and some nice pedestrian-only streets. Being a Sunday, everyone was out promenading in their Sunday best and even saw one woman in very traditional dress. A bit of people watching while we had our morning tea – the only problem is that if you sit outside then you get to sit with the smokers of which there are lots. Surprised how many young men and women smoke here.
With loads of time to kill, we spent the afternoon back on the mainland down on a little beach at Porto Pino – relaxing in the warmth of the autumn sun. Destination for the night at Pula on the road to the capital city of Cagliari was reached via a mildly twisty road through a small mountainous area, before hitting the coast. This stop was an Agri-turistico B&B with it’s own roosters still set on daylight saving time, fairly basic but nice and clean, although quite cold during the night as the heat pump wasn’t heating. The recommendation of a little restaurant just down the road suited nicely – an amenable host was very interested in where we were from and what we had been doing during our travels.
16 November – Breakfast was enough for about 10 people, nicely presented with some fresh scrambled eggs as well. Got the next lot of bookings printed out before we set off for the city of Cagliari – what a nightmare driving in that town – felt like being in Rome with mad drivers who believe that, lanes and red lights are things to be ignored. Parked by the train station which was central for all we wanted to do. A walk up to the old town for a look at the view over the city, then popped into the Cathedral to be astounded once again at the amount of effort that has gone into building these places and how grand inside they are.
Very narrow streets in the old part of the city, driving vehicles around them is a real art. Walked back down to the old maritime quarter – the main streets have lovely covered walkways. Saw the first beggars since leaving the Italian mainland as well as loads of very black African peddlers selling knock-off bags, shoes, watches, etc. Lunch in a local pizzeria – like their way of making them with very thin crusts.
Thought we would get out of the city while locals were off on their siesta; unfortunately there were two streets of the same name that we were looking for and not paying too much attention, we entered the wrong area – a bit obvious though when you are looking for no. 23 and the numbers finish at 19! After a bit of messing around we finally got sorted and out to Quartu Sant’ Elena on the eastern side of Cagliari and our B&B. What a tremendous welcome we got from our hostess Gianna, with a little bit of English and French she got us duly sorted in our room, with tea and coffee to revive us after the harrowing journey through the city. We have a lovely room with a comfy bed (after last night anything would be an improvement) looking out over Sant’ Elena to the sea beyond. Our host’s house is on a small parcel of land with fruit trees and a small garden.
17 November – Off around the coast through Villasimius and a visit to Capo Carbonara before making for San Vito near Muravera.
Casa Camille – our home for the night was a little difficult to spot as we drove through the town of San Vito, but on a second try we found it. I don’t think that it had been in operation all that long, the couple running it were still coming to grips with hospitality things. It was a bit of a hoot as Luca had a couple of friends with him to try to explain things while his wife was working in their supermarket beside the B&B. One of the friends was the local policeman who could speak reasonable English; he complimented us on how clearly we spoke English and how easy it was to understand us compared to English people! We got the gen on local eating places (there was only one!) and then had to wait until it opened later in the evening. They eat really late here – we invariably have the restaurant to ourselves when we turn up soon after 7pm, with local patrons not wandering in until closer to 9pm.
18 November – Another sweet Italian breakfast with the addition of some cornflakes and yoghurt got us set up for our onward journey. From San Vito we headed back to the main road and followed this for quite a while before heading off down to the coast. Gorgeous bit of coastline with some nice little beaches – with only us and a few people fishing from the shoreline, it was quite idyllic. Inspected the towns of Tortoli and Arbatax before heading back inland to take the scenic route through to Dorgali. Wow, what a road! Must have had about 70kms of continuous squiggle up and over several mountain passes – the highest at just over 1,000m. For the most part the road was quite narrow but with good guard rails on the drop-off side, so not too taxing to drive – you just keep a steady pace at around 50-60kph. Some of the views from the mountains were stunning, great expanses of grey rocky peaks looking down into wooded valleys.
Had our share of local wildlife on the road, wild boar, goats, sheep and cows. Stopped for lunch at the top of one of the passes and it was so quiet that you could hear the tinkle of the sheep and goat bells from the valley below. We could see Dorgali from a long way off – a town of 8,500 it was perched on the hillside. Steep streets are the norm for this area, with many senso unico’s (one way streets) you need to have your wits about you so that you don’t go the wrong way up any of them. We found our B&B and this would have to be the most stunning one yet. We were greeted by Fabiola – taken into the kitchen and given afternoon tea. Her son Elia came and translated for us as Fabiola didn’t speak English, but that didn’t matter so we got along just fine. With an invitation to return after dinner and spend some time with the family, we settled into our very nice room. I had a walk up and down some of the streets to get a feel for the town and sussed out a place for dinner as there was no way that we were going to drive in this town in the dark – we would never find our way around! Apres dinner we were entertained by Dino and Fabiola and their daughter Leria (11) who was working on her English homework, so I got to help her out with that. With the wonderful assistance of Google translate we managed to have a very interesting evening, complete with homemade Limoncello (I have the recipe so will be making some when I get back home) and Mirto. Dino is a tiler by trade but he is an extremely able builder as well – their house was built by him including all the masonry work. Nearly all buildings here are built of stone or blocks, then plastered over. The quality of his workmanship was superb.
19 November – After a walk around the town centre we headed off northwards along some scenic roads to San Teodoro, then along the coast to Olbia and our destination just to the east of the town in Pittulongu. Coming into Olbia we went through the middle of a huge marble and stone quarry. Can see now why building in stone is so commonplace. Booked an apartment for 3 days to catch up on washing and have a general relax. Our little apartment is beneath the owner’s house, cosy with a little kitchen, dining and lounge area all in one. Pittulongu seems to be primarily a summer town, not many permanent residents but not as empty as many of the resort towns that pervade this coastline.
20 November – Nice lazy day, getting onward bookings made to take us up into mainland France and just a little foray out to get food and more importantly, money! Not sure what is up with our debit card this time but our attempts to get cash out of the wall twice failed, so it was Plan B and try one of the credit cards instead which did work.
21 November – First day of rain for quite some time, so just went out for a little drive up the coast to Golfo Aranci and then around to Porto Cervo. Very pretty coastline and full of very flash settlements of stone villas but not a soul around – it is like driving through ghost towns. This is a very much a seasonal coastal area – the marinas have a few boats moored but there are certainly berths for many more visiting boats.
22 November – The cold snap that has hit Europe has made it’s mark here as well – rainy again and temperatures dropped by over 10 degrees C. Packed up once again and off on the northbound road to Palau. With plenty of time to spare, we decided to hop on the car ferry over to the Archipelago of Maddelena for a quick look around. What a neat place – very rocky – so much like a miniature Utah, with a myriad of interesting coves and beaches. The main town was so clean and tidy, a lot of moneyed people must be in residence here during the summer months.
The sun finally came out so that we could have a little wander around and find a spot for lunch before driving around the rest of the island and also over to the adjoining island of Caprera by causeway. We happened upon a little museum celebrating the life of Garibaldi who was quite an important figure in Italian history, living in these parts for more than twenty years. Didn’t have time to explore it fully as we needed to get back for the ferry. Once at sea, 15 minutes had us back to Palau, then it was only about 30 mins up to Santa Teresa Gallera.
This time we had a B&B (without breakfast as it is the off-season) booked right in the centre. Learnt from our hostess that the ferries to Corsica had all been cancelled yesterday and today, so fingers crossed the sea is a bit calmer tomorrow or we will be totally messed up with all our bookings. Nice modern room, overlooking a small piazza in the middle of the town. Finished off the day with a nice meal at the only restaurant open in the vicinity.
23 November – Good news – the ferries will be running today. Our 11am sailing was on time and just over an hour later we arrived back in Bonifacio, Corsica. The sailing was a little rough, the odd wave nearly stopping the ferry in its tracks but certainly nothing like we have experienced on many a Cook Strait crossing. Crepes back on the menu for lunch and drinkable hot chocolate once more. We only had a short hop up the coast a little way to Propriano – a small port town with quite a few fancy toys in their harbour. Our little hotel overlooking the port was quite nice.
Had a walk around the town – a bit dirty in places, many of the restaurants closed for the season but a nice marina area. Our choice of restaurant for dinner was a little different – Chez Jojo et Nadine. I think Jojo had long died but Nadine was soldiering on – she must have been well into her 70’s. She had to chase her two dogs out of the restaurant before she could get us seated. We were the only clients for the night as we sat down in a very dark and dated dining area. It was outfitted like an old hunting cabin, with dark stained logs and beams. The food was surprisingly good but she pointed out that she doesn’t do modern cooking so we had very hearty sized portions – way too much for us.
24 November – Another short journey to Ajaccio, but back into typical Corsican roads winding up and over several passes. What a surprise as we came around one particular pass to have a view of snow-covered peaks in the distance – this must have happened in this recent cold snap coming down from Europe as there was no snow on them a couple of weeks ago.
Found parking in the centre of the town so that we could have a good look around. Nice leisurely walk along the corniche, followed by a sumptuous lunch of savoury crepes in a little creperie. Drove out to the end of the peninsula – built up a lot of the way but a nice natural park right at the tip with good walking and nice views of the coastline. Found our hotel for the night just a little out of the city centre, but nice rooms with a view from our balcony, along the beaches and around to the town and harbour.
25 November – Had a day to fill in so took off up the coast and over some little mountain passes out to Cargese. The French roads on the windy parts are not as well-engineered as their Italian counterparts which have guard rails everywhere and we came across one car which had gone off the road on a steep section with no railing but fortunately some trees had broken it’s fall. Not such a great day for sightseeing, rainy from time to time and quite windy, but with stops for morning tea and lunch managed to get through most of the day.
Look what I spied walking around a ridge on the city walls
We had to hang around until 7pm, or so we thought, before we could board the ferry.
Turns out we could have gone on a lot earlier as there were plenty of cars already on the ferry. Everyone with reservations must have turned up early as we set sail 15 mins before the stated departure time of 8pm. We knew we were leaving the port as a very rousing piece of music started playing over the speakers! As it was an overnight voyage we booked a basic cabin for the journey so that hopefully we could get some sleep.