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Sun and sights a matter of Corsica
The bull turned its head menacingly slowly, and glared at us, standing rather nervously 50 yards behind him on the narrow coastal path.
We had walked for more than an hour to reach an historic watchtower, which was now within our sights – but the impressively-horned beast might yet stop us from getting there.
Luckily, a group of Germans came striding purposefully past all three of us. Defeated, our bull ambled off through the heavy scrub towards the sea, chewing the cud.
The common sight of cows wandering on beaches is one of the things which make the island of Corsica (La Corse) a little special.
Our base, in the north, was the village of Patrimonio. With panoramic views to the coast, this quiet hillside village has grown up around a 16th century church, an impressive building which dominates the area.
In the heart of Corsica’s premier wine region, Patrimonio is noted for its many ‘caves’ – where you often find free wine tastings.
Sweet Muscat dessert wine, for which the area is justifiably renowned, is gorgeous, but white and rose wines slip down pretty smoothly too.
Patrimonio also has an annual guitar festival, in a small amphitheatre not far from the church. Near here too is an example of a ‘menhir’, a rather spooky ancient stone figure, of which there are many on the island.
Our spacious, well-equipped villa had a pool, outside kitchen, stone-built barbecue, petanque court, ping-pong table and sun deck.
With the sun beating down relentlessly, and the calm of this sleepy little village interrupted only rarely, it was all too tempting to lie back and do absolutely nothing.
But the hire car was ready and waiting – indeed, just about essential, given the state of public transport – and there was much to see in the surrounding area.
Barely ten minutes’ drive from Patrimonio is the delightful little port of St Florent, with its citadel and crumbling buildings clustered around a large marina. Restaurants, bars and speciality food shops are grouped around the centrepiece petanque court.
The Italian influence is evident in the pizzas and pastas, and cheese fans relish the ‘brocciu’ – a ewe’s cheese often mixed with herbs in pasta dishes. Wild boar is on many a menu, and with so many ports, fish and seafood is a must.
Just beyond the marina is a beach, though bathers can be deterred by brown seaweed which sometimes clogs the water.
Plage de la Roya, a little further along, is not as inviting as some spots further down the coast, but not bad nonetheless.
For the more energetic, a hike along the coastal path through the ‘maquis’ – the generic name given to the scrubland which dominates the landscape here – is a bracing challenge.
The maquis, in full splendour in the spring and summer months, played a key part in the Second World War, when local resistance fighters used it to evade detection from the Italian Gestapo. The partisan movement was known as ‘Le Maquis’.
Along the coastal path, some seven kilometres from St Florent, is the Tour de Mortella watchtower. This structure was originally built to counter piracy.
Only half of it now remains, but this is one of many ‘Martello’ towers on Corsica’s coastline, later to be replicated around the south coast of England and Ireland.
A drive here from St Florent took in winding mountain roads with some spectacular views of the two snow-capped peaks of Mount Cinto and of rugged coastline, and on through the wild area known as the Desert Des Agriates.
Along this coast are the glorious beaches of resorts such as Ile Rousse, sometimes called ‘the St Tropez of Corsica’, and Calvi, which tourists adore.
A bustling little resort overlooked by a citadel, Calvi is a living, working ‘haute ville’ or upper town built on a promontory, with views across the Ligurian Sea.
Calvi is a magnet for sunseekers, with magnificent beaches of fine white sand. The snag is that trendy beachside bars and restaurants own some of the best sections of beach, leaving those who don’t hire a sunbed squashed into the areas in between, or pushed along the bay.
But don’t let that put you off – Corsica’s got more going for it than simply a place for a beach holiday.
* Michael Black travelled with VFB/Travelzest, which offers seven-night self-catering stays on Corsica from £431, including return flights ex-Manchester from £495.
* Savings of up to 50 per cent are available on selected departure dates and free car hire is offered on selected villas – call VFB Holidays for the latest deals.
* Travelzest reservations: 0800 1712160 and travelzest.com.