6 days. 2 parents. 5 ‘kids’. 1 minivan.
After a laughter-filled night ferry from mainland France (cramming Malika’s boyfriend into the tiny 2-bunk cabin with us kids), and a brutal wakeup call from the in-cabin announcement system, we were all itching to get on the road. Hundreds of cars all patiently waiting in rows until the ship’s belly opened up, then spilling out like marbles onto new terrain. Onwards to Bonifacio.
I was surprised to see how quickly mountains grew from the land, I guess having naïvely expected flats from what is known to be a hiker’s paradise. The journey to the southern tip of the island, where we’d be spending the next 6 days, was sinuous and rugged, passing through small clusters of villages and a whole lot of scrub.
And then we caught our first proper glimpse of what the Mediterranean had to offer us here; tranquil coves of impossibly turquoise, impossibly clear water.
Bonifacio Harbour is always busy, filled with local ferries, day tripper boats, private yachts and lines of sailboats that wait patiently along the docks. Nestled in a wide ravine between stark-white limestone cliffs, it looks almost like a fjord in places, overlooked by an ancient citadel that glows increasingly pink-orange as the sun begins to set.
We climb to the topmost point of the old town and pass through a lonely cemetery that looks almost like a sleeping village with its white mausoleums and tombs. The idea of being buried or stored inside a coffin after death is one that both scares and confuses me… the enclosed space…
I hope the past souls who lie here have visitors who take comfort in knowing where their bones lie, but I know I want my body to be burned and given back to the Earth. For the last traces of my physical body to be free, and for those who might still love me to find me in a fiery sunset or a good climbing tree or a mischievous gust of wind.
Old fortifications for the citadel still line the clifftops, with crumbling watchtowers and peep holes. Perched on the ancient walls, you can see Sardinia from here, a crazy reminder of how close countries can be to each other in Europe compared to the vast expanse that is Australia.
It’s so hot during the days that the best exploring is done in the early morning. We hike to La Madonetta lighthouse that guards Bonifacio from the west, and already the heat is such that we strip and jump into a sheltered cove. The water is green, turquoise, blue… a quiet haven after the sweaty scramble. Swimming to a fissure in the cliff face, we find underwater caves and a little octopus hiding amongst the rocks.
The hike continues along the cliff’s edge, disappearing and reappearing in the scrub. We’re rewarded with Fazzio Bay, a limestone inlet spared by the tourist hordes that only we and a few boats seem to have reached. You can’t fully appreciate the colour palette from sea level, so I scale the limestone cliffs to get a better view. Already more boats are arriving as the day progresses so we move on.
One evening we go back to visit the old town, a medieval maze of little winding streets that twist and turn. Everything is hues of white and pink and orange. Each narrow path seems to lead to a quaint café bordered with flowers or an artisanal shop. Bougainvillea and pink oleander. Cracked ivy-covered walls. Cobblestones worn smooth by years of use. A perched cat hypnotised by swallows darting to and from their nests. Absolutely charming.
A day at Palombaggia Beach. Us kids swim out to a rocky island covered in patches of dried moss that look almost neon orange in the sunlight – I wish I could’ve taken my camera. There we accidentally awaken a small bat colony sheltering from the the sun and decide it’s probably a good idea to swim back. The water is warm and calm and I set out on a mission with my kindle and a sarong wrapped around my head to find the perfect reading rocks. We eat chubby cherries and spit the pips out at each other. Life is good.
Evening comes in Bonifacio. Perched atop Montée Rastello facing the sea we can see the famous ‘Grain de Sable’ (grain of sand), a surprisingly huge block of limestone that has detached from the cliffside and now juts out of the sea on its own. We remain here a while, watching the sun lower and the gulls circling.
I find it hard sometimes not to be overwhelmed by all the things I want to experience, learn, understand, create… the places I want to see, the positive impact I want to have on those around me and the world… It’s also such a source of motivation and inspiration to live, live, live.
We sail to the Lavezzi Archipelago in the Strait of Bonifacio, a collection of granite islands and reefs between Corsica and Sardinia listed as UNESCO World Heritage. Small enough to fully explore by foot, we traverse the main island to find a spot we like away from the jetty where tourists are dropped off. There isn’t a scrap of shade here and we’re terribly grateful for our parasols and the fresh sea breeze cooling down the beach.
The terrain is arid and almost desert-like under cloudless skies, with dirt paths that designate areas of the marine park we can access and granite boulders that seem randomly scattered. Here the orange moss paints the scrub with colour, stark against the bright turquoise of the sea. After exploring a little, I find a perfect half-submerged rock and spend the better part of the afternoon reading, rolling off into the water for a swim each time I get too hot. I devour books and my kindle has completely changed travelling for me; just being able to access so many books without the hassle or weight of carrying them.
The boat ride back to town gives us a spectacular view of Bonifacio from the sea ; a magical white city perched precariously on the very edge of a cliff, almost daring the rocks to crumble away beneath it. The aptly named ‘Napoleon’s Hat’ cave that guards the east side of the harbour’s entrance seems to swallow our boat.
We decide to go for an adventure in the mountains to get a taste of Corsica’s highlands. Mum stays by a river to read and the rest of us trek up and into a vast canyon, half rock-climbing half walking, with pine trees all around and imposing mountains above us. We’re all in bikinis/boardies and sandals or thongs, having expected easier terrain, and the families we pass in full hiking gear and backpacks sometimes do a double take. Sweating under the sun’s zenith, I don’t envy them.
It proves to be somewhat challenging climbing up rock faces with my DSLR camera slung around my neck so we sometimes make human chains to pass it down. We get lost twice, but each time find little hidden creeks to swim in. We get back on track and get lost again.
Little could compare to arriving at the secret oasis that is Purcaraccia, hidden from view deep within the mountain canyon walls… it’s a natural amusement park, with smooth granite waterslides that pour crystal clear freshwater into numerous green pools.
We drive up to Col de Bavella, a 1218m high mountain pass populated by very peculiar trees that grow tall and narrow with amusingly flat tops. We can see the Aiguilles de Bavella mountain range jutting up out of the landscape.
The drive back down the mountains is beautiful. So different to the coastal landscapes. We all sit almost in awe watching the trees fly past.
We sit on the southern tip of Corsica at sunset with wood-fired pizzas still hot from the oven. I don’t know what it is about pizza in Europe but the topping to crust ratio is so on point, and the pizza base has the perfect amount of crunch. It’s peaceful up here. I feel like there’s moments on family trips where everyone wants to strangle each other and then there’s moments where you’re all so content with life that all you can do is sit with a goofy smile on your face. This was definitely one of those times. (The smiles, not the strangles).
On our last morning in Corsica, we wanted to head back to the mountains, on the condition that we find a waterfall or a swimming hole to cool down in. Luckily, we found both. Piscia Di Gallo (“Fir tree cascade”) was nice to look at but disappointingly inaccessible for swimming. Even scaling down past the safety fence, we arrived at a dead end with an unpleasant drop onto the rocks below.
By sheer luck, we stumbled upon this random plunge pool on an off-trail whilst on our way back and ended up spending the best hour cooling off with the other families who had also wandered this way, jumping off rocks and lazing in the sun. Bless this island and all its secret pools.
6 days in Corsica, though filled to burst with wonder, didn’t feel like long enough for what the island has to offer – there is so much more to explore. But, they were enough to make me love the place… and also enough to know that I’ll be coming back.