places in corsica

This blog isn’t much of a diary.  I’d be hard pressed to say what exact­ly it is, but one of its func­tions is to record things that might be use­ful or inter­est­ing lat­er on, to our­selves or to friends or to whomev­er might hap­pen along.

The still-dis­or­ga­nized places tab is a frag­men­tary record (or in some cas­es to-do list) of use­ful places— most­ly to eat.  We all eat about three times per day, and if you’re prop­er­ly alive, you’ll agree that eat­ing is one of life’s great sources of plea­sure.  Espe­cial­ly when trav­el­ing.  And it’s not even option­al!  So in what fol­lows, I’ll record some of our most­ly food expe­ri­ences in Cor­si­ca, Provence and Paris, where we’ve spent the last cou­ple of weeks.  Then I’ll copy and paste lib­er­al­ly into the places page.  This seems a good way to relive these plea­sures one last time on the plane before buck­ling down to an inten­si­fied regime chez David Bar­ton.  And if you hap­pen to find your­self in north­ern Cor­si­ca, Mar­seille, Arles, Avi­gnon, Les Baux, or the 6th Arrondisse­ment of Paris any­time soon, you’ll have some recent intel­li­gence from the field that might add a dash of joy to an evening out.  Com­ments, sug­ges­tions and updates are very much appre­ci­at­ed.


In Cor­si­ca, we stayed at a rental place in the pic­turesque vil­lage of Lama, pop­u­la­tion 176 in 2008 accord­ing to Wikipedia.  It’s an inland ham­let perched on a steep moun­tain­side about halfway between Ile Rousse and Bas­tia.  Lama remind­ed us of cer­tain moun­tain vil­lages in the rel­a­tive­ly unde­vel­oped west of Crete, where we (not coin­ci­den­tal­ly) spent an idyl­lic cou­ple of weeks last sum­mer.

In the main square there are some sofas under a canopy where you can have tar­tine in the morn­ing, tarti­nat­ed (let’s just adopt that word) with hand­made fig pre­serves and local but­ter.  You won’t be con­fused about which estab­lish­ment I mean, because there’s noth­ing else in the main square aside from the oblig­a­tory lit­tle church.  This place also had a wood-fired brick piz­za oven and prob­a­bly does a decent job of it; piz­za was very com­mon in Cor­si­ca, betray­ing its kin­ship with Italy, which often seems stronger than its kin­ship with France.  (Though sad­ly, this doesn’t extend to the cof­fee.  Here they must need to pay their dues to their French oppres­sors, if my French Cof­fee The­o­ry is cor­rect.  A more benign the­o­ry is that since piz­za cul­ture is much old­er than espres­so cul­ture, this is an arti­fact of the length of the peri­od dur­ing which Cor­si­ca has been cut off from Ital­ian influ­ence.*)

When our friend Michael arrived, he brought with him, cour­tesy of his taxi dri­ver, a 10cm disc of some kind of no-name Cor­si­can sheep’s milk cheese with an ash rind, which was unbe­liev­ably good.  Com­plex, dense, nut­ty and rich, slight­ly dry around the edges, moist but not run­ny in the cen­ter.  Not to be refrig­er­at­ed.  We tried our best to spread the eat­ing of this cheese out over sev­er­al days.  I’m sor­ry not to know more pre­cise­ly what this thing was called or where it came from.

We ate din­ner twice at the town’s fanci­er restau­rant, Cam­pu Lat­inu, and were very hap­py with it.  (We only repeat­ed a restau­rant twice on this trip.)  The set­ting is beau­ti­ful and atmos­pher­ic, with out­door seat­ing on a stone ter­race under fig trees and climb­ing vines over­look­ing the val­ley.  As dusk comes in, around 9 o’clock, lay­ers of moun­tain­ous sil­hou­ette rise soft­ly out of the clouds on the far side in pur­ple bands.  One of the tra­di­tion­al dish­es served by Cam­pu Lat­inu, a sort of beef pot pie with juniper berries in the stew, was a stand­out.  It was unfor­tu­nate that this was being split among three of us, each try­ing to bal­ance gra­cious shar­ing against glut­tony.

Meals at Cam­pu Lat­inu stretched out lux­u­ri­ant­ly into the night.  Here and else­where in Cor­si­ca, one orders the 50cl bot­tles of Pat­ri­mo­niu wine in order to avoid the excess­es of full-sized 75cl bot­tles, but the intent to mod­er­ate is ruined by the inevitable sec­ond bot­tle.  Like a lot of local wines in Europe, this stuff is rough­ly the price of bot­tled water in the gro­cery store, sug­gest­ing that Jesus’s par­lor trick was a wash eco­nom­i­cal­ly speak­ing.  And it goes with the food per­fect­ly.  Such wine might or might not sur­vive recon­tex­tu­al­iza­tion.  There are high­er-end Cor­si­can wines too, though, and we had two excel­lent ones lat­er on at Emile’s in Calvi.  But I’m get­ting ahead of myself.

We didn’t get the sense that there are a great num­ber of clas­sic Cor­si­can dish­es.  One that came up often was can­nel­loni stuffed with ricot­ta-like broc­ciu cheese.  We were nev­er par­tic­u­lar­ly con­vinced by this recipe.  It’s bland, and unfor­tu­nate­ly seems the like­ly mod­el for the sort of “cheese can­nel­loni” made pop­u­lar in the US by fed­er­al­ly fund­ed school lunch­es and microwave din­ners.

Corte Corti

In Cor­si­ca, as through­out Europe, there are stan­dard­ized enter­ing and exit­ing signs along the roads as they wind their way through one ham­let after anoth­er.  The town names are writ­ten first in French, then in Cor­si­can, which looks pret­ty much like Ital­ian with ter­mi­nal o’s turned into u’s.  (But of course this must nev­er be men­tioned, just like it must nev­er be men­tioned that cer­tain of the many “offi­cial” lan­guages of Spain look just like Span­ish but with some j’s turned into x’s.  Orthog­ra­phy strain­ing to reca­pit­u­late ethnog­ra­phy, or some­thing.)  Corte is the town at the heart of Corsica’s on again, off again inde­pen­dence move­ment, and there, even more than else­where on the island, French spellings on the signs have been graf­fi­tied over.  The uni­ver­si­ty has posters on it that seem to sug­gest some kind of “lib­er­a­tion stud­ies” cur­ricu­lum.

The short walk from the town’s main square, Place Pas­cal Paoli, up to the cas­tle, with its won­der­ful panoram­ic view­points, is rec­om­mend­ed.  At Café de la Place on this square we had a very good hand­made pas­ta dish with san­gli­er, which are the wild pigs liv­ing on the island.  (Roger, our apart­ment guy, cau­tioned us on the day we arrived to latch the gar­den gate against these maraud­ers.)  But much bet­ter over­all was a meal we had on the ter­race of the near­by U Paglia Orba, a place focused on high-qual­i­ty region­al cook­ing.  The pro­pri­etor was kind and atten­tive to the kids, and the bill was very rea­son­able.

It was a Thurs­day.  As night fell, some kids in the street below hooked up elec­tric gui­tars and start­ed doing cov­ers of Rolling Stones and U2 songs, most­ly get­ting the lyrics right.  The sur­round­ing few blocks quick­ly became live­ly with rov­ing crowds of all ages, food stands, and musi­cal acts, most notably a band singing tra­di­tion­al Cor­si­can polypho­ny, which is quite beau­ti­ful in its belt­ed-out, fullthroat­ed open-fifths kind of way.  This tra­di­tion­al stuff attract­ed a much big­ger crowd than the Anglo-Amer­i­can cov­er acts, this being Corte Cor­ti, after all.

Gorges and Falls

The Reston­i­ca Gorges, near Corte, are worth a hike.  Bring your swim­suit.  If one wends far enough up the twisty (and very nar­row) road along the gorge and finds a place to pull the car off, one can pick a path down to the riv­er and spend a very pleas­ant after­noon swim­ming in the rock pools and boul­der­ing.  Even bet­ter, though also more tourist­ed, was the Cas­cade des Anglais in the heart of the island, a chain of water­falls, nat­ur­al slides and pools under over­hang­ing gran­ite ledges.

For a seri­ous hik­ing hol­i­day, the GR20 trail looks pret­ty great.  On the way to Cas­cade des Anglais we stopped to walk a small sec­tion of it, down a val­ley and up a hill to an aban­doned keep.

One can just make the keep out in Bing’s aer­i­al imagery (shown below at three lev­els of detail with a push­pin at the geo­t­ag of the panora­ma above):


Porto, Girolata and the Scandola Reserve

On the sea­side in Por­to, there are lots of out­fits offer­ing boat tours and rentals to explore the coast.  It would have been fun to rent a zodi­ac for the day, but we arrived a bit late for that.  We did make it out on a snor­kel­ing tour of the Scan­dola Reserve, a beau­ti­ful stretch of coast­line walled in by steep gran­ite cliffs and rock for­ma­tions.  The boat also stopped at Giro­la­ta, a vil­lage acces­si­ble only from the sea and per­haps by ATV.  Por­to and Giro­la­ta both have old stone watch­tow­ers, part of a net­work of dozens cir­cling the island built by the Gen­ovese dur­ing their occu­pa­tion, though the ruins proved hard to access.

There are sev­er­al places in Giro­la­ta good for hav­ing a glass of wine or a beer before going back to the boat.  In Por­to, we ate at Le Robin­son, which is reput­ed to be one of the few places where one can get real Cor­si­can lan­goustes, but were most­ly unim­pressed.  The prepa­ra­tion method of the lan­goustes involved an incon­gru­ous dark sauce, and they were over­cooked.


We were in Calvi only briefly, for a walk around the citadel and din­ner.  I wish we’d had more time to explore— it’s the most attrac­tive of the Cor­si­can sea­side towns we saw on this trip, some­what rem­i­nis­cent of the Venet­ian har­bor of Cha­nia in north­west Crete.


Views from the citadel were mag­nif­i­cent, and the old town high up with­in the citadel had appeal­ing-look­ing tea hous­es and shops, while the more pick­pock­et-friend­ly pedes­tri­an alley­ways below thronged with the usu­al mer­chants sell­ing hats, ice creams, and USB sticks.

Michael’s father had booked us in to Emile’s on the water­front, a Miche­lin-starred place with a sec­ond-sto­ry bal­cony.  It was white table­cloth (what Miche­lin place isn’t?), but not exces­sive­ly for­mal.  The meal was very good, and the wines excel­lent, though Michael Sr. was to be thanked for his expert selec­tion on this score, and I neglect­ed to take notes.  I let Anselm get away with eat­ing all of the truf­fles in my amuse-bouche, which prob­a­bly counts as overindul­gent par­ent­ing.  As we were fin­ish­ing up dessert and dark set­tled, Bastille Day fire­works start­ed up over the har­bor.  Pret­ty per­fect.


We had a very nice upscale lunch on the water at Saint-Flo­rent, but I’m now unable to find the name of the restau­rant, which is quite frus­trat­ing.  It began with an “M”, and one accessed it by walk­ing down a some­what hid­den ramp off the main square.  The lan­gouste in lemon but­ter sauce here made it clear what all the fuss was about.  This place also served deli­cious stuffed sar­dines, in which broc­ciu was deployed to bet­ter effect than in the can­nel­loni.

To be con­tin­ued..

*OK, anoth­er smar­tarse is like­ly to point out that the mod­ern piz­za with toma­to and moz­zarel­la was only invent­ed in 1889, around the same time as espres­so (1884).  (The 1880s were a fruit­ful decade for the Ital­ians!)  But piz­za is much old­er than this, and the addi­tion of slices of moz­zarel­la on top is, while culi­nar­i­ly sig­nif­i­cant, con­cep­tu­al­ly triv­ial.  Idea dif­fu­sion— noth­ing but a dropped com­ment in a bar— is suf­fi­cient to intro­duce the Margheri­ta recipe to an exist­ing piz­za cul­ture, while it’s total­ly inad­e­quate for intro­duc­ing espres­so to a pre-espres­so cof­fee cul­ture.

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