Sartene is Corsica in a nutshell

So, the last day before a return to the UK and time to share one last place with you. Sartene could be Corsica in a nutshell, set in the ancient hills of this mountainous island.

The town’s pride in its culture and history is reflected in the evenings performance of local, traditional choral pieces in the church. Sartene is well known for its wine along with having a long history of piracy, banditry and gangsters.

The evening sun gives the tall buildings, built in the same rock as the steep hill on which they stand, a sunny glaze, allowing them to be absorbed by the surrounding landscape of rock and wooded mountain peaks and ridges.

Having had a break in one of the cafes of the Place Porta, it’s time ťo track back in time into the fascinating old town of Santa Anna which spreads down the hill within ancient walls.

Its narrow streets are crammed with a incredible medley of tall ancient houses, linked by arches, arcades and alleys, and sometimes blocked by unexpected rocks and stairwells.

Life in medieval times had not changed one bit. You can feel the cramped, squalid living conditions and imagine wonderfully gnarled and evil characters and celebrate that one lives in the 21st century and not the 15th.

I’ve enjoyed Corsica. Never easy to get anywhere on its appendix of roads but always worth it when you do.

The journey is always as good as the destination. It’s scenery of tall peaks and grand forests, of soft-sanded bays and craggy coastlines, of ragged rocks and granite outcrops, the wild Corsica is never far away. This is balanced out with ancient, historic harbours, a proud history symbolised by the Corsican flag of a headscarfed pirate, classy hotels and chic residences for the rich and famous, traditional dishes from the land and the sea and local wines and customs that celebrate an independent and unique culture.

The charm of Port Vecchio

A few days have been spent enjoying the sun, admiring the views, counting the layers as the sun sets behind the rows of hills that lead to the sea, cosying into warm, soft sand on local beaches and only coming up for light refreshment and a cooling off in the gentle waters of the Med. The nearest beach is 20 minutes away.

ou can see the line of the surf from the terrace. Driving the roads here is like driving through the wiggles of a long appendix. Monotonous maybe but it’s easy. Nothing can overtake, everything goes at 40 mph. At this time of year parking has been easy and eateries and beach bars serve easily and quickly.

Still the holiday marches on and full advantage must be taken. The delights of Porto Vecchio, on the south-east coast are an hour or so away. So an early start means we set off and arrive for coffee. The old town walls overlook the approach to the harbour.

The old town is delightful. It’s not huge – a little square with tidy houses around the edge and a quaint, little roundabout for small kiddies.

Cafes abound with everyone trying to find some shade under umbrellas or up narrow streets.

From the church at the highest point cobbled streets leaf down to gateways through which the harbour seen and the salt flats on the far side.

Shops are classy and expensive, restaurants are of good quality. It is a cosmopolitan place with its own charm and warmth.

Worth a visit.

Taking the rough with the smooth in south-west Corsica

Having spent at enjoyable day in Bodifacio full of dusty history with flavours of the rich and famous, I assumed that I was getting to get more of the same when I visited the beaches and ports and harbours of the south west. Wrong!

First is Propriano. It looks great from a distance.

There is a suggestion of an old harbour with a few oldish buildings lining the quayside behind the cabins offering boat trips and fishing excursions. An evening night market of tat and restaurants offers pizzas and moules to the flotilla of sails that have assembled on the pontoons. Nothing jumps out saying ‘eat me, eat me’. All is very tame and unexciting.

Porto Pollo is the nearest beach to the house.

It takes about 25 minutes in the car and the bay has the softest sand. It is easy to park on the road at this time of year and cut through the small passages, past purple and pink flowering tall shrubs, to a sparsely crowded bay of empty towels and uninhabited umbrellas. And supervised by a team of lifeguards. All very civilised.

At the far end, a harbour of small, gleaming boats preens itself in the setting sun.

And then the capital, Ajaccio.

Oh dear. Two cruise liners were in town. One was so large – at least 10 decks. It was a monstrosity. The passenger contents had unloaded and blue- stickered groups were led through the tat streets by paddle numbers held high in the air, searching for souvenirs and anything of interest. There was very little of this. No old town, no old streets, no old harbour. I missed the citadel and the cathedral was closed. So no great shakes there. And everywhere was teaming and steaming, stocked with hot, squeezing people, shoving and elbowing to the few bits of shade offered by buildings. I took a few images but really could not get excited.

Napoleon was born in Ajaccio. The Napolean Museum is up a narrow street. We didn’t go in but had a drink outside, listened to the bawdy, recorded singing and watched the progress of the tourist parties as they promenaded behind their guide in their limited time ashore.

It was so good to escape to the winding roads back home.