Corsica: L’Ile de Beaute

Food & Wine, France — By on May 8, 2012 at 6:00 am

by Kelly Newsome

Special to Lost Girls

Today guest blogger Kelly Newsome returns to Lost Girls World after a two-year writing hiatus, sharing musings on her latest sightseeing sanctuary, Corsica. Today she talks terrain, men in camoflage and where to find what may be the best pasta in France.

Here’s how you know you’re on vacation:

1) you completely, totally forget what day it is;

2) you eat two desserts a day, plus gelato (which obviously doesn’t count); and

3) when you wake up, your backyard looks like this:  

I fell in love with Corse very quickly. Actually, I was pretty infatuated before I even arrived. A friend of mine had been hyping this place up for months and, after seeing the photos online, it did certainly look like my kinda’ locale. The so-called “island of beauty” is one of those diverse lush spots with abundant forests, magnificent blue sea, immense, snow-colored cliffs, rugged, snow-capped mountains; totally low-key and unpretentious.

But even with the heads up, I found that once I arrived and the sun rose, it was still so beautiful that I almost couldn’t breathe.

Corsica isn’t an intro to France; it’s a deep cut. Not your touristy, croissant-based place. Getting there can require a melange of planes, boats and cabs. There’s no cruise ship, no cafe crème. A Naples-esque feel mists around the cities. There are some chic boutiques (try Porto Vecchio’s tiny shops), but they’re quiet. Expect less English, more simplicity; more palpable, less processed.

Geographically, Corse is an island created from volcanic explosions, leaving a lot of natural terrain that’s great for hiking. The air is scented with wilderness, magnolia, lavender and rosemary. You’ll have to drive to get around, but along winding inland mountain roads and coastal splashes of undisturbed beach rivaling the most beautiful stretches of Cote d’Azur.

It’s a place that seems to have been around forever. Nothing is new here. The surroundings are pleasingly reminiscent of Lisboa, with ancient buildings, steep inclines and beautiful aging faces. It has its own language (Corsican), and a culture created from years of invasions and conflict. Fairytale fortresses sit high, looking over the seas.  The trees have thick trunks and knobby branches; arthritic open palms facing the skies. Minute villages are nestled in the mountains, each with a tiny church and boulangerie and, sometimes, even a stoplight.

Here, old men dress themselves in black clothing and solemn, suntanned expressions.  They sit on benches, watching the world pass. The younger men favor enough camouflage to make one think they’re ready for war. Maybe they’re hunters.  Maybe they’re within the small faction of the island that wants independence from France. I’m not sure. I didn’t ask.

I was too busy eating.

It all began with beignets for breakfast. In a small, off-the-road village, on the way from Porto in the north to Sartène in the south, a woman sat making fresh puddles of warm, soft dough rolled in sugar crystals. ‘Paired them with a hot coffee from the only open bar in town. ‘Ate them straight from the paper bag, licking sugar-coated fingers, extending the experience. 

Most of the food in Corse is, as one might anticipate given its proximity to Sardinia, heavily influenced by Italian fare. Produit Corse include charcuterie, chestnuts, Salinu  (a condiment of blended hazelnuts and coarse salt), plump figs, aromatic honey and a soft-ish, mild, sheep or goat milk-based fromage called brocciu.  It’s found in everything, and in every town, marché and restaurant — including a tiny hideaway in the southern port town of Bonifaccio that layered it in the most tender, celestial pasta I’ve ever tasted.

It was one of those meals where you think you may have died. You think back to that turbulence on your flight, and wonder if someone above intervened, mercifully erasing the part about the crash and planting you, instead, right in front of a plate of the planet’s most perfect pasta.

Maybe it was the wine (which was always inexpensive, always exceptional). Maybe it was the quaint, old-world feel of the restaurant in the alley, or the fact that the owner prepared each dish himself upon order, as if in his home (“You! Return later today, I have for you.”). Maybe it was the velvet tomatoes, or fresh-baked pain with floured, rustic crust, or the best lemon tarts in this life. Whatever. With open mouth and open heart, I happily invited back the three pounds I’d purposely lost before holiday.

As good as Corse tastes, though, its beauty is what fills you up. Expect to take too many photos of the same thing. This is what happens. When we fall in love, we can’t stop staring. Whether it’s Big Sur or a brand-new baby, we take the same picture over and over and over again, and yet, every image is new. Every kiss, sweet. Every click of the camera, magic.

Corsica is no different. Its earthiness enthralls and inspires, draws you in, gives you desserts, shows you extraordinary sunsets over stone and sea. It offers its heart, rough edges and all. Like any love, it requires a little work… but remains one of the few unspoiled travel treats around for those willing to make the trip.

A retired business attorney, Kelly took a career break in 2009 to explore Asia, Australia and Europe before returning to the USA and creating Higher Ground Yoga, a private yoga and self-care consulting practice for busy women who use self-care to enhance their families, their work and the world around them. She specializes in prenatal/postnatal yoga, birth day preparation, pediatric sleep and mother-child attachment. She’s also a certified myofascial release connective tissue therapist, a plant-based diet consultant and a total travel devotee.
You can read about Kelly’s 2009 trip on her travel blog, and follow her current works on her yoga + self-care blog
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