Our tip started with a drive south through France. To avoid driving too many hours on one day, we stopped halfway to our destination in the village of Journans where we stayed at municipal campgrounds. These campgrounds are a wonderful institution in France, providing basic, inexpensive campgrounds with sanitary facilities.
There was a highly praised restaurant in the village, Restaurant A la source, but the first time we called they said that all tables were booked. We called again once we arrived in the village and were told that it was possible after all, since someone had canceled. The meal turned out to be one of the best we had on the whole trip: amazing luck to find something like that in such a small village, which we had previously never heard of.
We arrived at Roussillon the next day, where my friend was going to take a pottery course at a workshop just outside of town. We were able to camp on the premises for a small fee, which was quite a good deal, since accommodation prices in this part of the Provence are quite expensive. This region is called Luberon, is populated with sundry beautiful, small villages, and was made famous in part by a bestselling book by some English guy who lived in the area for a year. Accordingly, tourists were not lacking.
The villages are often situated at the top of hills, and Roussillon was no exception.
It was a two-kilometer stroll up to the village, passing through vineyards and small forest.
Quite a picturesque village, although it seems that almost nobody lives there anymore. It is packed with tourists during the day, but almost deserted in the evening. Most places have been converted into rental accommodations, the locals moving outside of town.
I spent the next couple of days visiting the area while my friend was in her pottery course. First, I drove to Apt, since I was told that there was a market there on that day. Unfortunately, there was none. The town was pretty much deserted, and since it was Monday, most stores were closed. My friend in Aix-en-Provence, whom I visited a couple of days later, said Apt was a dying town with a decreasing population.
I drove to Gordes the next day, purported to be the most photographed village in the area. It turned out that there was a market there that day, which also meant that there were hordes of tourists. The village is quite beautiful, although I am not sure if it warrants that many visitors.
We drove the next night to a short distance north of Aix-en-Provence to visit my friend Dominique. I had lived in a tent next to his house and shared kitchen and outhouse with him and his girlfriend for four months many years ago. In the meantime, he had done a lot of renovations and installed plumbing, so that the house barely resembled that of the past.
The pottery course finished, we drove to Toulon for the ferry to Corsica. Upon arriving, we immediately drove north up the east coast of Cap Corse
We had planned to stay at a campground in Macinaggio, but it was closed and the weather was bad, so we drove over the mountains to Centuri on the west coast. It is a quaint fishing village, but it lives for tourism and was about to close down for the winter. Its specialty was lobster, served for a hefty price in the restaurants there.
View of Centuri from above:
The drive south down the coast the next day was spectacular, the first of many. The road was often very narrow with steep drops on the side of the sea.
Stop along the way at the village of Pino
Marine de Farinole
Nice beach with sanitary facilities for overnight stays, but with signs stating not to swim if there are big waves or strong winds.
The tower is one of the many on this coast. They were originally built when the Genoese ruled the island to warn the inhabitants when pirates were nearby.
Another tower down the coast:
On the road:
Campground for the night
The weather forecast was good for the next few days, so headed up into the mountains and Corte for some hiking. The campsite had an ideal location with a view of the citadel.
The old part of town is quite pretty, and laws prevent making a lot of changes to it.
Although this one seemed to be an exception:
The house where Napoleon’s brother was born.
Corsica is famous for its GR20 hiking trail, but it is extremely strenuous and difficult. We opted for a couple of easier day hikes from Corte, the first in valley heading to the Gorges du Tavignano. It’s an easy hike without a lot of ups and downs, but there are spectacular views the whole way.
The most famous hike from Corte is the Restonica Trail. To get to the starting point, however, you need to drive 15 km, the last half on a very narrow one-lane road. We were lucky that we only encountered one school bus heading down, but which was a difficult situation. We went early to get one of the few parking spaces at the road end (it’s possible to park a farther down the road). I hate to think what it is like in the summer when up to 1,000 vehicles make the trip.
One hour to Lake Melu is apparently for well-trained hikers. The train got very strenuous toward the first lake.
We originally thought that we would continue to the next lake, but a ranger, whom I spoke to there, said the next section was a lot more difficult, so we decided to just enjoy the scenery and hike to there.
It was forbidden to swim in the lake, although one guy got in and was quickly reprimanded by the ranger. However, the ranger said lots of people did that in the summer when they even counted more than 200 people at the lake one summer day (and there was a heat wave).
We found a small pool for cooling off on the way down.
Relaxing after the end of the hike: Pietra beer, especially the dark version, was quite delicious and refreshing.
We drove west from Corte through stunning landscapes on narrow roads with steep declines on one side.
After approx. one hour, the landscape changed to a pleasant forest, which was also a regional park
Wildlife on the road:
We thought driving would then be easier, but again encountered narrow roads with steep declines near the coast.
The campground at the beach was already closed for the winter, so we were forced to take a hotel room. However, we had a beautiful view of Piana, a quite picturesque village.
A steep descent on a narrow road took us to Ficajola Bay the next day.
Another spectacular drive up the coast to Calvi.
We had hoped for a few days of warm weather and beach, but it started to rain and cloudy and cool were forecast for the next four days, our last ones planned on the island. In a van at a campground in bad weather is rather unpleasant, so we changed our ferry reservation, drove over the mountains to Bastia and caught the ferry to Livorno, Italy.
Bastia from the ferry
It was an afternoon trip and we arrived in Italy at 7 p.m. We headed directly north, but of course it was too far and we were too tired to drive through the night. We checked accommodation around the area after two hours and booked a hotel in Villafranca in Lunigiana, a village we had never heard of previously. When we arrived, we were amazed at how beautiful it was; it was like entering a museum.
We asked at the small hotel if any restaurant might still be open and were directed to one around the corner to a one called Convivium. The food and wine were superb! Although we had a lot of good food and wine on Corsica, the meals our first night in France and our last night in Italy were by far the best.
The next day at a café, the owner told us that tourists often came in buses during the day in the summer, often from cruise ships that docked at La Spezia. It seemed that few people stayed overnight, but then there are other beautiful villages in the surroundings. The waitress at the restaurant even gave us a free booklet describing the sights in Lunigiana. There are so many people places in Italy, that I imagine they really have to do some good marketing to attract tourists, although the area certainly has a lot to see and experience.
A long drive home the next day and the end of my Mediterranean summer, i.e., trips to Siena, Italy, Split and nearby islands in Croatia, a short jaunt to Barcelona to meet an old friend, and Corsica Aller-Retour. Despite living many years in Europe, I feel like I am just starting to appreciate how many beautiful places it has if you just avoid traveling in the high season in summer!