I’m getting over a vacation hangover. That feeling you get when you had a little too much fun on vacation and reality takes longer to rejoin that you normally expect. Emails seem less urgent, impending deadlines feel further than they really are, and chores? Meh. A pile of dirty laundry never hurt anyone.
My vacation hangover is from our ten-day vacation in Corsica. We spent five days on a coast to coast hike and the last five days lazing around doing barely anything except picking out beaches, finding cute restaurants, and sipping wine. Tough life.
We spent the first five days of our trip hiking the Mare e Mare Sud. Apparently, this is the easiest multi-day trek on the island. When we booked the trip, it was touted as the trek for those wanting to “dip their toe into multi-day trekking,” the “shortest of the Corsican hikes,” and “a good starter route.” So, considering ourselves to be in pretty good shape, and having hiked many times before (albeit never on a 5 day trek) we booked our trip with Corisca Adventures.
Um. Yeah. It wasn’t easy.
Day 1 – Figari Airport and Porto Vecchio
Mood: EXCITED! We can conquer the world!
Weather: Beautiful, warm, sunny
We landed at Figari airport and took an 8€ shuttle bus from the airport to the bus stop at the port in Porto Veccio. From there it was a short, but uphill, walk to our first hotel, Hotel Holzer II. Apparently it’s called Holzer II because the hotel was open in the mid to late twentieth century, closed, then reopened. The hotel itself was fine, pretty standard for a mid-range European hotel. Americans would consider the rooms very small, but generally our room was on par with most three star hotels we’ve stayed at in major European cities. The breakfast left a little something to be desired, but more on that later.
We had dinner at A Merendella, which has beautiful views of the port and incredibly mediocre, over-priced food. Go for a drink, skip dinner. The food was boring, the seafood overcooked, and the house wine was so bad we sent it back. The place gets decent reviews on Yelp! Which makes me doubt Yelp! as a reliable source for restaurant reviews. The view was gorgeous, and since we were still on the high of “VACATION: DAY 1!” it was fine, but if I’d eaten there on Day 5 after I’d been spoiled with the Corsican cuisines, I would not be so forgiving.
Day 2 – Porto Vecchio to Cartalavonu
Mood: Let’s get this party STARTED!
Weather: Sunny, kinda hot
We woke up bright and early at 8:30 am (yes, that is early for us, we don’t have kids, remember?). You know what woke us up? A man walking into our hotel room! Yeah. Awkward. Any hoo, after I gave my dear husbandy a hard time for being a zombie rather than jumping to our defense when a stranger barged into our room, we got dressed and ready for breakfast. It was a somewhat disappointing spread of bread, croissants, jams, cheese, coffee, and tea. I mean, it was fine, but nothing to write home about. Frankly, I was hoping for a little more protein, but I ate three mini-yogurts and called it even.
After 45 minutes of sun-tan lotion application, profuse bug-spraying, luggage labeling, and map investigating, we were off! Day 1! Our guidebook told us that Day 1 was about 14km, or 8.7 miles, and instructed us to plan for a 7 hour hike. With our Camelbacks full, we set off.
Day 1 was lot of hiking along a country road to get to the official trailhead. The hot sun beat down on us, and hats were a must. Once we arrived at the trailhead, it was surprisingly steep, hot, and dry. We enjoyed our sandwiches in a shady spot of the uphill climb, and after that we were rewarded with a wonderful view of the port, the sea, and Sardinia in the distance.
We arrived at Le Refuge de Cartalavonu in about 6.5 hours and my GPS clocked 9.7 miles. We actually almost missed Le Refuge. It’s a modest little place, but it serves cold draft beers and home-cooked, rustic, Corsican cuisine, which was enough to make it a winner in my book. Le Refuge offered full room and board, and for dinner we were served a delicious and hearty Corsican soup, liver stew, roasted pork, and crème caramel for dessert. The soup was to die for. It was so good I forgot to take a picture of it. Really, it was ah-mazing.
That evening we spent the night in a small room on the top floor of the lodge. It was a small room on the side of the house with the ceiling sloped to match the pitch of the roof. Apparently the room was also above the boiler room or something because it was hot. No AC. No fan. Just a small, small, window, taunting us to stick our heads out for fresh air. If I weren’t so tired from the hike, I’m sure I would’ve been annoyingly whiny and crabby. It was so hot that we slept in separate beds. Fortunately, I was dead tired. Uncomfortably, hot or not, I eventually fell asleep and work up to birds singing in the morning.
Day 3 – Cartalavonu to Levie
Mood: Ready for another day! Yesterday was hard, but gorgeous!
Weather: Beautiful, warm, sunny
Day three started with a breakfast of baguettes and jam at Le Refuge. No cheese. No yogurt. No fruit. No protein. Honestly, how do they think one can start a full day’s hike on a breakfast of white bread and sugar? Thankfully, we had a major stash of Larabars with us, so we supplemented our skimpy breakfast with two Larabars. At 220 calories each, those things are pretty dense and they were a LIFESAVER. Literally, I think Larabars saved my life on this hike, especially the peanut butter chocolate chip ones!
We set off on day three which was supposed to be about 11km or 7 miles. The guidebook told us to allocate 5 hours for the hike. A short day– until, we got lost. See, there are these orange markers that you are supposed to follow along the trail for the Mare e Mare Sud. For the most part, these are well-marked and easy to find.
But then…. somewhere along the way, we lost our orange markers which were shaped like a small horizontal line and started following orange “c” markings instead. I mean, “orange is orange” right? Uh, no. As we walked by two orange “c” markings in opposite directions I started to get worried.
Then, I saw a lake. A big lake.
I called out to Omar, “I wonder what that lake is, because on the map, I don’t see a lake.” Yeah. Not good. After about 20 minutes of map reading and hypothesizing, we agreed we were lost and had no idea how to get back on track. We went to ask a very nice lady in the closest town, and her suggestion was to hike along the highway back to Cartalavonu and start over. No lady. We’ve been hiking for 3 hours, we aren’t “starting over.” Thanks. Onto Plan C.
Thankfully, we ran into a nice Canadian man who now lives in Milan, with a summer home in Corsica. It’s hard to express how comforting a North American English accent is in moments like this. Knowing he understood our English, it was almost victory enough to stop hiking right there. He kindly gave us directions to get us back on track, and after our 2 hour detour, and a little snack to ease my hangriness, we were back on track.
We arrived at Levie about 7.5 hours and 9 miles/14.5km after we started. So much for a short day. Levie though, was charming. I loved Levie.
In Levie, we stayed at the Chambres d’hôtes De Rocca Serra, where cats greeted us. The inn is run by the kindest old lady, whose name now escapes me. The little inn has the potential to give one the creeps because it’s so jam packed with trinkets, but the owner is so warm it makes the trinkets seem normal. Our room was cozy and clean, but again, no AC.
Dinner was at La Pergola, probably one of my favorite meals of our entire trip. We arrived at the restaurant and four men well into their 70’s were smoking cigarettes and drinking beers on the porch. We, the obvious tourists, were greeted by them and quickly told that the owner and the cook were running late and the restaurant hadn’t opened yet. We had a seat on the patio and in less than 2 minutes, the owner arrived in his little car, to the applause of the older men.
A short apology and a generous pouring of house wine made everything better. With the house wine poured, we ordered. This time it was a terrine de sanglier, which was a wild boar pate, YUM! I could’ve stopped there, but we also had a tomato and chevre tart to start. We shared a main course of a veal stew and grilled veal, and since we couldn’t decide on which sides, the owner brought us a little bit of everything! Dessert was a lovely cake and fresh strawberries. Everything was home-cooked and delicious.
I could’ve died happy right there.
It was an amazing dinner. And while we were enjoying our dinner, the four old men on the patio moved from beer, to white wine, to red wine, laughing all night, and not eating a thing. Their positive mood washed over us, and coupled with the delicious food, the dinner melted away the frustration of getting lost, the mosquito bites, the cramps, and the muscle soreness that was starting to settle in. It was perfect. I didn’t want the day to end.
Back at the inn, I wearily took a look at what was ahead for Day 4. Allegedly, 17km/10.5 mi and 5.5 hours. “I don’t want to know.” Omar said as he was stretching that night. “We’ll find out tomorrow.”
Tune in next week, for Corsica Part 2…