Today we caught the train to Ajaccio. The narrow-gauge train, officially called the Chemins de Fer de la Corse, connects Bastia to Ajaccio and Calvi (along with many points in between, of course). It's quite a scenic train trip as it winds through the mountainous center of Corsica.
The photos from the train suffer a bit because the train was moving and the windows were dirty and scratched. There is only so much that a high shutter speed and polarizer can fix.
Our train ride ended in Ajaccio, the end of the line.
From the train we walked about a km to our apartment. The apartment was a roomy one bedroom, very conveniently and scenically located in the middle of the old Genovese quarter. Its only downside was the fact that it was on Ajaccio's busiest sidewalk-cafe street, chock-a-block with restaurants and busy until the wee hours. I suppose that this was a downside says something about us but the noisy-ness wasn't the problem, noise was part of the heart-of-the-city experience. No, the problem was that by the end of the evening we felt like we'd smoked a pack of cigarettes as almost everyone in France smokes.
Today was a day to explore Ajaccio. After espresso and pastries from the patisserie across the street - I quickly became partial to ambrucciata - we walked along the waterfront, hit the farmers market, ate some charcuterie, and took in some 16th and 17th century art at the museum. Ajaccio is easy getting around, everything is within a few blocks from our apartment, and the sidewalks are overflowing with cafes.
About a half-hour north of Ajaccio is the Tower of Parata, or Torra di a Parata in Corsican. It is an old stone structure sitting on top of a rocky hill. The tower, one of a series, was built around 1550 by the Republic of Genoa to defend against attacks by Barbary pirates.
In the far right you can just make out the outskirts of Ajaccio.
If I'd been clever I'd have positioned something in the photo for size relevance, like a person or an umbrella, but in light of that omission I'll say the tower is 12 m (39 ft) in height, so about 3 stories, and it has a diameter of 7.3 m (24 ft) at the roof.
While it isn't exactly the GR20 (the 180km trail stretching the length of Corsica from Calenzana to Conca), the Chemin des Cretes, or Path of the Ridges, provided a scenic hike in the green foothills above Ajaccio with glimpses of the city, its beaches, and the gulf of Ajaccio.
Stretching from Calenzana in the north of Corsica to Conca in the south is the famous GR20, a challenging 180 km trail. It takes at least two weeks and involves, among other challenges, ladders and ropes and rocky scrambles. I'm sure it's a wonderful trek but sadly we didn't do it. Instead, today we did the much much shorter Chemin des Cretes (Path of the Ridges) that starts about a half-hours walk from our central-Ajaccio apartment.
The best-known way to explore its interior is the challenging 180km GR20 one of the most famous walking trails in Europe. It stretches from Calenzana in the north to Conca in the south and is considered one of the most difficult long-distance treks on the continent (there are exposed scrambles, and at some points ladders and steel ropes to assist walkers). The whole thing takes at least two weeks, and involves staying in refuges or camping along the way.
Ajaccio itself is flanked by green foothills covered in an aromatic carpet of vegetation and herbs. Beyond them, a rocky ridgeline dramatically pierces the sky and below are beaches of golden sand.
As I headed up through suburban streets to the trailhead of my chosen route, the Chemin des Crtes (Path of the Ridges), I passed statue after statue of Ajaccio's most famous son Napoleon Bonaparte. Given the hero worship of this leader, the fighting spirit of its eco-activists begins to make sense. The route begins opposite the Bois des Anglais, a patch of woodland left over from the island's short stint as a British colony over 200 years ago. At less than 10km it's a much easier prospect than the more famous trail, but as it cuts along the peaks above the coast it offers stunning views for very little effort, and you can finish up with a very civilised drink in a bar in the seaside village of Vignola.
Who could blame them? With the full extent of the gulf of Ajaccio revealed, and the Iles Sanguinaires creeping out onto the horizon, my gaze, too, was fixed out on this tiny rocky archipelago, that breaks off from the mainland at Pointe de la Parata. They're called the Isles of Blood because of the reddish colour they reflect into the sea.
You can get a good look at the islands' wind- and spray-scoured shapes on another, shorter, walk here. Take the number 5 bus from Ajaccio to the start of the waymarked path (in the car park) and it's a 40-minute round trip to the end of the Pointe de la Parata peninsula. Come in the early evening to avoid the tour buses and watch the light play as the sun sets.
We left Bonifacio this morning stopping first at the Filitosa archaeological site where we marveled at what archaeologists can ascertain from tiny bits of this and that.
From Filitosa we drove on to Ajaccio. In Ajaccio we dropped off the Citroen then caught a ferry, the Pascal Lota, back to the mainland. It is an overnight ferry so we took a cabin. We leave at 8pm and arrive in Toulon at 7am tomorrow.
The over night ferry was quite comfortable. We reserved an outside cabin which had big windows, comfortable beds, and a small but functional bathroom, all you need for a good nights sleep.