A short one today. The wind built overnight until we were getting gusts around 40 to 50 miles per hour. From our campground the ocean looked pretty rough. We spent the day hunkered down in François with him shaking pretty vigorously in the wind. We finally followed the example of our Dutch neighbors and moved over by a tall line of shrubbery that blocked some of the wind, though we would still get knocked around pretty good. We spent a good part of the morning watching our email fearing that the ferry would be cancelled. Finally about 3:30 we moved down to the ferry port where we are currently waiting. The departure board says we are leaving at 7pm. I expect it is going to be a rough 13 hours to Toulon.
We had a weather shortened day. We forgot about daylight savings time, and did not realize until this morning that it had happened yesterday here, of course we were not late for anything because most days we don’t have to worry about being anywhere at a certain time.
Our first stop for the day was a LeClerc to stock up on some food, and to pick up some Corsican things we have grown to appreciate that we probably will not be able to get once we head back to the mainland on Tuesday. This was a huge LeClerc so Ton enjoyed herself window shopping as well as filling the basket.
We were planning to visit a town called Saint Florent which is on the other side of Cap Corse, but when we came out of LeClerc the wind had really picked up, and the mountains we were going to have to cross to get to Saint Florent looked socked in, so we decided to go up the side of Cap Corse we were on to our campground for the day. On the way we stopped in Erbalunga which is a cute town.
Erbalunga is a quick stop, but we enjoyed watching the ocean putting on a show. Ton remembered she needed to some onions so we popped into a little neighborhood market which was doing a thriving business, and then headed to our campground for the day. We are parked in a big open field with about 5 other RV’s. It is a really nice campground with great facilities. When we arrived there was a sign that said go pick a spot and come back at 6pm to pay. When I went by at 6 pm no one was there, so maybe tomorrow morning.
The wind really howled most of the afternoon, frequently giving François a good shake. But towards sunset it died down completely, and now all we can hear is the surf about a quarter mile away. Another front is supposed to come thru tomorrow just in time for our departure on the ferry.
Today we visited the second largest city on Corsica. Bastia was founded around 1370 as a Citadel guarding a port that Genoa was trying to use to rule Corsica. Over time it became the primary port for Northern Corsica and today is the primary ferry port to connect to mainland France and northern Italy, we will be departing from here on Tuesday. Italy is closer to Corsica than France is, and there are two prominent islands off shore that are part of Italy, one of which is Elba where Napoleon lived in exile until his death.
Corsica has always been a tough place to govern. All of the major cities are fortress towns where the off island rulers (Genoa, and France) have tried with mixed success to control the interior of the island. The extreme ruggedness of the center of the island makes it a rebels paradise. Even today as we were driving into Bastia, most of the highway overpasses and bridges had “Corsica is not French” spray painted on them, so even today there is a Corsican independence movement.
We accomplished another thing today as we decided to park at the ferry terminal for the day, so our trip in to catch the ferry on Tuesday will now be a little easier as we know the route and the layout of the terminal. As we walked into the town center we came across a sprawling Sunday market on the main square of the city.
The largest part of the market was a huge flea market. While interesting for people watching, other peoples junk is generally not our thing. So we passed thru pretty quickly.
We kept on thru the center of the city and next found ourselves at the harbor. The harbor was where all of the high end restaurants were located. We did some window shopping, but in the end decided to have a home cooked lunch today.
Our last stop for the day was the citadel built above the harbor to protect it. The citadel was a good climb up, and as we were walking up it I saw a sign saying that one of the problems that Bastia has always had to deal with is connecting the citadel above the town with the harbor. Today the answer appeared to be that the lower town and the harbor are the center of the town, and the citadel is very quiet.
The lower town was very lively, the market was busy, and the restaurants were full. When we got to the citadel it was mostly empty, and except for one restaurant all of the businesses were closed. It was quite a contrast.
We wandered about for a few more minutes looking at signs describing the buildings, for the first time today we heard languages besides French. Our conclusion was that the citadel was for tourists and since the season is over all of the businesses have packed up. So we headed back to François and out to our campsite for the day.
On the way to the campground we wanted to swing into a grocery store to pick up a few supplies. Unfortunately, all of the parking lots at the major grocery chains we saw had height barriers. This is a uniquely annoying French thing where they put gates at about 2.6 meters above ground to keep oversized vehicles out of parking lots. Sometimes you can find a back entrance, or a secondary lot that is not restricted, but today I didn’t want to go on the search, so we decided to keep our money to ourselves.
Today we shifted to the other side of the island to Cap Corse. If you look at a map of Corsica you will see a panhandle sticking out of the northern part of the island. That is the Cap Corse.
We headed out pretty early as we have learned that Corsican roads are twisty and hilly things that require some time to negotiate. Todays road was pretty straight by Corsican standards so we beat my estimated time by nearly 30 minutes.
We followed the east coast of the cape for about 20 kilometers after leaving the largest city on the island Bastia. I was expecting something like our drive down the D81 but it was completely different. Much of the coast line here is developed and we were more impressed with the beautiful homes than the coast. The coast line was impressive but after a week on Corsica our standard for a spectacular coast line has gotten quite high.
We had a quiet afternoon relaxing and conversing with our Dutch neighbor whose 3 year old took a shine to me and was teaching me Dutch so I would play with him. Later in the day we headed down to the beach. During the afternoon we had heard a few gun shots in the vicinity of the campground. On the trail to the beach we came across a gentlemen in hunting gear and carrying a double barrel shotgun. I got his attention and asked him in my best French c’est Securite, pointing down the trail. He gave me a big thumbs up and replied Oui c’est bon. So we hustled down the trail to the beach.
We took a quick walk along the beach as the wind was up and it was getting chilly. There were a fair amount of locals around, all bundled up also. There was a dark cloud coming over the hill, and after the downpours of the last few days we didn’t want to get caught out so we headed back to François for the evening.
After our short train ride into Calvi yesterday, we decided to head the other direction to the opposite end of the line to the town of Lisula. On the maps the town is labeled by its French name of L’Île-Rousse, but given its history and our observation of the preferred name in the town we decided to go with the Corsican name.
The town was founded as a port by the Corsican separatist Pasquale Paoli in 1758. It was put on a point of land that allowed the Corsicans to cut the flow of goods between Genoa and Calvi during the rebellion that was going on at that time. The rebellion was successful for a short period of time and Corsica became an independent country for a few years, before Genoa sold the rights to the island to the French and it was occupied by them in 1768. So in this area there is an ongoing rivalry between Calvi and Lisula going back to the 1760s.
The wind has been howling since last night and when we arrived we decided to head out to the island first. The walk across the causeway was pretty intense as a couple of gusts of wind actually staggered us. The high wind was a constant companion all day, even at lunch when one gust blew thru the covered seating area we were in and knocked over chairs, signs, and blew glasses off of tables. Ton and I both showed good reflexes to grab our wine glasses before they blew over.
When we walked into town we saw a bunch of tents set up and a lot of people on bicycles. It turns out that the town is hosting the Corsica Bike Festival this weekend. So in addition to enjoying the pretty waterfront we were entertained by different bicycle events and displays.
One of the events is an urban race course that runs thru the streets and alleys of the town. The surface is cobblestone mostly and at one point it runs down a set of stairs near the town hall. We watched one race and it looked pretty challenging as they had to navigate tight corners and run up narrow alleys, all the while dealing with changing surfaces and curbs.
We enjoyed our stay at Lisula enough to extend to a later train back. Our old train was packed with people returning to Calvi after a day outing to its rival Lisula. The coast line here is also stunning and we really enjoyed looking out the window of the train at the cliffs, beaches and inlets as we headed back to François. Corsica as a destination is a beach bums dream.
We finally got our chance to go to Calvi today. After a day and a half stuck in François while a huge storm passed thru, we were anxious to get going. So at 9:40 we were at the train stop.
10 minutes after boarding we were deposited at the foot of the citadel that is the main attraction for Calvi. Most of the tourist oriented places were closed as we walked up to the citadel. The citadel is impressive, built out on a point of land guarding the harbor. It really looks like an Americans vision of an European castle/fort.
As we walked into town two things made me connect to Calvi immediately. The first was the cities motto carved into the main entry to the citadel in Latin, “Civitas Calvi Semper Fidelis” The city of Calvi is always faithful. Semper Fidelis is also the motto of the Marine Corps. The second thing I saw was on one of the old fort buildings was a sign that said it was the officers club of the 2nd Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment who are based here. I worked with one of the officers from the 2e REP (as it is abbreviated in French) during my brief time in Lebanon, the only time I worked with the French Army.
We walked around the citadel for about an hour enjoying the views and admiring the fort.
Calvi makes a claim to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. The locals admit that there is no evidence to support this claim, just local stories passed down over generations that he was born to a fisherman from Calvi. But when he went to get help from the Spanish for his voyages he couldn’t admit he was from Corsica because the Corsicans had a bad habit of slaughtering Spanish soldiers and sailors who came by. So instead he said he was from Genoa who were the rulers of Corsica at the time. Research on the internet allows for some doubt about Columbus true birth place, most scholars say Genoa, but others say he was Greek and a few say he was a Pole, but no one but people from Calvi say he was Corsican.
After our tour thru the citadel we went into the new town and explored the marina and did some shopping at a SuperU grocery. We learned that the same train that we took to Calvi, goes to two other towns that are on our list to visit while we are here, so we will be taking the same vintage train in the opposite direction tomorrow.
Our last stop for the day was at a microbrewery near the campground. It looked promising. The set up was much like we are used to in Portland with a chalkboard of todays beer offerings. We ordered a couple of beers and asked about food, the only thing they had was some dips made from olives, eggplant and tomatoes and bread so that is what we ordered. After our order arrived we were then ignored and eventually abandoned. When we were ready to leave Ton finally went and knocked on the window to the back room to get somebody to come out and take our money. It was a strange visit, the beer was fair.
The picture at the top is Calvi taken from the train stop near the campground. We almost got there today, but ended up staying buttoned up in François all day. The bad weather from yesterday cleared up for a few hours last night so we planned to head into town about 11:30. But just as we got to the train station it started raining again in buckets so we scampered back to François.
We decided to take a day off and take advantage of the good internet here to stream some movies and relax. I did a little work on the blog adding a page for Sardinia, and updating Sicily, but otherwise we did not accomplish much.
Sardinia was full of surprises for us. We were both looking forward to seeing a part of Italy that neither one of knew very much about. The island was full of surprises for us starting with the geography. I expected a very rugged island with difficult drives. The coastline is very rugged and a lot of the beaches are surrounded by steep cliffs and mountains, but the center of the island is a broad and relatively flat plain.
Driving in Sardinia turned out to be very easy. The island has a very good network of free high speed roads, one of which runs along the entire spine of the island. The quality of the roads were generally good, and the traffic volumes were low. In many ways Sardinia was one of the easiest places to drive in Europe. Totally unexpected.
The people are a little more reserved when you first meet them than in other parts of Italy, but when you break thru the initial greetings they are charming, helpful, and good fun with a dry sense of humor. We really enjoyed the people.
The food is also something like the people. It is not flashy on the surface, but the tastes are wonderful and unique. After our lunch on the last day in Sardinia Ton said that the island was 100% on meals, meaning we did not have a bad meal there, high praise from Ton. We learned about a couple of new wines that we will be looking for in the future that are unique to Sardinia.
Sardinia is not a place to look for history. If you are looking for Roman ruins this is not the place to come, but if you are a beach bum, or like hiking in the mountains, or trying new tastes that are unique to a specific area, then you will love Sardinia.
Ton and I have had the privilege of driving some beautiful highways in our time traveling, the Alaska Highway, Utah Highway 12, the Pacific Coast Highway, the Amalfi Coast, and today we added another beautiful and memorable highway to the list, the D81 between Sagone and Osage on Corsica.
Our thought was to move up to Calvi today. It is the next major town north of us and somewhere we planned to spend a day during our visit to Corsica. I had looked at a map and I remember telling Ton that it was not going to be a quick trip as the road looked very curvy, and mountainous. I punched Calvi into Greta our navigator, and she first reported that it was 47 kilometers north of us by air, she then calculated the route and said it was 118 kilometers of road. That is a lot of curves.
I checked the weather and it was not good. It was supposed to rain most of the day, so in addition to the mountains and curves we were going to have wet roads. We had a short debate about whether to stay put for the day, but while the campground was nice the only entertainment around it was a very nice grocery store next door, so we decided to move on.
Just as we were pulling out of the parking lot of the supermarket there were a couple of thunderclaps and the moderate rain we had been experiencing turned into a full on downpour. Ton asked if we should abort the drive, but I decided to push on.
For the first 45 minutes of the drive the windshield wipers were on high to handle the volume of rain. We had to keep our eyes out for water running across the road and deep puddles. Fortunately the traffic was pretty light, and we did not realize it at the time but this was the wide and straight part of the drive.
After about 45 minutes the rain let up and then eventually stopped just as we were reaching the area around the town of Piana. The timing it turns out couldn’t have been better as we were reaching the Calanques de Piana. We passed thru Piana which was the largest town we had seen so far on the trip. There were several substantial hotels in the town and the views from the town were great including some red rocks in the distance.
A couple of kilometers outside of the town we came to a sign in French which said approximately, the road is very narrow, there will be places to pull out so when you run into another car, work it out. Or words to that effect. We were entering the Calanques de Piana.
But what a magnificent stretch of road. The road is carved thru these amazing red rocks that reminded me a bit of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. There were hair pin turns to negotiate while you were peering around the corner to see if anyone else was coming, and simultaneously gawking at another beautiful vista.
Once going around one of the corners I ran into a tour bus coming the other way. We both stopped and checked our mirrors and I was planning to back up about 50 yards to a pullout, but before I could get into reverse he gave me a hand signal to wait and he threw the bus in reverse and backed into a small pull out part way to give me enough room to squeeze thru. Over the 10 kilometers or so of the narrow part of the road I came across 5 vehicles, 3 times the other person backed up to make enough room, and twice I did. Often you would see another car coming and we would park in a pull out and wait for them to go by. As the sign said use the pull outs and work it out amongst yourselves.
Not only do you have the red rocks but you can see the ocean from the road. This stretch of road is absolutely one of the most beautiful we have ever seen. When we set out in the morning we had no idea we were going to have one of the most memorable drives of our life. Today is the reason why we enjoy traveling in our little RV’s. We would have never experienced the D81 and the Calanques de Piana.
We left the campground at 9:45 and arrived at our campground in Calvi at about 1:15, so our 118 kilometer drive took three and half hours for an average speed of 33 kph or 20 miles per hour. It was not a fast trip but we enjoyed it immensely. Right as we got settled into the campground the sky opened up again and we spent the rest of the day watching the rain pour down with high winds and the occasional thunderclap. It was a memorable day.
We woke up early as we were both a little nervous about the Controle Technique that François had to undergo. The Controle Technique is an inspection that every motor vehicle in France has to go thru every two years. There are 136 points of inspection and if you fail you have to find a mechanic to fix the issue and bring it back in to have it reinspected. We were also worried because our inspection was due in August, but we were in the US and François was in Greece, so we did not know if we were subject to any penalty for being late.
If the timing was better and we knew a mechanic in town we would have arranged to have someone go over François before we went in for the inspection. I took a look at the list of 136 things, and while some of them were easy to understand such as are all of the lights working, is the windshield intact, are the tires in good condition etc. Some were pretty obscure, and some require a diagnostic computer. So after talking it over we decided to just go in and get the inspection and see what happens.
The other concern I had was if something was wrong would I be able to communicate effectively with the technician to understand the issue. Google translate is pretty good, but sometimes for technical issues things are not that clear. When we arrived we were both pretty nervous, but the guys in the office and the other customers put as at ease by treating us as an interesting twist to their day and having fun with it. I surrendered our registration document to the technician and he immediately got a giggle out of the name of the “company” François the motorhome is registered to which is Corbin Voyage. He showed it to a couple of the other customers who smiled and one of them gave me a thumbs up.
The tech finally asked for the keys and drove François into the bay for the first station of the inspection. Ton and I were at the window looking into the shop like two parents watching their child trying out for a team. We watched the monitors, and tried to guess from the reaction of the tech if he was doing good. After about 20 minutes of nervous observation interspersed with being teased by an older gentleman who was there getting his Smart car tested. The tech drove François out and came into the waiting area and announced that our score was perfect! Though I did see him shoot some air into one of the tires, so it wasn’t quite perfect. There also wasn’t a fine for being three months late getting the inspection. We were very proud of François and celebrated by going to a LeClerc and buying some French goodies that we both have missed since our last foray here.
I had picked out the closest campground North of Ajaccio that was still open. It was only 38 kilometers, but we are learning that the coastline of Corsica is very rugged and the roads are full of hairpin turns as a result. Between some traffic in Ajaccio and the hairpin roads it took us nearly an hour to cover those 38 kilometers. As a result we arrived 10 minutes after the campground office had shutdown for their two hour lunch break. I may have muttered a curse word when I realized we were going to have to park and wait two hours, when I heard a voice behind me ask if I spoke English, she then said she was going to open the gate and let us in, and that I should then come back at 2pm and check in.
We set up François, and Ton whipped up a wonderful lunch. It was our first food of the day, which probably contributed to the high bill and the amount of deserts we had bought from our pass thru LeClerc. All in all a good day.
The day got off to a good start as when I woke up Ton looked at me and said we should wash some clothes while we are here. She then sent me out to look for a laundromat. I scouted the main road in front of the hotel, and just as I was about to give up, I spotted a laundromat in a little strip mall walking distance from the hotel. So we gathered up our laundry in François and by 10 am had our laundry done. To celebrate our logistical victory we stopped in a Boulangerie and bought a nice French breakfast.
Ajaccio is the birthplace of Napoleon and his name shows up on many of the buildings, streets, and businesses in downtown Ajaccio. We spent a good part of the day walking from one memorial to Napoleon to another and finally to the street where he was born and raised. He last visited his boyhood home in 1799 and never returned as he became Emperor of the French and then went into exile after he was defeated at Waterloo.
Beside being the birthplace of one of the most famous Frenchman ever, Ajaccio is also the capital of Corsica. But it is a nice compact city that is easy to move around in. The city is surrounded by mountains in 3 directions and the ocean in the fourth. It is a beautiful setting for a city.
Sundays are usually pretty low key in France, but the waterfront in Ajaccio was humming and the unseasonably warm weather had all of the cafes full. We enjoyed walking around and noticed that for the first time in a long time we heard nothing but the native language of the town being spoken. We can’t remember the last time we went a whole day without hearing either English or German being spoken by a significant percentage of the people. There were so few tourists around that all of the people we needed to talk to just assumed we were French until we proved otherwise. It was fun.
We noticed that the market was open, so we made a bee line for it as most things grocery related shutdown around 1 pm. The market is always a happy place for Ton. This was a good one with a great variety of foods.
The food looked a lot like what we saw in Sardinia. Great looking seafood, a lot of smoked meats, and cheese primarily made from sheep. There were vegetables and fruit available, and while nice were not up to the quality and variety we saw in Sicily.
Ajaccio was a great introduction to Corsica. The natural setting of the town is beautiful, the people looked happy and prosperous, and the food looks like it is going to be a treat. Even the Corsican beer we tried at one of the cafes was a cut above anything we have had since we left Belgium. We are excited to begin digging in to Corsica tomorrow after we take care of our technical inspection and make François legal to drive again in France.
Well today is going to be a short one. We woke up early after a night of steady rain. We wanted to get on the road pretty early as we were paying for a hotel room we were not using in Ajaccio.
The drive over from Porto Vecchio to Ajaccio was only 150 kilometers, but I noticed that google had it pegged at 2 hours and 40 minutes, and they base it on driving a car at the speed limit. I told Ton it looked like it was going to be a tough drive thru the mountains. The roads themselves were in good shape but it was mountain driving with multiple switchbacks and steep slopes that frequently had me down to 3rd gear. On top of that it was raining most of the way, so we took about 3 and a half hours to cover the distance. Our first impression is that Corsica is much more rugged than Sardinia was.
Next to our hotel is a Buffalo Grill. This restaurant chain is very popular in France. We have seen them in almost every large town and city here and I have told Ton we should try it to get the French take on an American steakhouse. While we were eating Ton googled the company and found out there are over 300 Buffalo Grills in France, plus a few in Spain and Switzerland. I had a hamburger and Ton had a pepper steak and we were both pleased. It is a lot like a Sizzler or a Applebees, but red wine costs the same as a coke.
One of the stereotypes of the French is that they hate all things American. But, our personal observations are different than that. We see more American themed things here than in any other country in Europe. In addition to the Buffalo Grill, there are more McDonalds, Burger Kinds and KFC’s in France than any other country in Europe, so while they might not like the best of American food, they don’t seem to have any problem embracing some parts of our food culture. Several times we have come across clubs of French with vintage US cars, police cars, or military equipment, with some of the club members even dressed as American police officers or soldiers. I mention this because we do not see the amount of Americana in other countries as we do in France. Except McDonalds, they are everywhere.
I think some of the issue is that the French are just not very good English speakers, just as we are not very good French speakers. Because of that the communication breaks down. When you can break thru the language barriers the French are just as charming as any other people we have met in Europe. It just tends to be harder than with other European to break thru the language barrier.
We left Italy and Sardinia today for France and the island of Corsica. This involved another ferry crossing. This one also turned into a bit of an adventure. The weather has been unsettled the last few days, very windy with occasional showers and then clear skies. The wind has also been very warm. Our friend Ovi says that this weather pattern is common in the fall in the Mediterranean and is called a Libeccio.
We had a mild panic yesterday evening when we received an email from the ferry line saying our crossing was cancelled due to weather. We had booked a hotel in Ajaccio for the weekend, because we are going to get François’ Controlé Technique ( safety inspection for all French vehicles) done there on Monday. We needed to get to Corsica as our hotel was non-refundable and we want to get the inspection out of the way so that we are legal to drive in France. When I went to book the inspection the only time left for the week is 9am on Monday.
The email from the ferry had a link to book other options. The link recommended a crossing leaving for Corsica from the same port on Sardinia but leaving 2 hours earlier than our original booking. When I looked it was the same ship. I clicked that I would take it, and they transferred our original appointment to the new sailing time and even automatically assigned us to the same room we had on our original sailing. I thought that it was a weird way to tell us the ship was leaving two hours earlier than before. But the devil is in the details.
We still had plenty of time in the morning to pack up, fill François with LP gas, and diesel and head over to the port unrushed. We arrived and there was no ship in port, but there were cars and motorhomes parked about waiting.
When we received our boarding paper, I noticed that the port on the paperwork did not say Ajaccio, but Porto Vecchio. I told the guy from the ferry that we were going to Corsica he said yes Porto Vecchio Corsica. Remember I said the devil is in the details. So I quickly googled Porto Vecchio and saw that is was 140 kilometers from Ajaccio on the other side of the island.
I then noticed we were put in a separate line with about 20 cars while the other motorhomes were put in a separate line with all of the other cars. I thought all of the other vehicles were going to Ajaccio and we somehow had been assigned to the wrong port. So off I went with my phone in hand only to be told that all of those people were going to Toulon after they dropped us in Corsica.
The reason we changed ports was because the storm over the past few days had raised the sea state to a point where the ferry line decided to go to the east side of Corsica instead of the west side as originally planned for safety reasons. So right at sunset we arrived in Porto Vecchio, I found a scruffy looking campground near the town as I have a pretty strict no night time driving rule. Tomorrow we will drive over to Ajaccio and claim our hotel room.
On our next to last day on Sardinia we planned a short trip down the coast from Alghero to Bosa. The drive along the coastal cliffs is touted to be one of the most spectacular on Sardinia so we were looking forward to it.
Part of the reason I had rented the car was so that we could do this trip. When I looked at the map the road looked very intimidating and I expected it to be narrow. While it was winding and hilly, it would have been very doable in François. We have found driving in Sardinia to be very easy. The roads are generally wide in the country, the towns have pretty well marked and wide thoroughfares so you can get thru them easily. There is a freeway that runs north to south that is modern and makes long distance drives quick and easy, and it is not tolled. The main roads are not that busy and Sardinians are much more laid back than the rest of Italy. I would recommend Sardinia as a good place to get your feet wet on driving in Europe.
When we arrived in Bosa it immediately struck me as looking like a very small version of Porto in Portugal. The town started at the river and immediately began climbing the steep hills on either side of the river. It is a town that you are either walking up hill or down hill. Also, like Porto, the river used to be the main port for the town as it is only a mile or so in land from the ocean, and was safer in the past than the harbor by the coast.
Ton had a little debate with herself about whether we should climb up to the old castle on top of the town. She went back and forth with herself for about 5 minutes while I stayed out of the argument. She finally decided to go when she realized that the restaurant she wanted to eat in didn’t open for another hour.
Ton had a restaurant in mind for the day, it had been threatening rain all morning and a cloud was approaching town so we headed down to the restaurant. We arrived just as they opened and were the first customers. Right after we sat the rain rolled in, but only lasted about 10 minutes. The meal was fantastic, we have not had a bad meal on Sardinia, but this one was the best. Ton had a hearty seafood soup with saffron that gave it a curry like look. I had a Sardinian Lasagna, made from local cheese and vegetables with a cream and pesto sauce. We paired it with a local white wine made from Vermintino grapes which are only grown here, Corsica and Provence in small numbers. The wine was superb, after the meal we went out and bought a couple more bottles of Vermintino from the region. Also, like Porto, Bosa has its own locally produced sweet wine. After the meal Ton tried a glass of Malvasia di Bosa, and while she is not a big sweet wine fan she liked this one quite a bit.
With lunch done we headed back to Alghero to stock up on some of favorite Italian staples in Lidl. I wanted some Red Orange juice which you can only get in Italy, and Ton wanted to add some more pasta to the pantry.
We were very interested in visiting Olbia as it is in one of the five blue zones in the world. A blue zone is a region that has a very high concentration of people who have lived to 100 years with minimal amount of health problems. We had been in another blue zone without realizing it when we lived in Okinawa. We were surprised to learn that a third one was in Loma Linda California where a friend of ours lived when we were in California.
When we pulled into Olbia, which is a pretty town we saw a large cruise ship. So despite our best efforts to find a centenarian the only old people we saw were Americans and Northern Europeans.
We enjoyed walking around Olbia, but the crowd from the cruise ship put us off a little. Fortunately we quickly learned that if we ventured just off the main shopping street we had the place pretty much to ourselves.
We stopped and had a coffee on the main street, but quickly decided that we were not going to learn why people from this area have such healthy lives and moved on.
Close to Olbia is the Coasta Smeralda which is one of the most high end vacation spots in the world. It was largely untouched until the 1950’s when Prince Aga Khan cruised by on his yacht and decided to develop it as an eco friendly resort.
The center of the coast is Porto Cervo, so we headed there to check on the rich and famous. Besides having housing for 460 permanent residents it has hotel rooms that can handle thousands including one of the most expensive hotels in the world. So we expected a bustling place with lots of rich people doing whatever rich people do on a sunny October day in Sardinia.
When we arrived instead of finding the Clooneys and Obamas and their friends lounging about as we had been lead to believe, we found a very quiet place with a few other tourists and many decidedly bored looking shop keepers tending to empty Cartier, Rolex, and Gucci stores.
When we first arrived Ton took a quick look around and said it looks like Sedona on steroids. The buildings were all very stylish but felt contrived and sterile to us.
Ton mentioned a church in town that people said felt like it was built by Gaudi. He is an architect that built the famous modernist Cathedral in Barcelona that we both enjoyed. So we headed up the hill to find it.
It was a good climb and we were beginning to wonder if it was going to be worth it, when I spotted a short cut through the grounds of another high end hotel that saved us a lot of climbing and walking. We must have looked richer than we thought because no security descended on us when we cut through the hotel to the church.
When we reached the church I liked it. The lack of angles and the use of natural rocks as pillars were very Gaudi like and I thought it worked. As I was admiring it, Ton came by and said it looked like something Fred Flintstone would build. So I guess she was not as impressed.
At the end of the day we didn’t find any 100 year olds in Olbia, or any rich and famous people in Porto Cervo, but we did enjoy ourselves. We also had a nice lobster spaghetti dish at a roadside diner in the mountains above Porto Cervo so we were a happy couple on our drive back to François for the night.
We have a pretty set morning routine, I get up first and make the coffee for the day. We have two travel mugs that I fill with coffee, in addition I make Ton a cafe aulait to help her get up and going. When I am done with the coffee I get dressed and go on a walk with my coffee. Ton uses the time I am gone to prepare for the day. As the days are getting shorter, my walk is beginning to be around sun up. This morning when I got up the sunrise was spectacular. So much so, that I told Ton she had to stick her head out of François and take a look. She was skeptical but with some encouragement came to the door, I got this one right as she immediately grabbed a jacket and came out to get some pictures.
As we have gotten older we have begun to look for how to make things easy. In the spring on Crete for the first time we rented a car, rather than pack François up every day and set out for the day on mountain roads. Now we have a budget that we have set in both price and accessibility that makes sense for us, and when we get to a place we look at the options for renting. In this case we are located 15 minutes by city bus from the main airport, and because it is off season we could rent a car for less than €20 per day. By renting a car we can cover a wide area radiating from our campground, as the rental car is both faster, and more importantly much more agile than François. We can head without fear into the center of cities which cuts down our walking considerably and allows us to cover more ground per day. So over the next three days we will be covering northern Sardinia in our Lancia Ypsilon.
Our first stop today was Castelsardo about 70 kilometers from where we are staying. It is a small town, but has been voted as one of the most beautiful in Italy. The name of the town is literally Sardinian Castle, as the town spread out from an old castle that occupied a major bluff jutting into the Mediterranean. It is a beautiful site for a town.
The climb from the parking area near the port to the castle overlooking the city was only about 650 meters. The problem was it is also about a 500 foot gain in altitude. The old town has long stretches of steps you follow to get to the top. So we got a good workout in climbing up.
But when we got to the top it was worth the effort. The old town is small but we both felt like we stepped back in time. There were not too many people running about so we could stop and explore the churches and alleys without anyone at all crowding us. We often felt we had the place to ourselves.
The local people we encountered were clearly trying to drum up some business for their shops/restaurants, but they did it in a charming way without any pressure. Even after we told them we had eaten or were not looking to buy anything they continued to chat with us about the significance of the town, and how their business reflected the culture of the local area. They seemed happy to help us understand the local history and not just looking at us as a source of revenue. At the end of our visit Ton paid Castelsardo the ultimate complement of saying it was as pretty as any of the cities in the Cinque Terre which is her favorite spot in Italy.
We also wanted to visit Sassari which is the second biggest town in Sardinia. We arrived during the afternoon break, so even though it is a big town we had the streets pretty much to ourselves. It was almost spooky walking down a major commercial street near the city center with all of the businesses closed up and very few people in sight.
We spent about an hour walking around the center of Sassari, but it was pretty quiet. I think Sassari is a town that will grow on you if you stay there for a few days, but it didn’t make much of an impression on us at first glance.
We were looking forward to our visit to Alghero. Our friends who had visited here really liked it, and the guide books raved about its mixture of Catalan and Italian culture. It is referred to as little Barcelona by some of the local inhabitants. Since we both enjoyed our visit to Barcelona immensely, and we love Italy we were thinking that we were in for a real treat.
For the very first time on this trip we were faced with the prospect of rain. So instead of debating how many windows and vents to leave open to try to keep François cool, we buttoned everything up when we left for town.
Alghero was conquered by the Catalans around 1340 and remained under their rule until 1700 when it was ceded to Spain. In the early 1800’s it was ceded to the House of Savoy in Italy and has been part of Italy since. It has retained its Catalan roots as 28% of the local population speaks a dialect of Catalan as well as Italian.
It is a pretty town, but as much as I tried I couldn’t see the Spanish/Catalan influence. Ton said I was being too harsh, but that’s not what I mean, Alghero is a beautiful Mediterranean city, but I was expecting it to feel different than the many beautiful Mediterranean cities we have visited over the last two years and it didn’t, it felt Italian to me.
Ton thought the city was really nice, and she took the lead in exploring it. She enjoyed window shopping and looking at the red coral jewelry that comes from this area. The town is very upscale with a lot of high end European brands lining the main street. It reminded me a bit of Taormina in Sicily which also had the same upscale feel to the shopping.
We walked around for a couple of hours, and while we saw a couple of Spanish restaurants, we ended up with a seafood pizza which was really good. We finished the day by walking the battlements of the fort covering the harbor. They had an interesting displays of the types of weapons that would have defended the walls from catapults to trebuchets to cannon. On a different day with a different set of expectations I think Alghero would have been a high light for me, but not today.
We headed back a little early as we had to make some decisions about our next couple of weeks. As we get closer to November, more and more of the campgrounds are closing down so the logistics of moving around is getting a little more complicated. I spent the next few hours looking at our options for camping, ferry schedules, hotels, and rent a cars to try to plan our next 8 to 10 days. So our first decision was to rent a car from the airport and base out of our very expensive campground for the next four days to explore northern Sardinia. The second is that we are going to take a ferry Friday for Corsica because of limited ferry options that I did not anticipate. It turns out the ferry I had planned to take which runs on a frequent schedule does not take motorhomes and we are limited to a single ferry that runs every three days, so our time in Italy is going to come to an end very soon. Corsica is going to be complicated also, but I will save that for later.
One of the most important cultural symbols of Sardinia are the Nuraghes. These are bullet shaped stone buildings built without mortar. There are many of them in Sardinia. Today we chose to visit one of the most prominent the Su Nuraxi di Barumini.
It was a quick hop from Vilasimius to Barumini. The roads in Sardinia are generally excellent and not crowded. We are enjoying driving here. The only way to visit the site is with a guided tour, which worked out well as we bought our tickets and had time for lunch.
The site of the Nuraghe was excavated in the 1950’s. The Nuraghe itself was visible, but the village surrounding it had been covered over time. It is believed the Nuraghe was inhabited between 1300 and 600 BC when the Carthaginians conquered Sardinia. Some Nuraghe are believed to go back as long as 1900 BC.
The main tower of the Nuraghe at Barumini was approximately 60 feet high. Nuraghe are built without mortar so a building of this height is quite an accomplishment. It is partially collapsed but still quite impressive.
After the initial tower was constructed 4 additional smaller towers were added to the site. The consensus is that the site was a fort, and the village which held approximately 1000 inhabitants was built after the fort.
The inner courtyard has entrance to all five towers and a well that still supplies water today. One of the towers appears to be for food storage, one tower is believed to be the main room for the local VIP, and the rest of the towers were for the garrison.
The site was very impressive. We took the English tour, though we were the only day to day English speakers in our group of about 20. The majority were German or Swiss German speakers, with a Dutch and Ukrainian couple.
After we finished our tour of the Nuraghe it was only 2pm. Initially we planned to stay in a nearby village which has a parking lot where you can buy electricity 6 hours at a time. But as I said earlier the roads in Sardinia are very good and uncrowded so we decided to go ahead and drive the 200 kilometers to our next destination for the trip.
Our initial plan was to use Alghero as our base to explore the north part of Sardinia. But when we checked in we choked on the price. This is the second most expensive campground we have ever stayed in in Europe. So we are rethinking our plans.
We had a very quiet night at our agritourismo in the hills above the coast. It even cooled down enough that for the first time on the trip we had to use our comforter. It is really weird but the weather is still very hot. During the days the temperatures are still getting up to the mid-80’s and there is very little wind. We haven’t had any real breeze in over a week. So by the evening the temperature in François is in the low 80’s which is just a little uncomfortable.
The debate in the morning was whether to move down to the coast, or just drive down for the day and return to the agritourismo for the evening. We were inclined to the later, because the reported costs for the ocean front campgrounds were quite a bit more than our agritourismo. The problem was that there was no good place to park François that didn’t involve hiking a couple of kilometers to the waterfront. And as I mentioned it is hot, so we ultimately decided to bite the bullet and go to a big campground near the sea.
It was a short drive down to the coast, so we were at our new home within 30 minutes. Fortunately the cost, while high was not quite as outrageous as we had feared. After checking in and getting François set up we decided to take a short hike out to a fort nearby.
We decided to walk over to an old fort. It was a fairly short walk with a couple of climbs. But by the time we got there I had worked up a good sweat and even Ton was wiping away some sweat.
We looked around for a bit, but by now it was the heat of the day, so we decided to head back to François for a rest. We both settled in for the afternoon and dodged the heat by having a nap, at least I did.
After dinner we decided to head down to the beach for sunset. Ton saw a road heading in a little different direction than we had taken this afternoon and suggested we see where it led us. It led us to a really beautiful and long beach which was perfect for watching the sunset.
Ton was in her element as the combination of the sea, the sunset, and about 40 sailboats offshore gave her a lot of directions to point her camera. While she took off snapping pictures I settled down on the rock and enjoyed people watching and watching the sailboats as they all made for the marina we had walked by this afternoon.
Ton finally settled down for a few minutes to relax and sip on her wine. But as the sun approached the horizon she was back in photography mode.
In the end the sunset was gloriously red and vibrant. All of the boats trying to get into port added to the beauty.
After sunset we headed back to François for the night. Though I am going to be tempted to head over to the bar a little later to see if the USA v Germany soccer game is on.