Category Archives: France

Week 17 – Corsica


We spent this week in Corsica. Getting here was easy – but trying to get off the island to travel to Sardinia proved a lot more challenging.

And the scarcity of campsites continued. We could only find one that stayed open over the winter. The bad news was it was for naturists. But surely no-one wants to be that close to nature in winter?

An awkward telephone call to Riva Bella campsite in Aleria followed to say that ‘nous ne sommes pas naturists but could we stay anyway but maybe keep our clothes on?

Fortunately, the answer was ‘oui’ . In winter the site is for “textiles” as their website describes those of us who prefer not to bare all.


We had the site to ourselves – just us and a herd of llamas. No that’s not a misprint. We thought it an unusual choice of campsite wildlife too.

We parked up on the beach on the east coast, near the small town of  Aleria.  We met a couple of other travellers who dismissed the scenery on this side of the island. They said it was nothing compared to the fabulous mountain landscape of north west Corsica. But then they have a big white motor home complete with ensuite, big water tank and probably diesel heating  and so are totally set up to wild camp.

We were quite happy hooked up to power right beside the sea.

DSC_4616 (2)
We signed in…

….and enjoyed the sun…


and the moon


We had a couple of days of great weather when we could walk the beach which had a truly astonishing amount of driftwood….



…and among the piles of wood, masses of the naturally formed tennis ball shaped ‘olives of the sea’…


…and some unnatural waste…ah your croc Monsieur….


Some looked like artwork…


….or intentionally placed to look so…

DSC_2867 (1)


But then the weather turned and the view from the van window in the morning turned from this….

DSC_2865 this…


For the first time in our trip, we had to stay in the van for the afternoon. So we did as anyone would do on a rainy weekend afternoon….open the wine and put on a black and white film. (Dix points to anyone who can guess which one).


The storms continued and with unrelenting  40 mph winds and an angry sea,  the noise and movement around the van all night made the van feel like a sleeper carriage.  It was time to leave Riva Bella but for where? We couldn’t find any other campsite open nor was there anywhere on the app we’d been using for permitted overnight parking stops. It looked like the only option was a hotel. We found a cheap one in Propriano on the west of the island and set off to find it.

We’d also decided that a hotel might be a good idea anyway as we had another pressing problem – the bag of laundry was starting to take up all available space in the van.  With the continual rain, there was no way to wash or dry the clothes by hand.

But we got lost trying to find the hotel in the narrow streets of Propriano. By mistake we drove into the carpark at the marina…and guess what we found?


….other motorhomes parked up clearly settled in for the night and a laundrette! The gods were surely smiling on us that day.


A fellow campervanner confirmed that one night stays were allowed.  I settled in for an evening in the laundry and sorting food (pink task) while Stuart chopped wood or something (blue task).


But while luck was on our side that evening, sometimes advance planning is the more sensible course of action. We had arrived in Corsica without booking our ferry to Sardinia. We didn’t think we needed to as, from what we could see, there appeared to be regular ferries from the south of the island.

Except when it actually came to booking one, they’d all mysteriously disappeared off the ferry websites. The only one we could find was in six days time. Six days??! So Corsica is beautiful without question but in stormy weather with heavy snows predicted and no open campsites….we had started to get island fever and were now really really keen to find a way out.DSC_4707

We left Propriano and drove to Ajaccio, thinking there were bound to be regular ferry services from the island’s biggest city. We called to the tourist office there for information but that was quite bizarre…the adviser assured us there were no ferries to Sardinia from Corsica just now but then added that the tourist office found it difficult to get any information anyway.

The nearby travel agency proved more helpful. Thankfully they were able to find us a ferry which was leaving in two days time from Propriano. Yes, that is the place we’d just  come from.

So that night we stayed on the side of the airport road in Ajaccio, sheltered from the fierce wind that blows in from the wide harbour….

We called to see this man’s house before leaving Ajaccio…would have been rude to leave Corsica without visiting the home of its most famous son..


…and we had lunch at the ‘Roi de Rome’ restaurant. Stuart decided a dish of braised veal, olives and bay leaves served on penne was the best meal he’s eaten on the trip so far.

In our week on Corsica, we’d seen only a part of the island…

….including the hilltop town of Corte..


..with its narrow winding streets …


….and some tiny houses …


We tried some of the local specialities like the doughnut balls called beignets which were delicious…


We had breakfast in a cafe we quickly realised was actually a bookie’s shop cum bar.

And from the graffiti daubed on walls on country roads where the word ‘assassin’ features heavily we got a sense of the hard undercurrents in life on Corsica.

But in the cold stormy weather with uncertainty over where to stay, and while knowing we didn’t see the island at its best, we were mighty relieved to be heading south to Sardinia.

Boarding the morning ferry from Propriano to Porto Torres in Sardinia

Week 16 – Puivert, the Camargue and getting to Corsica


This week our van was off the road while we spent a few days in the small French town of Puivert catching up with old friends of Stuart and having the van serviced.
Then it was time to get on the move again. Our destination was Toulon, just past Marseilles, where we were travelling on the overnight ferry to Corsica. Our route took us through the wetlands of the Camargue Natural Park, very much like the Ebro Delta in its flat, expansive scenery but with the added extra of fields of white horses.
Once we left Puivert, the biggest challenge was trying to find somewhere to stay overnight. In this part of France, it looked like all the campsites were closed for the winter. But following up on a tip from a fellow traveller, we downloaded an app called Park4Night which lists places either where wild camping is accepted or where there is an official Aire with some services like a water tap. It proved to be extremely useful.

And the highlights:

Relaxing in Puivert:

We had a very enjoyable few days as guests of Julia and Steve …..


DSC_4528 (2)

… their home in an idyllic setting  at the foothills of the Pyrenees.



They have been living here for many years and are part of a small number of ex-pats who have settled in the town permanently. It sounds like the blow-ins are helping keep this rural community and other smaller towns nearby alive.

DSC_4526 (2)

While the area had an influx of newcomers from Spain back in the 1930’s as they escaped from the civil war, the population has declined steadily and now numbers around 500 people.
Among the Brits making their living there are Jayne and Paul Bayliss of Brasserie Du Quercorb. Their bar/brewery in a converted bus depot has become the social hub for ex-pats in the area…


…and they make excellent craft beer….




And we ate very well at one of the only places open in the town on a cold January night. Here’s the cuisse de lapin en civet served up at Le Refuge Gourmand…


..but the best meal of all was Julia’s home cooked cassoulet which she makes by simmering toulouse sausage, haricot beans and a chunk of chorizo in loads of red wine for ages and ages.

This isn’t it…..

When we were back on the road, I was inspired to do a campervan cassoulet which unfortunately photographs like a bowl of Chum but tasted magnifique si je say so moi-meme.

As we left Puivert, the rain started — a very welcome arrival to the town where during our stay the local Mairie had to distribute bottled water to all residents because one of the main reservoirs had dried up after an unprecedented dry spell.

Servicing the van:

By the time we got to Puivert, we’d clocked up more than 6,000 miles on our trip so far. It was time for an oil change and – thanks to the potholes in Morocco – we also needed two new pneus.

Sadly we didn’t get the chance to ask for (phonetically speaking) too noo noos as it seems the ‘p’ in pneumatic is no longer silent once it crosses the Channel depriving us of an opportunity which I’m sure would have been comedy gold.


With the benefit of a scripted shopping list of service requests for Dominique le Mechanique – helpfully prepared for us by fluent French speaker Steve – we were back on the road and heading to the Camargue.

We saw the famous white horses…

DSC_4579 (2)


….including this one with an egret perched ready to pick off some parasites in the mane…


..and these resting flamingoes, though a faulty and failing camera zoom lens which is causing much angst to the photographer has made the image a tad fuzzy.


DSC_4573 (3)

But sadly the only Camargue cowboys we saw were framed on the wall  and looking marvellously Brokeback here.



Our journey from Puivert to Toulon where we were catching the ferry to Corsica involved two nights staying in places we’d found on Park4night – one in a car park beside a vineyard in Monz and the other in a car park facing the sea in the Camargue village of St Marie.

So we were very excited about getting on the Corsica-Sardinia ferry to Bastia because our cabin for the overnight crossing had a shower which was going to be most welcome after two nights of no washing facilities. There’s only so much that can be achieved with a handful of wet wipes.


And 10 hours later, after a stormy crossing, we were in Bastia and being pulled over for a search.’Where have you come from and do you have anything to declare to French customs’, asked the officer in rapid French.

‘Eh Spain, Portugal, Morocco and no’, I said just catching up with what she’d asked.

‘Any drugs?’, she asked hopefully. ‘No’, I confirmed, suppressing a laugh at the bluntness of the question. How does anyone answer that? But satisfied we weren’t part of the French Connection, we were let continue our journey.

We’d arrived in Corsica – the first of our three-stop island hop, freshly showered and smelling fresh with hints of magnolia and honeysuckle.