Driving Route from St Florent to Ile Rousse, Calvi & Corte
St Florent, France
This little town of St Florent (pop. 1,200), in the bay of the same name, originally grew up round a Genoese citadel (1440), and until the 18th C was the seat of the bishop of Nebbio and of the Genoese governor. Nearby are the remains of medieval Nebbio, with the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (12th C), built of limestone in Lombard Romanesque style.
In Corsica, a winding road runs over the Col de Lavezzo and through the lonely Désert des Agriates, a hilly region of pastureland and macchia, to Ile-Rousse (pop. 2,774), a little port and seaside resort. It is not in fact an island, but takes its name from the red rocks of La Pietra. The town, which occupies the site of an old Roman settlement, was originally established by Paoli in 1758, during the war with the Genoese, under the name of Paolina, and was designed as a rival to Calvi.
The little town of Belgodere is picturesquely situated a little way inland, high up on the slopes of a hill on a crag crowned by a 13th C castle. Farther inland is the Forêt de Tartagine, one of the finest forests in Corsica.The little walled town of St- Antonio, beautifully situated on a hill (views), is visible from a long way off. To the north of the town, on the road to Ile-Rousse, is the Dominican monastery of Corbara, founded in the 15th C and rebuilt in the 19th.
From Ile-Rousse in Corsica, the coast road runs direct to Calvi. The lively little town of Calvi (pop. 5,177), picturesquely situated on a projecting crag in the Bay of Calvi, has an unsheltered harbor which is the Corsican harbor closest to France. In the Middle Ages the town was a republic, and during the Genoese period it was the island's chief town. During the struggle for liberation in 1793-1794 it was laid in ruins by the British fleet. Near the harbor is the church of Santa Maria (17th century), and in the upper town, which was fortified by the Genoese in the late 15th C, is the Cathedral of St-Jean-Baptiste, originally dating from the 13th C and rebuilt in 1553 after its destruction; it contains a famous crucifix and other fine examples of woodcarving. The Maison Colomb in Rue Colombo, claimed to be the birthplace of Columbus, is unlikely to be authentic: there are several other alleged birthplaces in Italy and Spain. In the Bay of Calvi is a flat sandy beach 4km/2-1/2mi long which makes Calvi with its numerous hotels a popular holiday resort.
Col de la Croix
While on the Corse driving tour, after Calvi, the road now runs over the hill of Bocca Serria (146 m/479ft), with the Capo al Cavallo (296 m/971ft; lighthouse) to the right, past the extensive ruins of the Argentella silver mine, through the lonely Balagne Déserte and over the Bocca Bassa (122 m/400ft) to Olmo; then into the level valley of the Fango and over the Col de Palmarella (374 m/1,227ft; wide views) and the Col de la Croix (272 m/892ft), from which there are magnificent views of the Bay of Porto to the south and the Bay of Girolata to the west.
Bay of Porto, France
The popular seaside resort of Porto lies in the beautiful Bay of Porto at the foot of a promontory which is crowned by an old Genoese watch tower. The little harbor exports timber and granite among other products of Corsica.
Between Porto and Piana, the road runs through the Calanche, a maze of fantastically fissured red granite rocks, with bizarrely shaped pinnacles towering up to 300 m/1,000ft above the Bay of Porto. On the Corse driving tour, the route continues by way of Cargèse, founded in 1774 by immigrants from Greece, to Sagone, once the see of a bishop. It then runs up to the little town of Vico (alt. 400 m/1,300ft) and over the Col de St- Antoine (496 m/1,627ft) and the Col de Sevi (1,272 m/4,173ft) to Evisa, a little holiday resort, beautifully situated above the Porto valley, which is a good base for exploring the surrounding area. From here there is a direct road to Porto through the Spelunca, a wild gorge in the Porto valley.
Forêt de Valdo Niello
On the Corsica drving tour, after the Porto valley, the road now runs through the beautiful forest of Aïtone, over the Col de Vergio (1464 m/4803ft), the highest pass in Corsica, and through the Valdo-Niello Forest with its Corsican pines to Calacuccia, chief place in the Niolo basin, a good center for excursions in the surrounding area and a good base from which to climb Corsica's highest mountain, Monte Cinto (2,710 m/8,891ft; 7-1/2 hrs with guide). From the summit there are magnificent panoramic views. The route continues through the rocky valley, which narrows into the Scala di Santa Regina, a gorge enclosed by rock walls over 1,000 m/3,300ft high, and then either on the direct road to Corte via the village of Castirla or on the slightly longer road via Francardo.Those who prefer the Francardo road will find it well worth while to make a side trip into the upland region of Castagniccia with its forests of chestnut trees. The principal village, Piedicroce d'Orezza, is the base from which to climb Monte San Petrone (1,766 m/5,794ft; 2-1/2 hrs).
Corte (pop. 7,000) lies in the center of Corsica in a basin in the Tavignano valley, surrounded by high, bare granite hills. On a rocky ridge rising almost vertically above the river is its 15th century citadel, formerly almost impregnable. Over the centuries Corte was an important and hotly contested stronghold. From 1755 to 1769 it was the capital of the island and the seat of the democratic government established by Pasquale Paoli, who also founded a university here. In the Palais Nationa,l mementos of Paoli are displayed. Adjoining the Eglise de l'Annonciation, which has a 17th century facade and a notable interior, is a Baroque bell-tower.