The view from the plane takes my breath away as we come into land at Calvi airport. As I step off the plane a cool breeze greets me and it is not long before the transfer coach drops me off at my home for the next three days, Hôtel l’Ondine (pictured below) in Algajola on the north-west coast of Corsica in the Balagne region. The staff couldn’t be more welcoming and most speak very good English. After a quick tour of the restaurant and pool, I am shown to my room. It is small but very pretty and the window looks out over the deep blue sea to the bluest of skies. Perfect!
The seaside village of Algajola
I decide to explore a little and it doesn’t take me long to have wandered around most of Algajola passing its citadel, a good choice of restaurants, a few hotels and a couple of shops. The most striking feature of the village is its vast sweeping bay of golden sand. It’s called Aregno Plage after the village in the hills set back from the coats. In a shady square, I order a cool beer. What a wonderful base from which to explore the region of Balagne, known as the garden of Corsica. I’m here for one week to photograph the area, staying a few days in Algajola and a few days in Calvi.
My hotel booking is for half board and after a delicious dinner, I head off to the local church. There is a free concert. . . a duo with guitar and mandolin. What a treat! Beautiful music with haunting vocals that give me goose-bumps.
Strolling back via the citadel, I pass the lovely restaurant U Castellu. Round the back of the restaurant, there is a small alcove with a single table with a view of the sea. A perfect spot for a romantic dinner!
Back at my hotel, I fall asleep to the sound of the waves lapping the rocks outside my window.
The next day, I head out before breakfast to catch the early morning light. The sun casts an ethereal orange glow over the stone buildings as I photograph the castle and citadel. A short walk past a small beach, through the arcade and I am on the beautiful bay of golden sand called Aregno Plage. Next stop breakfast, then I’m off in the car to explore.
Exploring the villages of the Balagne
Algajola lies between the bigger seaside towns of Calvi and L’Ile Rousse. There are numerous lovely beaches all along this coastline – Marine De Davia, Guinchito and Bodri. They’re easy to reach by car and some are accessible from the little train that trundles along between the two towns.
Above: Algajola Railway Station
The sweet smell of immortal and wild mint is intense as I walk from the parking area down to one of the beaches. These are just two of the herbs found growing in the vegetation that covers much of Corsica, known as the marquis. More than 2,500 species of wildflowers grow on the island. As agricultural practices are changing, traditional crops are being replaced by herbs grown for homoeopathy.
We drive inland up into the lower foothills of Corsica’s mountains passing stunning views of the beaches and glorious turquoise waters below us. We pull over wherever we can, to take a few photographs but it is not easy to do the island justice.
A little further inland lies the 15th-century church with frescoes by the artist Canavesio. We easily find it just outside Pigna on the old Salt Road but it’s surrounded by scaffolding and we can not go inside. Although I am pleased to see that it is being cared for I am disappointed that I can’t take any photos.
In the charming village of Pigna’s cobbled alleyways, I visit artisans workshops and a restaurant that I have fond memories of from many years ago. I’m pleased to find nothing much has changed. You can read more about Pigna, the arts and crafts there and the delicious meal I had in my post The ancient hilltop village of Pigna.
Next stop, Sant Antonino, another delightful village perched on the very top of a hill. The views from up here are unbelievable. The verdant hillside, dotted with ancient olive trees, reaching down to the valley and a distant mountain range beyond. In the village, I explore twisting alleys climbing ever upwards and passing a number of restaurants begging me to step inside. The sun is relentless and I’ve run out of water.
Passing Aregno, famed for its almonds and oranges, we drive on. If only there was time to stop. The village church dates back to the 11th century but it’s believed that the settlement is older still. Bronze plates from the Roman armies of the emperor Vespasian have been found here.
On to the village of Corbara, nestled in a slight dip in the hills, with the white baroque style Church of the Annunciation rising above the rooftops of the surrounding houses. Built between 1641 and 1751 it’s just one of a number of churches and chapels found in the village. It’s worth the climb up to 18th century Chapelle de Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs for the stunning views. You’ll see signs for it dotted around the village. Inside the little chapel, you’ll find a 15th-century statue of the Virgin and Child.
Before we leave I fill my water bottle from the village fountain, Fountaines des Salicastri. It was built in 1896 and it’s clearly labelled ‘eau potable’ or drinking water. The clear, crisp spring water flows out from a lions mouth, into my bottle but it doesn’t stay there long. Never has a drink been so refreshing.
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