Verdict: A fabulous 3 night camping stop slap bang in the middle of Corsica’s Alta Rocca mountains.
We loved: Rivers, views, waterfalls, wildlife, Europe’s highest race-course, some dramatic drives and wall-to-wall sunshine.
Hints: Do more research than we did into the drives, especially — they might prove a little hairy depending on your vehicle / attitude to heights! Fortnightly Sundays are race days so may be worth checking dates if you’re keen to see the racecourse in action.
Finding our Z was tricky. Zanzibar, Zakynthos, Zadar, Zurich and Zion national park were all discussed at some point, but we just couldn’t make them work financially or logistically, so when the kids asked to go back to Corsica this summer and the map showed a few Zs in the mountainous middle – bingo! We knew where to head.
Turned out Zonza was an excellent choice. We loved Corsica the first time four years ago, but only managed a bit of its coast, so this time we wanted to combine some laid-back beach life with some of its iconic mountains, and our plan was to create a kind of DIY mini med cruise — i.e. land in Bastia from Genoa, drive down the East coast for some beach relaxation, then head across the South to Zonza for a long weekend stop and from there continue across to Ajaccio for another ferry back to Toulon.
As soon as we headed inland towards the mountain we got a clue about the terrain ahead — a sign reassuringly confirmed the Col de Bavella, OPEN which of course, made us think immediately about all the things that could make it say CLOSED. The road up was winding, twisty, narrow and quite long (inevitable, at an average of 5km/hr) BUT it was also packed with amazing views and, judging by the number of cars parked roadside, popular river swimming and walking destinations. Sadly, we didn’t stop to enjoy any of these. I think we were both just determined to get to the top, which meant a lot of wildly pointing my phone out of the window in a doomed attempt to capture some of the amazing scenery. Even when we reached the Col itself we kept on going, mainly because it was rammed with people, motorbikes, cars, motorhomes and buses —the mind boggles at the thought of how they made it up there. We continued along the gentler, broader road out until we got to Zonza. For this reason, there are no photos of this epic journey. Instead, I took this when we arrived:
What we loved 1: Zonza town
Zonza is a really lovely mountain town, with its pretty church, museum (of the resistance), plentiful shops (including crazy butcher — see below) and restaurants, and it clearly serves a fair few walkers and tourists, as well as locals, so it was a perfect place to spend a few days.
A note about the cat and the butcher
Our younger two children did a LOT of cat and small dog spotting this trip. Also, cute babies. This particular cat was watching all the dogs who were waiting outside the butcher’s shop, who proved to be quite bonkers. We only went once, queued for ages, tried to ask in our best French for some of the labelled agneau or porc only to receive a torrent of possibly corsican (or maybe Italian?) — the jist of which seemed to be that he only had veal or beef, followed by a baffling amount of information about how both should be cooked. Like any good tourist, we nodded, smiled, said ‘merci’ a lot and went on our way, possibly-beef in hand. (Sorry to report, the meat was tough as old boots. I think we may have badly misunderstood his instructions though Garry flatly denies this).
What we loved 2: Camping la Riviere
This is rural camping at its best. No pool disco (no pool, even), basic facilities, quiet and spacious pitches. We bought morning buns and bread from its visiting boulangerie van, cycled and collected pine cones around it, played boules, cards and table football in it, and some of us played flip-flop kung-fu in it.
What we loved 3: A waterfall walk
We really wanted to walk some mountains and swim in one of the rivers for which this part of the world is famous, so opted for the popular 45 minute walk to the Pescia di Ghjaddu. It was a walk that had everything — fallen trees to balance on, stone cairns to build on, lofty pines to admire, boulders to scramble over, wind-blasted rock formations to climb, views in every direction, a waterfall and a river to swim in.
What we loved 4: Zonza races
The only thing I knew about Zonza before we left was this: its racecourse holds the title of highest in Europe. It’s rightly very popular, and as there are only races every other Sunday we were lucky to get to see a race day in action. The place was buzzing with families dressed up for a day out, perusing the form and placing their bets — not dissimilar from a race day in the UK but with a relaxed, laid-back family vibe that we just loved.
What we loved 5: The Plateau de Coscione
As usual we had no plan for the next day so when a random man at the wash-basins told us we MUST go to the Plateau de Coscione we of course obeyed. Again, it would have been sensible to check the route first (turned out be be another winding twisty turny one which continually threatened to peter out) but obviously by this stage we were in go-with-the-flow mode, and, happily, it worked out ok. The plateau is very high (1500m) and full of wildlife, goats and semi-wild pigs. It’s unusual for Corsica, and IS beautiful, although to us it felt just a bit too like Exmoor to be totally impressive — we definitely preferred the whole Corsican mountain views and river swimming thing to the Corsican moorland thing.
A slight aside — sapeurs and forest fires
We saw plenty of firemen in Corsica — it was forest fire season and there was an outbreak in the far north (and also in Provence just across the Med) just before we arrived, so the sapeurs were highly visible, along with warnings everywhere about the risk of forest fires and what do do if you spot one. I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased to see so many, or nervous that they were considered necessary, but as the sapeurs seemed mainly to be resting in the shade or having lunch their relaxed presence was mostly reassuring.
Hints and useful info
We stayed at: Camping Riviere, Zonza (they don’t take bookings, so definitely worth a phone call before you arrive). There are plenty of b&bs and hotels in Zonza, too, as well as a couple more campsites, so accommodation should be easy to find.
We travelled with: Corsica Ferries (plenty of ferries to and from Toulon, Marseilles, Savona, Bastia and Ajaccio) all bookable via directferries.co.uk