Benvinuta in Corsica – plus a real, live dung beetle!

When our daughter, like all 3-year-olds in France, started school in September 2015, we officially entered a new universe. Here, the school days are long – 8:05am to 4:30pm in our case, plus an extra forty-five minutes at the after-school day-care – and make for tired children come weekends and holidays.

The beauty behind these very loaded school days, however, is a two-week holiday roughly every six weeks. Since both Gaël and I are self-employed and work out of offices in our home, we decided that as often as possible we will spend these vacation periods together as a family – preferably leaving behind our offices, work and other everyday responsibilities.

In the past 18 months we have as such travelled to the Algarve region in Portugal (Oct. 2015), twice to visit my parents at their winter home in Florida (Feb. 2016 and Feb. 2017), to Biscarosse on France’s Atlantic coast (April 2016), to Spain’s Costa Daurada (Oct. 2016) and, just recently, to Corsica, quite possibly the best nearby destination yet!

Corsica family
Ahoy, sailors!

So, you might ask, what does all this have to do with trail running? I think all trail runners quickly develop the habit of assessing landscape via its running potential: “That coastline is beautiful, I wonder if there’s a trail?” “Those mountains would be perfect for a good climb.” Heck, “Oh, look, a fellow runner…”

Gradually, the “runability” of our travel destinations has become an important criterion to be considered when choosing our vacation destinations alongside our other must-haves, notably a pool, a mini-club (or other children), and the possibility for Gaël to play his flute and/or do something else he enjoys while I run.

None of us had previously visited Corsica. Gaël was actually quite reluctant about the destination, having long heard stories of tourists being unappreciated by the locals (who are not always particularly fond of “mainland” France).

Corsica Resistenza
A sign of the Corsican resistance movement – or encouragement for wearied hikers?

Before we left, several people warned us that we would be awed by the beauty of the island but possibly shocked in our interaction with the locals.

Upon arrival, we were certainly not disappointed by the sumptuous landscape. Our ferry sailed from the Mediterranean port city of Toulon to the Corsican city of Bastia. We took an overnight ferry and were as such able to see the sun rise as the boat approached the Corsican coast.

Once docked, we drove northward toward the Cap Corse peninsula. Gaël had coincidentally been contacted a few weeks before our arrival by a potential client who was interested in him leading a restoration project at her family home. She invited him to come see the site – and the three of us for lunch in the small town of Centuri.

Corsica breakfast
Breakfast in Centuri

After enjoying breakfast by the sea, our first encounter with local life was as such being invited into someone’s home for a hot lunch. So much for stereotypes!

We set out after lunch for the 2-hour drive to the chalet we had rented in the Gulf de Lozari, near the town of Ile Rousse (but not before I had noted the lovely Sentier Douanier trail that left from the woman’s doorstep and curled for dozens of kilometres, following the mountainous coastline around the island’s northern tip – my first mental note for when – not if – we come back again!).

The drive through the Cap Corse peninsula offered spectacular views and a sense that we had come to the right spot for our vacation! We arrived and settled into our holiday club and were relieved to see that it appeared to meet all our criteria!

Corsica desert des agriates
The Desert des Agriates

The rest of the week was filled with mini-club adventures for some, relaxing by the pool for others – and running in the surrounding mountains for me.

Corsica miniclub
With Lea, the mini-club mascot

A trailhead started right across from the resort (which,amazingly, was directly on the coast, but had no neighbours anywhere along the nearby coastline!) and climbed to offer an incredible view of the Lozari Gulf on one side and the Desert des Agriates on the other.

Sitting by the pool, we could see snow-capped mountains in the distance and I couldn’t stop thinking about the famous GR20 – the trail that runs diagonally across Corsica and is reputed to be the most challenging GR in Europe (and for which my friend and mentor Emilie Lecomte holds the female fastest-known time (FKT) for the 180km trail).

Gaël had a sore knee so wasn’t keen on running, but I did manage to convince him to go for a few hikes – including one along the first stage of the GR20. This was the highlight of the week for me, despite bashing my knees up a bit with a tumble on the way back down the mountain. I’m now more set than ever on returning to Corsica to run the GR20 over the course of a week-long trip at some point in the near future.

Joc & Gael depart GR20 2
The first stage of the GR20

Plus, we saw a real, live dung beetle actually pushing dung up the side of the mountain!! Check it out:

Our week in Corsica flew by faster than we imagined. It was the perfect escape from the daily grind for all three of us and truly offered something for everyone. Perched between the mountains and the sea, the location could not have been better. The weather was also ideal, with temperatures in the mid-20s °C/mid-70s °F, and a far cry from the swarms of tourists we had been warned about.

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we almost regretted not having made the trip sooner. While it is likely best to avoid peak tourist season in July and August, running, eating and visiting Corsica in April was the perfect escape for us and we can’t wait to come back again.

Joc & Gael Corsica sommet GR20

Joc Corsica Run 6

Corsica GR20 panoramic

Joc run in Corsica 2

PS. Despite appearances to the contrary, I didn’t actually wear the same thing every day of our vacation. I have several orange shirts, just in case you were wondering!

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