Things to see in France

The Isle of Corsica – One of the Hidden Gems of France – Part 3 of 3

From Bonifacio (for information on Bonifacio, click here, for a map of Corsica click here) we spent our last few days working our way north along the east coast to Aléria and then on to Corte in the interior, then Calvi (on the northwest coast) and finally Bastia (also on the east coast), our final stop in Corsica. On the east side of the island there is a little more flat terrain near the coast and therefore the roads are faster.

Aléria. The little town of Aléria has an old church and castle-like building that holds a museum and ticket office for the nearby Roman village ruins.

Aleria Corsica (2)

An old little stone church in Aléria, near the Roman ruins.

Aleria Corsica (1)

The Roman ruins museum in Aléria.

There were a number of ancient settlements around this area, but it was the Romans who built the harbor port city known as Aléria starting in 80 BC, which was inhabited throughout the duration of the Roman Empire. The ruins are not extensive, mainly foundations and a few baths remaining.

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A view of part of the Roman ruins of Aléria.

Given the proximity to Italy, one would think the Romans would have colonized Corsica more. But then, like now, with its rugged topography, Corsica was more of a hinterland and was never completely conquered and brought under the domination of Rome

Old Bridge and Church Corsica (2)

There are a number of old Genoese (14th-15th century) bridges in Corsica, this one is near the road on the way to Corte from Aléria.

Corte. I expected Corte to be a little village, and I was surprised to see that it was a good sized town. Corte was the capital of Corsica during its period of independence in the mid 18th century.

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A view of the old town of Corte, with the fortress sitting at the top.

In the main square, there is a statue of Pascal Paoli (1725-1807) the founding father of Corsica.

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The main square in old Corte with the statue of Pascal Paoli to the right.

Even 250 years later, there are bullet holes still visible in the buildings surrounding Place Gaffori, marking the fight over independence that took place here.

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Place Gaffori in old town Corte. Note the bullet holes in the building.

The old town slopes up a hill located in the middle of a deep valley. The Citadelle and 15th century fortress sit atop the old town, commanding a good view of the surrounding valleys. The old town below the Citadelle has several small squares, churches with narrow alleys, and restaurants. Although not visible from the main town, the fortress has a very modern, large museum and conference center located next to it. Corte is home to the aptly named Corsica Pasquale Paoli University, where students speak Corsican.

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Looking down on the old town of Corte from the fortress.

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The old 15th century fortress in Corte, photo taken from the Belvedere, a scenic view spot.

There are also a few old hilltop towns in the great vicinity of Corte, located off very narrow steep and winding roads up in the hills.

Calvi. From Corte, we traveled north and west over to Calvi, another extremely picturesque town situated on a beautiful bay surrounded by mountains.

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A view of the beautiful town of Calvi with its magnificent bay and Citadelle.

Calvi is a jet-setting hotspot in the summer with numerous sailboats and yachts filling its docks and harbor. The huge Genoese Citadelle at the entrance to the bay really dominates the whole area.

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A closer view of Calvi and the Citadelle.

There is a nice beach here too, overlooking the harbor and town. The Citadelle was pretty quiet, at least during the time of year we were there (October).

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The entrance to Calvi’s Citadelle.

We enjoyed sitting by the harbor and having our lunch.

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Calvi’s harbor, lined with outdoor cafes.

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There is some evidence that the explorer, Christopher Columbus, was born in Calvi. Hence the name of this souvenir shop.

Lumio Corsica (4)

We stayed in the picturesque small town of Lumio, just across the bay from Calvi.

Bastia. From Calvi, we crossed back over to the north east coast and made our last stop in Corsica. We were really surprised at how large Bastia was. It is a major city and the commercial hub of Corsica. Like many coastal Corsican towns, Bastia has a large Citadelle overlooking the harbor (Vieux Port) and a scenic and large old town area.

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The harbor of Bastia. The twin towers of the 16th century church of St. Jean Baptiste are a local landmark.

Bastia felt similar to many large European towns with multiple squares, shopping streets, great churches and restaurants lining the harbor and squares.

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A major shopping thoroughfare in Bastia.

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Interior of the Oratory of the Confraternity of the Holy Cross. This church contains the Holy Crucifix of Miracles, discovered drifting on the sea by two fishermen in 1428.

Bastia’s Citadelle streets were fairly quiet, and the area had a non-touristy feel. There are good signs pointing out historically significant buildings in this area.

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The Louis XVI gateway into Bastia’s Citadelle.

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A street scene in Bastia’s Citadelle.

 

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An old building in the Citadelle. I’d hate to have to work on or rebuild these walls!

Bastia has decent sized airport, so it was easy to fly back to Nice from here, which kept us from having to backtrack across the island to Ajaccio. This third post concludes our tour of Corsica. We highly recommend visiting this wonderful island!

Picturesque Sights along the Lot River in South Central France

The Lot River region of France is filled with many beautiful sights –natural scenery, attractive villages and historical sights. The sights below are south of the beautiful town of Sarlat-la-Caneda and north of the city of Toulouse.

The sights in this post are in a small area just north of Toulouse, France.

The sights in this post are in a small area just north of Toulouse, France.

Bonaguil Castle

Bonaguil Castle is 60 km (37 miles) to the west of Cahors. It was one of the last defensive medieval castles built. Although it was originally constructed in the 1300’s, it was extensively rebuilt at the end of the 15th century.

A view of Bonaguil Castle from the village.

A view of Bonaguil Castle from the village.

A view of the entrance to Bonaguil Castle.

A view of the entrance to Bonaguil Castle.

The moat around Bonaguil Castle.

The moat around Bonaguil Castle.

The castle sits in a very picturesque spot on a hillside overlooking a tiny village. Underneath the front edge (closest to the town) of the castle are some interesting tunnels. Be sure to explore them.

Looking down from the castle ramparts.

Looking down from the castle ramparts.

Puy –l’Evêque

Just a scenic little village on the Lot River, near Bonaguil Castle. Worth a short stop to wander the charming streets.

One of the many quaint streets in Puy l'Eveque.

One of the many quaint streets in Puy l’Eveque.

A view of the town from the Lot River.

A view of the town from the Lot River.

Cahors

Cahors is a 2,000 year-old town. Its famous fortified medieval bridge (Pont Valentre) over the River Lot is one of the most photographed monuments in all of France. It has 7 pointed arches spanning the river and three towers.

The medieval bridge crossing the Lot River in Cahors.

The medieval bridge crossing the Lot River in Cahors.

Another view of the bridge (Pont Valentre) in Cahors.

Another view of the bridge (Pont Valentre) in Cahors.

It was built between 1308 and 1360.There is also a great cathedral here, the Cathédrale de St-Etienne.

Figeac

Another picturesque town along the Lot River, with number of small hotels, making this town a good base for exploring the area.

A view of the town of Figeac.

A view of the town of Figeac.

In the center of Figeac.

In the center of Figeac.

Just outside of town are a number of picturesque villages, including Espagnac-Ste-Eulalie (see below).

A village outside of Figeac.

A village outside of Figeac.

An old mill outside Figeac.

An old mill outside Figeac.

Espagnac-Ste-Eulalie

This is a tiny village with a beautiful 12th century Priory of Notre-Dame-Ste-Eulalie and an elaborate bell tower.

The beautiful hamlet of Espagnac-Ste-Eulalie.

The beautiful hamlet of Espagnac-Ste-Eulalie.

The Chateaux of the Loire Valley, France

One of my favorite areas of France is the Loire Valley, located in the central part of the country, about 115 miles (185 km) southwest of Paris. There are over 300 chateaux in this region, all harken back to the days of the French aristocracy. The ostentatious display of wealth as evidenced by the chateaux and their extensive lands and gardens helped lay the groundwork for the French Revolution in 1789. Many of the chateaux were built in the 1500’s, and a number of them are open to tourists. I love visiting historical sights and these elegant chateaux are fun to explore, each is unique in its architecture and many have beautiful gardens also.

Blois Chateau, in the heart of the city of Blois.

Blois Chateau, in the heart of the city of Blois.

I highly recommend spending at least a couple days in the Loire Valley to see several of these beautiful structures. Good bases for exploring the area include Blois, Amboise or Tours. I have a hard time picking a favorite. Some are very large (Chambord is huge) and others are smaller but have more elaborate interiors and decorations. Although it’s called the Loire “Valley” the area is quite flat, agricultural, and a popular bike route.

Chenonceau

Chenonceau (along with Chambord–below) is considered the Renaissance masterpiece of the Loire Valley. The main castle was built from 1513-1521. It was the home of the mistress of King Henri II (Diane de Poitiers) in the mid 1500’s.

A view of the Chenonceau gardens and castle.

A view of the Chenonceau gardens and castle.

There are a number of beautiful tapestries here, but it was hard to get interior pictures as they weren’t allowed.

The gallery of Chenonceau spanning over the River Cher.

The gallery of Chenonceau spanning over the River Cher.

The long two-story gallery spanning across the Cher River was built in 1570 by Catherine de’ Medici (wife of King Henri II) and was used as a hospital ward in World War I. In World War II, the far bank of the river was the border of the free zone of France and passing through the gallery meant escaping from Nazi occupied France.

Chambord  

The largest of the Loire Valley chateaux, Chambord was begun by King Francios I in 1519, and later finished by Louis XIV in 1685.

A view of the keep (central towers) of Chambord Chateau.

A view of the keep (central towers) of Chambord Chateau.

It has 440 rooms and was a “hunting lodge.” One of the most unusual features is the roof, with highly decorated towers and chimneys.

The roof towers and chimneys at Chambord Chateau.

The roof towers and chimneys at Chambord Chateau.

The interior is largely bare and open.

The double-helix Grand Staircase - note the two stairways.

The double-helix Grand Staircase – note the two stairways.

The Grand Staircase, with the “double helix” construction, was supposedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci. The design means that someone going up the staircase and a person going down would not meet!

Chaumont

Chaumont was built in 1445 on the grounds of an earlier castle from the 10th century. The rebuilt chateau was designed less for defensive reasons but still has the feel of a medieval castle with a drawbridge, turrets and crenellated walls.

Chaumont Chateau has the look of a medieval castle.

Chaumont Chateau has the look of a medieval castle.

Another view of Chaumont Chateau.

Another view of Chaumont Chateau.

When Diane de Poitiers was kicked out of Chenonceau by Catherine de’ Medici after King Henri II’s death, she was moved here. While not as elegant as Chenonceau, it’s still not too bad of a place to live!

Amboise

Amboise is a great medieval town, in addition to having a 15th century chateau and the nearby Gothic Chapelle St-Hubert, Leonardo da Vinci’s burial spot.

The Chapelle St-Hubert sits on top of the walls of Amboise. It's the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci.

The Chapelle St-Hubert sits on top of the walls of Amboise. It’s the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci.

A view of Amboise Chateau from the courtyard.

A view of Amboise Chateau from the courtyard.

The chateau has quite a place in French royal history with several kings either having been born or raised here, or living and dying here. Catherine de’ Medici’s 10 children also were raised here.

Another view of the walls of Amboise with the Chateau overlooking the edge.

Another view of the walls of Amboise with the Chateau overlooking the edge.

Although the chateau itself is a bit smaller than some of the others, the setting, town and overall feel of Amboise makes it a must-see location in the Loire Valley.