Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Walk Inn's inaugural Corsica hiking tour!

I've just returned from guiding our inaugural Corsica hiking trip.
Here we are, four Aussies and a Canuck, on a secluded beach just outside of Calvi.

Our first hike, and one of the more ambitious ones, leading to the Genoese tower seen in the centre of the photo on the jagged rock.

The view from the top -- a reward after a steep climb in the heat: 

Settling into our hotel in Porto, and watching the sun set into the waters:

Our second hike, along the Sentier du Facteur -- literally "the mailman's path" -- along the dramatic coastline

Halfway through the hike we arrive at a secluded beach where we enjoy a swim in the soothing waters. Below Ian takes to the seas:

The path isn't always simple underfoot, but it's always spectacular. Below Jen negotiates a few tricky steps: 

In the background: the fisherman's village of Girolata, only accessible by boat or by foot: there are no roads that lead there. Permanent population: 15.

After a picnic lunch in the village we're treated to a private zodiac outing along the coastline, visiting the Scandola nature reserve. Red volcanic cliffs soar up from the seas, in some places 600m high, constrasting with the emerald green waters:

In a couple of places our captain led us into caves, though openings barely wide enough for the zodiac to pass through:

Returning to Porto that evening:

Wednesday was our most ambitious day: a full day's hike along the infamous GR20 route, Europe's most difficult trek.

Our leg of thr GR20 was relatively tame, but no less scenic...

...up a crestline from the Vergio pass:

...following a well-marked and stunning path

...through Alpine landscapes: 

...over a mountain pass: 

...and to Lake Nino, still-to-this-day one of my favourite places on earth.

In the evening we arrived in the town of Corte, crowned by its 15th century citadel, where we settled in for three nights:

Contemplating the start of Thursday's walk: 

...leading us up the Manganellu river:

...and to a shepherd's hut on the GR20 route, where we were treated to a homemade lunch including their own cheeses and charcuteries:

On our way back found we relaxed in the emerald waters of the river: one of the many natural pools along the way:

That evening, Ian surprised by the size of his profiteroles:

Corte by night:

After heavy rains on Friday morning, a flash flood along the Restonica gorge forced us to change plans, hiking on more elevated terrain:

A short hike above the Tavignanu river:

Contemplating the Tavignanu valley:

On Saturday we traded mountains for sea, hiking around the Revellata peninsula.
Below Jon contemplates a quiet cove:

But he'd still rather contemplate Julie:

In the hidden cove we enjoyed a lunch at a restaurant:

On Sunday morning, after some rain along a quiet beach outside of Calvi:

In Ajaccio on night 1, but a fitting picture for the end of this post...

Thanks to Julie, Jen, Ian, and Jon for an outstanding week in Corsica!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Viewing the Tour de France near the finish line on Mont Ventoux.

Ed and I are encircled on this screenshot.   

Festive ambiance on the mountain that day, with tens of thousands of fans. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Monday, July 4, 2016

Mercantour - Alpine lakes and sacred rock carvings

Some pics from my note-writing and reconnaissance expedition in the
Mercantour Park for our new self-guided holiday

Below I'm admiring the Lac Noir, one of the many Alpine lakes I'd encounter during the week. Each one of them inspires you to take a contemplative pause, surrounded by wildflowers and stunning views.

I was based in the 3* Chamois d'Or hotel. Set up like a modern chalet, the rooms are adorned with wood, very charming and comfortable, and the food is outstanding. In 6 nights there I was never disappointed by the dinners: tasty and refined, yet simple and unpretentious, perfect after a long day's hike.
Marina & Angelo are wonderful and personable hosts, with a young and helpful staff. You feel at home the instant you arrive.

From my first walk: a steep path heading to the crests east of the Castérino Valley.

On the crests: Alpine meadows and wildflowers. Below are globeflowers.

asters on the right.

My second day's hike was the most ambitious, and definitely the most scenic, climbing up to the Fontanalba pass (2568m) on a former military path:

with some late snows to cross:

Beyond the pass I entered the Valmasque valley with its mountain lakes:

Refuge de Valmasque:

one of the many ibex hanging around the refuge (a young female):

Hiking back down the lush Valmasque valley, passing wildflowers (columbines):

The cobbled path that zigzags down the valley:

passing scenic waterfalls;

The following day's hike, up the Vallée de la Minière, covered in larch trees and wildflowers:

The final climb to reach the Refuge des Merveilles:

Above the refuge des Merveilles:

From the Refuge des Merveilles I took a guided tour (highly recommended!) of just a few of the 40,000 rock carvings, some of which are 6000 years old. It's Europe's largest open-air museum.

One of the sacred rock carvings in question:

My notes.
I had placed them neatly on a rock, during what we call in French a technical pause. 
It wasn't until a couple hours later, back in the comforts of my hotel room, that I realized they were gone.
I raced back to the end of the hike, and there they were: soaked, but otherwise OK.

My final hike took me to the Fontanalba valley, directly behind the hotel.
A curious ibex upon a rock:

the Voie Sacrée, or "sacred path", complete with millennia-old rock carvings: 

wild carnations:

a chamois:

Apparently the park's chamois have been less furtive towards humans since the wolf has returned to the region...

My thoughts:

I suppose I'm a little ecstatic: it's the first time in a long, long while that I've done any proper mountain hiking, and I carried a sense of renewed wonder and energy with me throughout the week.
But personal fulfillment  aside, I'm very satisfied with all aspects of my reconnaissance:
- the varied hikes lead to spectacular glacial valleys, now occupied by Alpine pastures, carpeted by wildflowers, and occupied by far more wild animals than humans
- the paths are well-maintained and easy underfoot, thanks largely to pre-WWII tensions between the Italians and the French (the paths and tracks were built by Italian soldiers to protect the borders)
- and the Chamois d'Or hotel awaits every evening, with a warm pat on the back from Angelo, a warm bowl of hearty minestrone, and a warm and comfy bed to sleep in.

I'm going back.