Corsica: home to spectacular mountain scenery, superb local food, sparkling rivers - and scary roads. Penny Bunting remembers a hair-raising drive across the Granite Isle.
“Allez! Allez!” The taxi driver gesticulated wildly, urging us forwards.
“He’s kidding, right?” said my husband Richard. “There’s no way we’ll get through there.”
Even so, Rich inched the car forward.
“Stop!” I screamed. “We’re too close!”
Rich stopped. Leaning out of the passenger window, I peered down into the void, and felt immediately sick and dizzy. Less than six inches of road lay between the edge of our tyres and the edge of a cliff that plunged hundreds of feet into a wooded ravine.
We had abandoned Corsica’s crowded mid-summer coast in favour of the mountains. The driving was treacherous – hairpin bends and sheer, unprotected drops at every turn – but worth it.
The scenery took our breath away. Grey, granite peaks soared into a cloudless blue sky and pine trees clung to the mountainsides. Further north, in the Castagniccia region, we would find the pines replaced by forests of chestnut trees, punctuated by ancient hilltop villages, where chestnut flour is still used to make cakes.
The rivers that snake through this landscape have names that roll off the tongue: Solenzara, Casaluna, Tavignano. We had already discovered the joys of river swimming. We had showered in tumbling waterfalls and dived into deep, swimming-pool sized rock pools of crystal clear water before sunning ourselves dry on flat, smooth rocks. It certainly beat the sandy, salty, sardine-like crush of the island’s coastal resorts.
“Allez!” the taxi driver shouted again, more aggressively this time. His vehicle was pressed close to the mountain on his side of the road, its wing-mirrors pulled in like the flattened ears on an angry beast.
Queues of traffic were building up on both sides. Horns were honked and suggestions shouted. Leaning out and looking back along the line of cars behind us I saw other faces leaning out of passenger windows. The expressions on the faces mirrored my own: alarm, anxiety, nausea.
Rich got out of the car and began to negotiate with the taxi driver. I saw Rich’s hands indicating the width of our car (big fish) and the width of the road (little fish). But still the taxi driver refused to budge. He tapped his watch furiously: apparently he was due at Ajaccio airport ten minutes ago.
Eventually a driver from several cars behind the taxi approached, and began a frantic exchange in Corsican. He repeated the big fish, little fish routine; the taxi driver shrugged nonchalantly and got back into his car. The line of oncoming traffic reversed slowly back around the corner – and into a big parking area. We sailed by, with a comfortable number of inches between us and the edge.
“That was a bit hairy,” Rich remarked. But I could only nod. I had peered into the void and it had left me speechless. Then something caught my eye. Far, far below, at the bottom of the gorge, the skeleton of a car lay wrecked and rusting – quite possibly a Corsican taxi.
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Green Adventures June 2015