Les vacances, part ii: Corsica & Noirmoutier
Today I bring you the second and final installment of les vacances, which I am only too happy to do. As nice as it is remembering my once-in-a-lifetime tag-along summer trip, it’ll be even nicer to catch this blog up to “real-time” where I’m spending my days adjusting to and figuring out Paris. Which has been a whole other trip in itself, if you ask me…
So, following Antibes, I spent about 4 days with my family in Corsica, then 4 days in Noirmoutier. For those of you that don’t know, Corscia is the big island located to the south of France, off the left coast of Italy. It’s also, in case you didn’t know, the exact place that dreams are made of. It combines the natural wilderness of big rocky mountains and deep green trees with the luxuriousness of sprawling white-sand beaches and crystal-clear turquoise waters that are warmer than 25 degrees C (almost 80 F). My French host family called it “the Bahamas of France,” but somehow I can’t imagine them being very comparable. Corsica is better.
We stayed in the North of Corsica—flying in and out of Bastia and spending most of the time in Saint Florent. One of my favorite parts of our time there was the drive between the towns. It requires a drive over the mountains, which led to all sorts of awe-striking moments when you see the lush green hills and small clusters of homes looking over vast soft-looking beaches. It’s a beautiful country, but I don’t really think beauty needs an introduction (I only wish I had captured some of the views with a camera—oh well).
To my surprise, Saint Florent in itself didn’t really do much for me. It has the reputation of being the Saint Tropez of Corsica, and the yachts and homes and the pretty pretttty nice place that my host family was invited to stay in attest to that. And, as I’m sure you know if you made it through that last post of mine, it all was a little too much for me. I guess it’s very nice and special to feel a part of it all for a little bit, but the affinity wears quickly. Just to show how beautiful the view of the place we were staying at in Saint Florent was, though, here is a warped-extra-long panorama:
Bastia, on the other hand, was pure beauty. We went to the old part of the city, the port, which was surrounded by old, worn buildings mish-mashed on top of each other, with windy roads and disorganized signs (ugh, Lindsey you’re right yet again about architecture). We stopped in an old Corsican charcuterie—something Corsica is very well known for, along with their cheeses—and got to pick up some smoked and cured meats. In my time there I also got to try a stinky Corsica cheese—très fort, as they say. They eat it with good bread and fig preserves. I loved it, along with the ice cream we picked up from a local glacerie for dessert.
And Noirmoutier. It’s a small island near Nante on the Atlantic Ocean, off the West Coast of France. It’s heavily filled with tourists in the summer season, like Corsica and the Riviera, but the tourists seemed of a different sort. My host mom explained to me that, seeing as Noirmoutier is much closer to Paris than other tourist destinations, it’s a common weekend or summer retreat location for the classe bourgeoisie of Paris. In any case, it was almost exclusively French tourists at Noirmoutier, rather than the very international crowds I saw in the Riviera.
(Side note: I find it really funny that in France it is okay to outwardly identify oneself based on one’s class. It’s not that I don’t think this is an unspoken no-no in the US, it’s just that no one would admit to others or to themselves that they are of either the lower class or upper class. Maybe this is just the ex-politics student in me coming out…Louis Hartz, anyone?)
Anyway, after the fancy-ness of the Riviera and Corsica, I welcomed the laid-back, more natural and relaxed feeling of Noirmoutier. There were still, of course, women to be found who walked around in heels and who wore nice jewelry. But somehow the overall vibe felt different. Noirmoutier-en-Ile is very, very popular for bike riding and camping, so the whole town is filled with people biking from one beach of the island to another. As women biked casually by in wispy, light dresses, with big country fields and grassy, sandy beaches in the background, I was reminded of this scene in The Reader more than anything else. (Note to self: ride bikes more during the summer while wearing wispy, light dresses. And man, isn’t the poem in that scene beautiful?)
There’s a light, salty breeze that blows in, and there’s a thin layer of sand on almost all the streets. It gave me a distinct feeling of tranquility and calm, whether it was through finding that I was the only person on a huge stretch of natural beach in the morning, the homogenity of white-washed houses with blue shutters and red-tiled roofs, or walking around parts of the town next to wide, grassy fields and shallow sea salt farms. I stumbled on a Church in the l’herbaudiere part of the island, and the cemetary in the back with a view of the ocean was especially a treat. Cemetaries have really been interesting me for some reason lately—think it must have to do with all that history mumbo-jumbo I was talking about. I especially liked the one strip of plain, white headstones in the cemetary that were all dated from June 1940. A couple of the headstones had names, but most simply said something like “A British Soilder” with “KNOWN UNTO GOD” at the bottom. Something about the “known unto god” really gets me… In any case, I wish I understood more of the island’s role in WWII, but I haven’t been able to find much information on it. I have a feeling it’s pretty inconsequential, but this has sort of implanted a desire in me to go visit the beaches of Normandy over the year.
On arriving back in Paris, my host parents asked me which of the places of les vacances I preferred the most. I didn’t know what to tell them, honestly. Not only because all of the places were so different and I am so biased in my ways I wouldn’t know how to objectively judge them anyway, but I am honestly more excited than anything to be back in Paris. As breathtaking as it all was, and as nice as the sun felt, I’ve never been so happy to start losing a tan in my life.
PS: You’ll have already seen this if you follow me on instagram, but this was the sky and ocean in Corsica one night when the sun was going down. One of my favorite songs ever is Ceremony by New Order, and when I listen to it, these are the exact colors that come to mind. Really light pinks, blues, all in hazy white… I think it’s beautiful (the colors, sky, song) and I had one of those nice moments when everything in the world seems to line up as I watched that sky set.